Honeypot aka honey trap: the art of seduction in espionage
Honeypot, What Is It?
Honeypot, or honey trap, is a term employed in the espionage world, and describes an operational practice in which a covert agent utilises a romantic or sexual relationship to compromise a target for valuable intelligence.
The Secret Services recruits women and groom them to target and seduce embassy staff or guards, policymakers, and financial institutions. They usually identify the covert agent, which most of the time is a woman, by her knowledge of foreign countries and languages, beauty, and intellect.
This practice is not only used to gain classified information, sometimes agents also employ it to capture or kill a target.
The art of seducing
The art of seducing was employed many years ago, but the term “honeypot” became popular during the Cold War. It described the Soviet activities which were targeting the West and especially the United States. The KGB, the Soviet Security Agency, used to identify women with the term “swallow”, men with “raven”. The term “kompromat” stood for “compromising material”.
During the Civil War, in Tennessee, two sisters, Ginnie and Lottie Moon, also called “the Moon Sister Spies”, used their seduction skills to gain information from Union soldiers and spy for the Confederates. They were so talented and successful that at one point they were engaged to 38 soldiers between them.
In the last two years, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is using this practice on Indian officers working in the Defence Department or in the Indian armed forces. The officers and their families are regularly warned about this. They know not to use social media to divulge intelligence. In just a month, the Indian law enforcement identified 150 fake profiles. Pakistan created and used these profiles in order to gain valuable and classified information.
The term honeypot is also employed in the computing field, and it means “baiting a trap for hackers”. It attracts hackers in order to distract them from the real target or to gain knowledge about their modus operandi.
The Chinese Threat
In 2009, the MI5 circulated a 14-page document named “The Threat from Chinese Espionage” to British businesses and banks. It warned these businesses that the Chinese intelligence was trying to use a “honey trap”. The Chinese wanted to put pressure on individuals and convince them to cooperate with them.
In the past ten years, China tried to use honeypots in Western countries in order to steal secrets. Chinese agents, active in the UK, offer to Western agents and businessmen money and sex to gain valuable information. These agents often use social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, to connect with their targets and to lure them into their traps.
An example of a Chinese honeypot is Fang Fang, or Christine Fang. She lived in the US from 2011 to 2015. In those years, she had relationships with Democratic politicians and two US mayors. In that period, she was able to observe the social networks, preferences, and habits of government officials.
Fang Fang took part in Eric Swalwell’s re-election campaign and helped one intern to be part of Swalwell’s office. However, in 2015, the FBI was investigating Fang and gave Swalwell a defensive briefing. The FBI alerted him on Fang’s activities and behaviour. Swalwell cut off the ties with Fang and she immediately left the country.
Honeypot Examples in History
Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, known as Betty Pack, was born in Minnesota in 1910, and she was the daughter of a Marines officer of the United States.
When she was 19, she married Arthur Pack, a British diplomat. This allowed her to meet many MI6 members. The relationship with her husband was not working, and she soon started having extramarital affairs. Her seduction skills draw the MI6 attention, which decided to recruit her to seduce Count Michal Lubienski, the Polish foreign minister’s chief aide. They soon became lovers and, while together, she was able to copy various reports from his suitcase. These reports included the codes to crack the Enigma Machine. During her career, she was able to seduce many men and carry out important MI6 missions.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli technician who used to work for Dimona, an Israeli nuclear facility, claimed that Israel was developing atomic bombs. He wanted to give the news to British newspapers, also stating that he had pictures to prove it. During the negotiation with the London Sunday Times, he was hiding in a secret location due to the importance of his news. However, since he was bored, he decided to travel to Rome with a woman that he met while visiting London.
In reality, the romantic weekend was a honeypot. The woman, Cheryl Bentov, codenamed “Cindy”, was the wife of a Mossad officer. As soon as the couple landed in Rome, the Mossad seized Vanunu. They drugged him and smuggled him by ship out of Italy. When he arrived in Israel, the authorities put him on trial, and he then spent 18 years in prison.
In the early 1950s, Markus Wolf, East German spymaster, realised that since many German men died in the Second World War, many women were single, without a husband. His idea was to exploit their solitude, charm them with handsome spies and consequently draw secrets from them. In order to achieve his plan, he created a new department in the Stasi, East Germany’s security service, staffed with handsome and well-mannered men, also called “Romeo spies”. Their task was to seduce unmarried and powerful women and gain valuable intelligence from them.
In this way, the Stasi was able to penetrate West German industries, the government, and NATO. Due to their distinct look and their “short back and sides” haircut, they were easily recognisable, and the West German counterintelligence finally spotted them.
In his autobiography, Wolf stated that the Romeo spies “were sharp operators who realised that a lot can be done with sex. This is true in business and espionage because it opens up channels of communications more quickly than other approaches.”
The honeypot technique is still highly used in the espionage world. Secret services employ women to gain information from a precise target. Even though it could take years to succeed or to access specific intelligence, this method has a high success rate.