by Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes
My writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a veteran of the Cold War and every other war since, as well as a 45+ year member of the United States Intelligence Community. As such, he is also a veteran of approaches by honeypots.
“Dating for me was gorgeous Russian women appearing out of nowhere and pretending to love me, and me pretending to believe them.”
~ Jay Holmes
Honeypots are spies trained to use sex for the purpose of wheedling information out of targets, luring targets to specific locations, and/or enticing targets into behavior that can be used to blackmail them. These professionals are highly skilled in the arts of seduction and pleasure, and they will perform literally any act the target desires.
While many of them work directly for governments, like Holmes’s dates did during the Cold War, they are sometimes prostitutes working with a pimp who uses them to gather information in order to sell it to the highest bidder, or several bidders. Whether they are official government agents or freelancers, honeypots are one of the most effective tools of the espionage profession.
One of the most common myths about honeypots in fiction is that of the Honeypot Assassin—the seductress who murders her mark in the name of espionage. It’s not that it never happens in real life, but it pretty much doesn’t happen on purpose. This goes back to the fact that most people aren’t black widow spiders. As a general rule, we humans like to keep our killing and our sex compartmentalized far away from each other.
The seductive love-kitten personality and the assassin personality are fundamentally different from each other—a rather universal fact that even the Soviets recognized. For example, the assassin will likely balk at the simple act of surrendering their hair to a barber for a trim. Honeypots, on the other hand, must freely surrender their entire bodies to total strangers.
Not only that, the honeypot must be convincingly enthusiastic about doing absolutely anything the target wants him or her to do, even if it involves a troupe of circus acrobats, random vegetables from the produce section, flying monkeys, dirty shoes, or inappropriate references to their mother and barnyard animals. In fact, the more elaborate, exotic, or outright depraved the target’s behavior, the better for the honeypot.
Since honeypots are most frequently about obtaining blackmail material, vanilla sex is of virtually no use to them. Their goal is to lure the target to their pre-wired lair to extract and live out the mark’s deepest, darkest fantasies.
Honeypots work with teams that go into a space ahead of them and set up whatever surveillance equipment is appropriate to the task at hand. It’s the honeypot’s job to get the mark back to that space for the soirée with the flying monkeys, so to speak. In the rare case that the goal is assassination, the honeypot will most commonly lure the target to a specific location for someone else to take over from there.
“How do you know if there’s a honeypot working your Moscow hotel? You’re in a Moscow hotel.”
~ Jay Holmes
Honeypots don’t just target spooks* (members of the Intelligence Community). Spooks are actually the minority targets. Any businessman, senator, banker, engineer, scientist, or person in a position to potentially know something of value is a viable mark.
Honeypots from various countries target these marks in coffee shops, museums, bars of five-star hotels, or any other place where they can strike up a conversation that quickly leads to, “What is the dirtiest thing you have ever wanted to do? I want to do it with you.”
Honey traps—the traps set by honeypots—don’t work on every target, but they work frequently. If they didn’t work, the Russians and other countries would not waste millions of dollars in such enterprises. The Russians may not be “Soviet” anymore, but they are still the same cheap spies that they were a few decades ago, and they don’t like wasting money that could be better spent on misappropriations for their own personal use.
The United States has never used as many honeypots as Russia and other countries do. While there have been American booty spooks over the years, no American intelligence operative is ever expected to have sex with anyone as part of a mission. The American Intelligence Community keeps a Rolodex of high-level prostitutes ready to meet any such requirements.
The Russians, on the other hand, keep a large stable of honeypots, and they always have. No doubt some Russian honeypots are volunteers. However, many, particularly during the Cold War, are beautiful women and men who have been coerced into the profession with threats of harm to their families.
Some of the more interesting honeypot cases that have slowly leaked over time involved US President John F. Kennedy. He holds the distinction of having slept with three honeypots, though not simultaneously, and not all while he was president.
One of the spies, Inga Arvad, was ostensibly working for the Nazis during WWII when JFK slept with her. The second occurrence was during Kennedy’s presidential trip to Ireland, when he apparently slept with a Soviet spy. That spy was later involved with the British “Profumo Affair,” which brought down the government of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. In a third incident, JFK slept with a member of a freelance spy ring who was selling information on a “piecework basis” to Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies.
In spite of this busy sex schedule with foreign spies, there is no credible evidence that JFK shared any secret information with any of his seemingly countless conquests.
And that’s the other side of the honeypot equation. Getting a man or a woman (or a man, a woman, and a flying monkey circus) into bed, and getting he, she, or them to share some bodily fluids, does not always lead to obtaining useful information.
When operatives have missions in locations where the Russians, Chinese, or others have an abundance of honeypots, the operatives must take all of those eyes and ears into account. One way an intelligence agency can deal with all of those spies is to do what’s called “flood the local environment.” That means sending out a bevy of spooks to attract the attention of the honeypots, their surveillance teams, and any other spies in the area and keep them busy.
This tactic has numerous uses. Operatives might flood the environment to keep enemy spies averted while an important mission goes down elsewhere in the area. It’s an espionage sleight of hand, if you will.
Another reason operatives will flood the environment is to assess the quantity and behavior of another country’s spooks—to find out how enemy teams will react to the flood, and how many teams might be working in a particular area. And sometimes, American operatives will flood the environment just to fake out the other side and mess with their heads.
When operatives are sent out to flood the environment, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to how a spook might keep the honeypot occupied. A single operative is certainly welcome to partake of the honeypot’s charms and skills in such a case.
A more conservative operative or one who is married might find creative ways to avoid actual physical intimacy, such as visiting tourist sites and making the honeypot think they’re really turned on by walking twenty miles a day and stopping for gelato every ten minutes.
There is no formula, only the response in the moment, and it’s up to the skills and wits of the field spooks to handle the situation.
“The most humiliating failure for any spook is to get caught by a honeypot.”
~ Jay Holmes
Field espionage is a lonely business, and that loneliness makes spooks vulnerable to honeypots. Even the least-proficient honeypots are attractive, attentive, and flattering. The best ones are a little less flattering, and they are patient. All adjust to their target’s personality, and some foreign honeypots are so patient and dedicated that they will even fake a marriage with the target.
Yes. That element of The Americans was true regarding the ruthlessness of the Soviets.
Foreign governments position honeypots in all the favorite places of the diplomatic community. Members of the Intelligence Community working under diplomatic cover in a foreign country, whether they are janitors or Operations Officers, can assume they will be targeted.
These spooks are taught to keep their distance from strangers and to remember their position at all times. They must fully embrace the mindset that they are a target, and they must make the conscious decision to forgo the sudden affections of attractive strangers, to remain alert at all times when interacting with strangers, and to report those honeypot encounters. The last thing any spook wants is to be remembered by their peers as the one who got trapped by a honeypot.
Note*: "Spook" is the centuries-old common term for a spy. It means, "a ghost that haunts and is undesirable." Intelligence personnel of all ethnicities are known to themselves and others in the military and intelligence communities as spooks.
Do you have any questions about honeypots? Have you ever had a honeypot encounter? Are there other espionage topics you would like us to address?
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Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or at their email, BayardandHolmes@protonmail.com.
What do the main intelligence agencies do and where do they operate? How do they recruit personnel? What are real-life honey pots and sleeper agents? What about truth serums and enhanced interrogations? And what are the most common foibles of popular spy fiction?
With the voice of over forty years of experience in the Intelligence Community, Bayard & Holmes answer these questions and share information on espionage history, firearms of spycraft, tradecraft techniques, and the personalities and personal challenges of the men and women behind the myths.
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