The Chinese Honey Trap: One Night of Seduction May Lead to a Lifetime of Misery.

Are your executives and managers cognizant of espionage threats?

This week a U.S. defense contractor with Top Secret security clearance was arrested on charges of passing national defense secrets, including classified information about nuclear weapons, to a Chinese woman with whom he was romantically involved. The 59-year-old contractor met the 27-year-old Chinese national in Hawaii during a conference on international military defense issues and began an 18 month affair where he allegedly passed national defense secrets to her on multiple occasions, including classified information about nuclear weapons and the planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems.

The fact of the matter is that beautiful Chinese women are being enlisted as spies.  In the last few years a number of breaches of security in Western countries have occurred through the Honey Trap – a long standing spy method where an attractive woman or man targets a “mark” who has access to desired information, and seduces them to either trick them into providing the information voluntarily, or blackmails them into handing it over.  In recent years, the Chinese have used this espionage method to compromise security information in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, to name a few.

Counterespionage agencies have provided guidance on identifying and resisting the Honey Trap.

In 2008, MI5’s Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure distributed a fourteen page document titled: “The Threat from Chinese Espionage,” to hundreds of British banks and other financial institutions and businesses. The document stated that China posed “one of the most significant espionage threats” to Britain.  The document identified Chinese honey Traps as a major threat to traveling executives dealing with China: “Chinese intelligence services have also been known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressurize individuals to cooperate with them,” it warned. “Hotel rooms in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai which have been frequented by foreigners are likely to be bugged. Hotel rooms have been searched while the occupants are out of the room.”
China is not only targeting the trousers of Western government officials.  Numerous business executives have fallen prey to the honey trap – often at the cost of professional reputations and loss of critical intellectual property.

Because China is not the only foreign intelligence service out there to use the Honey trap – it is critical that Western businesses (A.K.A. “targets”) train their executives to spot the espionage signals and resist the urge to bed a spy.

Here is how it works:  A solo business person is approached by an attractive person who seeks to cultivate a personal relationship, often using lavish hospitality, flattery and flirtation.  There will generally be some cover story in the social engineering approach to reeling in the target.  For example, younger, beautiful women might approach an older man sitting alone at a bar during a technology conference.  She learns his name and his employer from the name badge most conferences require personnel to wear, and perhaps she attended a breakout lecture he gave on a technology that her company or foreign intelligence service is targeting.

Often the Honey Trap is a “long game” where the spy might seduce the target that night, and then reel him in using flirtation, sex and further meetings.  If he is married, she will record the sexual interactions.  At some point, she will ask the target for a favor, seeking to use the emotional connection and trust she has fostered to convince him that she will not use the information to harm him or his business, only to “help me get a promotion” or some other story.  At first, the requests will be for small things that are not significant security breaches, but would cause the target trouble if it became known that he was passing the information.  As time progresses, the spy will ask for more critical and sensitive information.   If the target is completely enamored, he might continue providing the information.  In the event the target has a moment of conscience, the Honey Trap can then turn to blackmail –using both the affair and the threat of exposure for information already turned over – to hook the target as a source for further information.

It is critical that companies be aware of the Honey Trap threat and train their executives and managers in simple counter espionage techniques.  Without this training, your intellectual property and financial stability may be at risk.  The Georgetown Group provides on-site training regarding how to spot the spy.  If you’d like more information, shoot me an email.

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