SpyCast 12.6.22
Ep 567 | 12.6.22

“Honey Trapped: Sex, Betrayal & Love” – with Henry Schlesinger


Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to "SpyCast." I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "SpyCast's" sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors to explore the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Erin Dietrick: Seduction, betrayal and scandal - three words that paint quite the picture. While they may seem like the tagline to a new Hollywood blockbuster, these words characterize many of the intricately thought-out and expertly executed intelligence operations throughout history. This week's guest is Henry Schlesinger, author of the book "Honey Trapped: Sex, Betrayal and Weaponized Love." Honey traps have been frequently misconstrued by Hollywood. The portrayal of spies like Mata Hari in popular culture have shaped our understanding of the femme fatale figure, but there is so much more to learn. This week, we dive deeper into the long history of using sex and love as a weapon in the shadowy world of espionage. My name is Erin. Going forward, I'll be working with Andrew on "SpyCast." I've seen just how much work goes into the podcast in these past few weeks, so I would greatly appreciate it if you could spend a moment of your time giving us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. I promise it will not go unnoticed. 

Andrew Hammond: So let's get going, then, and start talking about your book. So tell us a little more about your book, "Honey Trapped: Sex, Betrayal and Weaponized Love." Where did it come from? What did you do, and how did you do it? So let's start off with where did it come from - where did you get this idea from? 

Henry Schlesinger: OK. I've written several books and co-authored several books on espionage, and honey traps keep popping up in espionage history, through the long - through its very long history, I might add. And it seemed that when you mentioned them in conversation with people, even people that were knowledgeable in espionage, there seemed to be a misunderstanding of them. They had - they either had one fixed idea of what a honey trap is - say, somebody jumping out of a closet to catch you in - to catch an agent or someone in bed with a foreign intelligence officer in a compromising position or the idea that they were these beautiful women - these fashion model-like women roaming streets and hotels, looking for suspecting marks. 

Henry Schlesinger: And while both may be true to a certain extent, it doesn't cover the full range of what this kind of intelligence operation entails. There is also the aspect of sex involved with it, which is obscuring. People will read about them, and then they'll stop at the sex part because that's the titillating part, or journalists will stop at the sex part. They don't understand, or, you know, readers aren't interested in the full scope of these kinds of operations. So I want to cast a new light on it, talk about the history and talk about how they work and talk about how effective they are. 

Andrew Hammond: And we are going to discuss some of the narrative arc of the book in the course of our conversation, but I just wanted to also pick up on - so a honey trap - we're thinking about, you know - it's what it sounds like. It's, like, something that's there to lure someone in. So that's the general idea. But it's not just women - you know, just to get that out there at the beginning. It's not just women that have been a honey trap. It's also men. And it's not just been for male and female. It's also been for male and male and female and female. That's correct? 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. It's the full range of sexuality that offers the - that either offers sex or the promise of sex or something having to do with sex in order to - as leverage. 

Andrew Hammond: Mmm hmm. This one's quite interesting to me, and we're going to discuss motivations a little bit, but thinking about different motivations for espionage and it seems to me that this one especially touches on the equal part - right? - because, you know, depending on your own preference, who isn't flattered or has a secret smile inside when an outrageously attractive person comes and acts like they want to be your friend? I mean it's really playing on so much psychology and security and so many other things on that front as well, right? 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. But they're not always outrageously attractive. You know, they're... 

Andrew Hammond: I mean, I'm just dramatizing... 

Henry Schlesinger: Right. 

Andrew Hammond: ...But yeah. 

Henry Schlesinger: If an outrageously attractive person suddenly found me the most interesting, you know, person in the world, I would be suspicious. What they are, usually, is people that fit into the environment. I mean, they're not, you know, bad looking, but they're not, you know, they're not fashion models or they're not centerfolds or anything like that. They're just people that fit into the environment. In the case of the Romeo spies used by East Germany, they were just average-looking, really nice guys. That was important - that they were really nice guys. And usually, male or female, when they approached someone, they already knew a lot about them. There's already been a dossier created about them - or created for them to study up on the target. 

Andrew Hammond: And let's move on to discuss some of the other examples. So we've got the - you know, you mentioned that even people that look at intelligence and espionage misunderstand this. So we've got the classic idea of a honey trap that we see all the time in movies and so forth, but give us an example of the range because you were saying it's much broader than that. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. There are lots of variations, and what variation is used depends on the type of operation. And they can use, say, parts, or they can combine variations. So someone can be in bed and caught in a compromising position, and some - and the intelligence officers jump out of the closet with a camera and take pictures. So now they have leverage over that person. What do they do with the photos? Do they release them to the press to embarrass the person and cause them to lose their job, or do they use them as blackmail material? That would be the simplest kind of variation that you can have. Often - once - or in one particular case, the John Vassall case in England, he claimed that he had - there were compromising pictures taken of him. Later on, he continued to spy once back in England and was well paid for it. So they went from a stick to a carrot, and that would be another variation. Today, they can release videos that were made covertly onto the internet to embarrass the person. And those are much more graphic. 

Andrew Hammond: Mmm hmm. And it's also quite interesting because it's not, you know, when we speak about this stuff - so there's the sex part, but it's not just about physicality, right? It's not just about that kind of instinct. It's also about love. It's about the mind. It's about human connection and so many other things. So there's so much that's going on there. So it's not - I think it's also just seen as it's just, like, a physical, transactional thing. But sometimes it can be more than that. It can be more cerebral. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure, it can be more emotional, too. Look at the so-called Romeo spies that East Germany deployed during the Cold War. Markus Wolf, the Stasi officer, recognized a demographic anomaly in Germany following World War II. There was a shortage of men, which meant a shortage of available husbands. And women - because of that same shortage of men, women were going into careers formerly held by men, including intelligence services - you know, office work. So he deployed these Romeo spies, and they were pretty - you know, pretty average-looking guys, but they were really nice guys. They were really caring. They knew - you know, they seemed to be interested in a long-term relationship. 

Henry Schlesinger: Some of these relationships lasted years that they engaged in. They would often come in under false flags, saying they were from another country. They were - well, I'm not really a journalist. I'm an intelligence officer. But I'm an intelligence officer from a friendly country, and could you provide me this material? Some of these relationships lasted years. In one instance, a woman had misgivings about spying, even for a friendly country, and confessed to a priest that was a Stasi agent. They had - or a Stasi officer. They had him impersonate a priest to hear her confession. And predictably, he said, spying is not the best thing in the world, but it's not the worst, either, and kind of gave her permission to keep spying. These relationships went on for years, some of them. They were serious, you know, romantic relationships. 

Andrew Hammond: It's quite interesting because it's hacking into certain human vulnerabilities and so forth, isn't it? It's using them to achieve an objective that the person that you're interacting with doesn't know upfront. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. But isn't that how a lot of spying - a lot of human intelligence is gained? 

Andrew Hammond: Exactly. I just think it's quite interesting when you look at it through the lens of sex and love. 

Henry Schlesinger: Well, the thing about espionage is that it encompasses the best in human beings and the worst and everything in between. 

Andrew Hammond: Mmm hmm. And I think it's also quite interesting - I used to live not too far away from Bonn. And that, of course, was the capital of West Germany for - you know, when West Germany was still the name of the country. In Bonn, I remember there was a joke. It was like Bonn was nicknamed the national cemetery, you know, the national - because it was just such a sleepy, kind of nondescript town where not a lot happened. So you had that demographic anomaly you spoke of, but it also wasn't a particularly great place to be a young, single woman. 

Henry Schlesinger: No. It wasn't. And Markus Wolf was very much aware of this. As he famously said, I was running an intelligence operation, not a lonely hearts club. He did admit to things getting out of hand on occasion. 

Andrew Hammond: And just to - let's discuss the motivations a little bit because you outlined that in your book. So it can be control. It can be to exploit. It can be to target, and it can be to discredit. So we've spoke a lot about the discrediting - you know, this person says that they're a morally upright member of society, but actually, here is this hidden part of their personality that they're trying to hide from everybody. So you discredit them in the eyes of the public or some kind of constituency. But tell us a little bit more about the other ones - control, exploit and target. 

Henry Schlesinger: Well, you can begin blackmailing someone if taking pictures or releasing some other evidence of an untoward relationship. And it depends whether - how much they want to hang onto their reputations and careers. Again, it's the stick rather than the carrot, but you can combine that. If you - you can also immediately discredit someone if they represent an obstacle. If they're - you know, if they're particularly worrisome or bothersome, you can just eliminate them from the, you know, operation. It's - you know, without going through the bother of murdering them - you know, by discrediting them, by releasing evidence of hypocrisy or moral hypocrisy, removes them from the picture a lot - many times. 

Andrew Hammond: I don't know if it's the same - I'm sure it's relatively similar here in the States. But in a former life, I had to go through security vetting. I was in a aerial intelligence unit in the Royal Air Force. In a lot of those interviews, the basic takeaway was - and I'm being - I'm simplifying a little bit - but it was, you could have done pretty much anything as long as you're happy to tell us about it, and you're happy for the world to know about it. But if there's something that you're trying to hide, that's where it becomes a problem. 

Henry Schlesinger: That's interesting. I was unaware of that, but I can see it. You know, one of the interesting things to me was that in 1980, Bobby Ray Inman at the NSA refused to fire a gay man or revoke his security clearance. He did it under the condition that the gay man came out to his family and close friends and came in for added interviews every year. But at one point before that, just being gay was enough to revoke your security clearance, and revealing that would - you know, would have ended a career. And that would have been one of the most effective honey traps. There was one case in England - Jeremy Wolfenden. I don't know if you're familiar with him or not. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, I've heard - I've came across him before. 

Henry Schlesinger: OK. He was... 

Andrew Hammond: A lot of these people I've came across from your book. 

Henry Schlesinger: Right. 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter). 

Henry Schlesinger: He was known as the cleverest boy in England. And by all accounts, he was brilliant. And, like, he was a gay man working in Moscow, caught in a honey trap, immediately reported it to his superiors, and they chose to keep him in place. And that has happened many times. These people that do that, despite embarrassment, are heroes, I believe. Wolfenden, I believe, was a kind of hero. There was a columnist - a well-known columnist in Washington who was caught in a honey trap and immediately reported it, was hustled out of Moscow, and the KGB kept at him. They sent photos to his political enemies, all of which chose not to exploit the photos. It was a Wolfenden situation, and that takes great courage. 

Andrew Hammond: We'll be right back after this. 

Andrew Hammond: It is quite interesting that it can play out in a variety of different ways, right? It's not just as simple as you get caught doing something, and then, all of a sudden, you're an asset. It can cash out in different types of ways, right? And the Wolfenden example was a good one. So you can keep them in place. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. Lonetree. Clayton Lonetree was a U.S. Marine in the embassy. He was caught in a honey trap. He refused to believe that it was a honey trap, even up to the point of his trial. Soviet intelligence services mimicked a natural relationship so well that he - you know, he broke down crying when he finally realized what had happened. 

Andrew Hammond: And he was a Native American Marine Guard. And this was during the 1980s, is that correct? 

Henry Schlesinger: Yes. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. 

Henry Schlesinger: All of intelligence - or a great deal of human intelligence mimics naturalness - everyday life - going to dead drops and signal sites and that kind of thing. Honey traps do the same thing, but it's much more complicated 'cause you're dealing with human beings - you know, intimate interactions between human beings. And this woman managed to convince him that it was a natural relationship. She had met him on the subway platform in Moscow. A couple of times they chatted, and things progressed very, very naturally. It was - you know, it was a brilliant operation. I say that, you know, with grudging respect. 

Andrew Hammond: I think it's also the psychology there - just touching on the human being component of it. The psychology there is also very interesting. So I'm thinking of a movie like "Donnie Brasco," where they are just at - you know, so Johnny Depp's an undercover FBI officer. He basically infiltrates the mob. And then, when they get confronted - when they get arrested and they get told that Johnny Depp's character is actually an undercover FBI agent, they just refuse to believe it, even though all of the evidence is to the contrary. And then in the end, when they grudgingly accept that he is a undercover officer, they say, well, you know, tell him we knew he was only doing his job. So the psychology is quite interesting as well. And that can - it seems to me that that can also play out in a number of different ways. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. You don't want to believe that you've been had. You don't want to believe that you've been tricked, particularly over a long period of time. Look at Mercader - Ramon Mercader - Trotsky's assassin. He was a Romeo spy who romanced a woman who had access. He used her as an access agent to Trotsky. And that was a long-term relationship. He did have help early on. When the woman, Ageloff, was in Paris, they arranged - Soviet intelligence services arranged for her to be accompanied by another woman who would help with the relationship - the initial seduction, saying, wow, that guy is really handsome. He seems like a good guy. Why don't you start a relationship with him? And that's the way the relationship ended. They put another woman next to Ageloff to, you know, cheer on the relationship - the budding relationship. I thought that was interesting. 

Andrew Hammond: Mmm hmm. And we can discuss that. We can go on to discuss that a little bit more. I think that's a fascinating example. So let's, like, start digging into the the chronology of this. So let's start way back when and then work our way up to the present day. So you give some quite interesting examples in the book, Henry, of the Bible, the Mahabharata, where the Bhagavad Gita comes from. So tell us a little bit more about some of those examples. I think one that many people have heard of is the story of Samson and Delilah. So just recount for our listeners what you call the the biblical Bond girl that was Delilah. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. Samson was was seen as a threat, and they wanted to eliminate the threat. And they paid Delilah to find his weakness. And that's a very early example. Notably, Delilah is one of the few women in the story who is named, other than Samson's mother. So she has an actual name. She's a Bond girl. 

Henry Schlesinger: The epic of Gilgamesh is the same way. They want to tame Enkidu, who's a wild man on the steps, and they send a woman out to tame him with sex and then lure him by degrees back to the city. 

Henry Schlesinger: Ancient Sanskrit texts, you know, don't give examples, but they lay out a roadmap of how to - you know, the different types of honey traps involved. Interestingly, they name actresses and singers as the prime honey traps, as - or suitable. I always thought that was interesting. But that's - they appear in every culture that has intelligence or has an intelligence service or a function. 

Andrew Hammond: On that note, tell us a little bit more about Xi Shi in ancient China. 

Henry Schlesinger: She was recruited by a defeated king - the most beautiful woman in his kingdom. And what's interesting about her is that she's become this mythic figure. But in the myth, she is also trained in dance and song and social graces and that kind of thing, and she's given to the victorious king as tribute. And he becomes obsessed with her to the point of neglecting the rule of his kingdom. And he neglects the rule of his kingdom and commits huge resources to building things to please her - palaces and canals and things like that. It creates unrest in his kingdom and creates a vulnerability where the once-defeated king can now defeat him. She brought down a kingdom. 

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And just looking at this - you know, in your book, this thread that runs through your book, I mean, it just seems so self-evident that this is just embedded in human history, even before there's formalized professional intelligence agencies. It's just the - there's just so much leverage. There's so much things that can be done with human beings. And I think that that example that you just gave there, Xi Shi - you know, you mentioned earlier about appearing to fit in. And just like you wouldn't send out a case officer or just, you know, a blunt instrument - go in there and just walk up to someone and ask if they want to, you know, work on behalf of your government. There's a - there's, like, a whole series of - there's an art to it, right? There's artifice. There's, you know, mannerisms. There's various things that go into making all of this. It's more complicated than it seems on the surface, which just appears like a, you know, a mouse trap. Here's, like, a piece of cheese. They walk in. It slams on them. But there's a lot of work on the back end, right? 

Henry Schlesinger: There's a lot of preparation, usually, in these types of operations. 

Andrew Hammond: I think it's also quite interesting, in your book, just thinking about the professionals that do this versus the people that are brought into it, like Mata Hari. But we can go on to discuss that. I think another really great example that you have in the book is the flying squadron. So we're talking about the monarchies and courts of Europe. 

Henry Schlesinger: That's Catherine II, I believe, yes. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. The early modern period - tell us a little bit more about them. They're really, really interesting, and I'm pretty sure most people haven't heard of them. 

Henry Schlesinger: The flying squadron is, I believe - from my reading, is mostly myth. Catherine was a de Medici, and it was said of her that she had a group of women who she deployed throughout Europe to sleep with powerful men to gain secrets. That she used sex or that she used honey traps is unrefutable (ph). That it was so organized to have, you know, women that just did this, I think, is a little - strains credulity. But squadron in this case doesn't refer to airplanes. It's not an aeronautical term. It's a dancing term. 

Andrew Hammond: And on the topic of... 

Henry Schlesinger: But, again, she was a de Medici, so you know... 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter) Yeah. There was - they had a bit of a flair for this type of dramatization. So talking about mythology, let's pivot onto the Southern belles. That's another quite interesting example. 

Henry Schlesinger: Right. The Southern belles - again, that's myth - largely myth. Historians have gone back to look at the intelligence they gathered, and Southerners had an advantage, and they - because, you know, it was easier for a Southerner to operate in Washington than it was for a Northerner to operate in Richmond. The Southern belles were said to be charming and able to wheedle secrets out of northern officers - you know, union officers and enlisted men alike. With their mannerisms and their hospitality, it was a very, you know, likely myth or a very attractive myth. In reality, where the Southerners really shined - where the Confederacy really shined was with their scouts - people who knew the landscape and were able to go out and spy on troop movements, that kind of thing. But the Southern belle myth, you know, endures. You know, and it's fine. It's - you know, it's a very colorful myth, and it's - a lot of things go with it - hiding wanted men under their big crinoline dresses and things like that. But it's largely mythology and self-promotion on the part of many of them. 

Andrew Hammond: In your book, you discuss that, you know, when you look at the evidence, it actually appears that the North were probably more successful at this stuff than the Southern belles. 

Henry Schlesinger: Well, they both used it. I'm not sure how effective the Northerners were. They apparently used it in brothels. You know, Northerners - they recruited women who worked in brothels to report on the Southern officers. 

Andrew Hammond: Even with some of the examples that we've spoken about so far, it's really, really interesting. You know, if you just mention these names, like Samson and Delilah, the Flying Squadron of the French Corps, the Southern Belles, I mean, those are all very evocative images that come to your mind. And this is one of the problems that... 

Henry Schlesinger: And don't forget Mata Hari. 

Andrew Hammond: And - but that's what I was teeing up for. 

Henry Schlesinger: OK. 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter) Yeah, you're onto me. So, yeah. And then that brings us up to the mother of all myths, Mata Hari, which is just really, really fascinating, a self-creation that's amplified by popular culture ever since it happened. And this is with us until the present day where someone gets uncovered and the press say that they're the X Mata Hari or the Mata Hari of X. So let's dig into Mata Hari's story a little bit more and what you find quite interesting. We don't have time to go into why MacLeod is part of her name. Whenever I think of - being a Scot, I always think of "Highlander." You know, I'm Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. I don't think it's really going to work for Mata Hari. But let's go on to discuss Mata Hari. So just - let's just clarify this for our listeners because we feature in the Spy Museum, who was she and why is she known as the, like, the femme fatale figure? 

Henry Schlesinger: Well, you have to understand first, femme fatales have an appeal that's equal - women find them as fascinating as men, for some reason, the idea of this woman who can manipulate a man with a look or a gesture or, you know, the promise of sex. And, you know, they're usually well costumed or well-dressed. So there's a real appeal at the basis of femme fatales. Mata Hari was in show business. One of her early costumes, I'd note - I noted in the book, which I find fascinating, was designed by Erte, the art deco master, who had decades of, you know, successes in designing art deco objects and clothing and that kind of thing. 

Henry Schlesinger: She was a sad figure. She was a young woman who married badly, was probably infected with syphilis early on in her marriage, tried - escaped once to Paris and found herself in a very low rent or a very low rent brothel where she had to service between 10 and 15 men in her shift, went back, managed to scrape together some money and returned to Paris and made a big success through a series of sexual conquests and other things, was found by an agent and promoted as this exotic dancer. How much people believed that she was an exotic dancer at the time is unknown. Her name is Eye of the Morning, I believe. Mata Hari translates to Eye of the Morning. How much people believed that is unknown. 

Henry Schlesinger: What's pretty relevant is that she did perform semi-nude in these dances. So it was a way to take in a semi-nude show and pretend that it was cultural. And she became famous and well-known and had a series of, you know, lovers who lavished her with gifts. At the end of her career, she turned to espionage, and she wasn't very good at it. She was seen as expendable and she was expended - arrested by the French, put on trial. Because she was so well-known, she was a good publicity device. And there were a lot of photos of her taken in costume, which, you know, served to titillate the public and continues to do so. And she was executed. 

Andrew Hammond: And she - just for our listeners, clarify - who was it that she was spying for and who was she spying against? And yeah, what kind of web was she caught up in? 

Henry Schlesinger: She - in reality, she took money to spy for both the French and the Germans. And she was accused by the French of spying for the Germans. And that was the web that she was caught up in. Her German lover transmitted a code that he knew or should have known had already been broken that identified her. And that's when she was arrested. 

Andrew Hammond: It's quite interesting. You know, the - yeah, just looking at her story, it's quite tragic, isn't it? And I think, you know, here - because we've got the exhibit here, we get a lot of feedback about it on Mata Hari and I think one of the things that's quite interesting, just, you know, looking back as a historian is, like, in the era of this Orientalization or exotic associations with the Eastern world, they were a standard in Western cultures. And I think Mata Hari was just playing into that. It's not that she was, you know, responsible for doing this off of the bat, that this is something that was going on at that time. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. She was Dutch. The Orientalism was a fabrication. It made her seem more exotic. In reality, she's a tragic figure. She lost custody of her - well, one child died when he was treated for syphilis as a toddler and given an overdose of mercury, which was the treatment by the base doctor. She lost custody of her daughter because of the risque photos that were available at the time. And they were used in the court case against her. When they arrested her, they found the mysterious ointment, which they believed was used for secret writing, you know, invisible ink. In reality, the ointment was a common medication to relieve the pain of syphilitic lesions. She was a tragic figure for most of her life. She was promoted by, you know, show business people, earned a lot of money for them and herself and just, you know, went into decline after her show business career was over. 

Andrew Hammond: And I think another interesting part of this is, you know, people always look back at this with modern sensibilities. And at that time, as a woman, it was very difficult to manufacture yourself as something, you know, a captain of industry, an actor, a lawyer or a doctor. So there's very little scope to do this type of stuff. But Mata Hari sees an opportunity to create this image of herself, and she works within those spaces that she can, given the constraints of that particular time. 

Henry Schlesinger: That's not altogether true. She was promoted by a wily impresario. I mean, he saw potential in her and, you know, put her on stage and touring and all of that. So, you know, her - you know, she did manufacture some of her persona prior to entering that world, but it was heavily promoted and heavily exploited. 

Andrew Hammond: And tell us a little bit more about the - so just after Mata Hari, the actual historical figure of Mata Hari gets executed. And then in 1930, we have the book "Mata Hari: Courtesan and Spy" by Major Thomas Coulson, a British intelligence officer. And then you also have - I think it's 1931 or 1930, you have the Greta Garbo "Mata Hari" movie. So how important are both of them in, like, solidifying this myth that she goes on to become? 

Henry Schlesinger: Enormously important - they did - Coulson and Garbo did for Mata Hari what the French press did in promoting her espionage. You know, it was this myth of the femme fatale that - you know, it's enduring. So it really gave new life to, you know, to the myth. And now it's almost impossible to distinguish the real Mata Hari from Garbo. 

Andrew Hammond: That brings me on to the next person. I wanted to ask you about Bystrolyotov. We - here at the museum, we also have an exhibit on him. And there's just some absolutely fantastic photographs of him as all different - adopting all different types of personas - a Dutch artist, a, you know, European count, an English gentleman. In every single one of them, he just looks so convincing. I often say to guests that he's - he was like Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis, all rolled into one. He was just - he really owned each of the roles that he inhabited. So just tell us a little bit more about Bystrolyotov and seduction. 

Henry Schlesinger: He was an interesting character. He would actually go to locations within the country where he had - where he was supposedly from for his cover and take pictures of himself in different outfits to establish his cover. And I totally agree that he was like a Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep rolled into one. One of his best operations, or the one that I - you know, that sticks with me was - he recruited a man, Oldham, who worked in the code office in London. And the operation was going to plan. And then he seduced Oldham's wife. So he had a spy spying on his spy. I thought that was a little over the top, but it was totally in character for him. 

Henry Schlesinger: Another notable operation was seducing a woman in Germany who was a true believer in the Nazi cause. She was also disfigured from a fire. And he was a very handsome guy. So how do you approach her? She - you know, assuming that she had some self-awareness, she would question why this really handsome guy was pursuing her for a romantic relationship. Well, he posed as a political naive, expressed modest interest in the Nazi philosophy, and she became his tutor in - his political tutor and then progressed from there to a shared ideology and then a romantic relationship. And the stepped process was inspired. 

Andrew Hammond: The level of forethought that would have to go into that - I took some acting classes at the HB Studio in the West Village. And these are the types of things that we would talk about. But the timeline for Bystrolyotov was much longer and... 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure, it was months. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, it was... 

Henry Schlesinger: Months, if not... 

Andrew Hammond: It's just incredible, I think, just the level of thought that goes into this, like, slowly building it up and making your way into their affections and then taking it from there. It's just incredible. 

Henry Schlesinger: Let me ask a question. Is it any more detailed than the level of thought that goes into planting a clandestine listening device or the normal recruitment of an agent? 

Andrew Hammond: I think I hear what you're saying. I think that one of the points you make in the book is that this is - quite often, this is an intelligence operation. So intelligence operations, you know, there's a lot of forethought that goes into them. I feel like Bystrolyotov just takes it to a whole new level. Even the clothes and everything that he wears, it looks like the best, you know - yeah, he seems to just go above and beyond. But he's also quite a tragic figure in the end, isn't he? 

Henry Schlesinger: Yes. He was caught up in the purges, sent to a gulag. Remarkably survived the gulag, got out, made his living, I believe, as an artist and a translator. He did write his memoirs, and a much-redacted version of them did come out, I believe, in Russia. 

Andrew Hammond: Really, really fascinating. And another one that we have here at the museum is the Trotsky assassination. So tell us a little bit more about our Ramon Mercader and Sylvia Ageloff. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sylvia Ageloff was a social worker in New York. Her sister had worked for Trotsky. She had known Trotsky. They had targeted her because she was uninvolved with anyone. She was relatively plain-looking. They chose Mercader and his mother because they were true believers in the Soviet cause. They launched him against her in Paris. They arranged for her to go to Paris with a girlfriend for a Soviet thing or a socialist conference. But, you know, romantic city at the time. Mercader posed as the playboy ne'er-do-well of a Belgian, I believe, European - rich, European family. They hit it off, of course, Ageloff and Mercader. They had several, you know, encounters or - you know, the relationship and - you know, went from Paris back to New York and then to Mexico. And eventually, Mercader wheedled his way into Trotsky's compound, which had been reinforced following an unsuccessful and spectacular assassination attempt involving machine guns and that kind of thing. That was it. You know, once he was in with Trotsky's - well, once he was trusted by Trotsky's guard and the people in the compound and Trotsky himself, he had access. And that was the end of the story for Trotsky. 

Andrew Hammond: And here at the museum, we have the ice axe that was used to kill Leon Trotsky. That's a really interesting story. But another... 

Henry Schlesinger: Yeah, it's... 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, sorry? 

Henry Schlesinger: It's often mistaken for an ice pick, a cocktail lounge kind of ice pick. But in fact, it was an axe, an alpinist axe, sort of mountain climbing axe, that they had stolen from the motel owner's son where - that they were using as a safe house and cut the handle down to make it easier to conceal. 

Andrew Hammond: And this was also a long game that was being played - right? - by Mercader and the Russians. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure, it was a very long game, months, you know, and very well planned and executed up until the point where they substituted the ice axe for a metal bar. It didn't immediately kill Trotsky. The idea was to kill Trotsky silently and for Mercader to walk out of the compound nonchalantly. What had happened is once Trotsky was struck, it didn't kill him instantly, he cried out, and the, you know, compound was on lockdown, and they were able to capture him. He served out his full term in jail. 

Andrew Hammond: In Mexico and then went to the Soviet Union? 

Henry Schlesinger: Right. 

Andrew Hammond: I think one - that any listeners from the DMV might think interesting is the Capitol Couples, the swingers. Could you tell us a little bit more about them? 

Henry Schlesinger: The Koechers, they were Czech intelligence officers posing as refugees who hated communism. And they had a reputation, or they - either they were truly into it, or they posed as it, you know, or they adopted the lifestyle of swingers during the '70s. And they were involved in a group called Capitol Couples in Washington, where - that met in private homes in motel rooms or hotel rooms that were swingers. And they were said to frequent a place in New York called Plato's Retreat and some other clubs. How much that was cover and how much that was personal preference or a combination of either one is up for debate. Those clubs are very closed systems, very closed communities or subcultures. So a new person entering it would be under - you know, would be looked at closely. So I would assume that that was a place where they could avoid any kind of surveillance or suspicion, or those were places where they could avoid, you know, surveillance. It's hard to imagine the FBI infiltrating Plato's Retreat. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Yeah, it would be quite the feat. I mean, I think - another thing that I find quite interesting, you know, just going through your book is thinking about, like - so we've got professional intelligence agencies, and then we've got the earlier period. But, you know, you outline in the book that this is not just something that, you know, societies like communist societies or authoritarian societies would use. Your point is that pretty much all intelligence agencies have used it, whether they choose to admit it or not. Can you just give us a couple of non - a couple of examples from the American or Anglo American world? 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. During World War II, America and England ran a joint honey trap operation with Betty Pack. She was a Washington debutante, once married to a British diplomat. And she - you know, she seduced several high-ranking diplomats in Washington during World War II. And she was very upfront about it. She says, my efforts saved thousands of lives or hundreds of lives. I don't regret it at all. Most countries are very squeamish about admitting that they use them, but they all do. In one operation, she disrobed. She took off all of her clothing except high heels and a pearl necklace in case the security guard came in. It was the French Embassy, the Vichy French Embassy, I believe - consulate. And if the security guard intruded, she could - you know, her and her target could claim that, you know, they were just involved in a romantic tryst. 

Andrew Hammond: It's so fascinating, this. Like, just reading your book, I was just thinking about the way that all of this stuff all intersects with the social - just so many parts of the history of human beings, but, you know, changing gender relations, social relations - there's just so much nuance to all of this stuff other than what people just think of when they think, oh, yeah, it's just some really hot, you know, Eastern European girl, like, hitting on someone, and then they get secrets. There's just so many different hues and colors and layers of nuance going on here. It's really, really fascinating. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. It's an intelligence operation. It's complicated. It's... 


Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, even thinking about, like - I was just thinking - being in Norway or being in Scandinavia, I remember someone saying to me that their men don't approach women and try to chat them up or talk to them. Their women come over and will, like, cheers your glass and say skal if they want to speak to you a little bit more. So even things like that, like the cultural conventions - if you just send someone in there - yeah, just go and chat to a bunch of girls, then it's going to be like, well, that's not really working in this cultural context. There's other things going on. So it's just really, really fascinating. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. Spies aren't James Bond. Normal case officers, you know, spy runners aren't James Bond. They tend to blend into the environment. That's also true for honey trap operations. They tend to blend into the environment. They're not out of place. If you look at Maria Butina - she's a fascinating character. The photos taken of her at political events - her wardrobe is perfect. Her wardrobe is upper-middle class, shopping-mall dresses and, you know, outfits and that kind of thing. She went to gun shows. She wore cowboy hats and boots. She completely blended in. If you didn't know who she was, you wouldn't be able to pick her out of a crowd. 

Andrew Hammond: Just talking about that, this also intersects with technology, right? You mentioned this in the book - the role that cameras had. All of a sudden, you could capture someone in a particular type of situation, or even bringing it up to the present day, thinking about cyberspace and Robin Sage and Mia Ash and so forth - like, work up to the present day. You know, honey traps are not just a Cold War thing. They're also happening around us just now. So just tell us about how honey traps and weaponized love have came up to the digital era. 

Henry Schlesinger: OK. Well, first, I think it's important to - going back to espionage philosophy or espionage history, if something works, it continues to be in use. Conversely, if new technology works, it will be adopted into espionage. So the digital age has been adopted into - cyber operations have been adopted into honey traps. You can create a false persona. You know, actual sex isn't necessary anymore in the digital age. Just the possibility of sex is enough. In one operation, one intelligence operation, they used social media to lure in military personnel in the Middle East. And the woman would say - or the notional woman, the fictional woman would say, I want to send you some pictures, some risque pictures. Can you download this app? 

Henry Schlesinger: And the app was on the App Store. These guys would download it, and it wouldn't completely download, or it said it wouldn't download, and they gave up. In fact, the app did download and took control of their phone. So they had their GPS. They had their text message. They had their e-mails. They had every function of the phone. They could turn on the camera. They could turn on the microphone. It was a brilliant - you know, it was a brilliant maneuver. After they downloaded the app, of course, that they didn't know they had on their phone, the woman would fade away in a natural sense, you know? 

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And tell us a little bit more about some of these other modern operations, so - or give us some more context. So you mentioned in the book the Indian army, for example, banned phones because the Pakistani ISI were using them to try to figure out what the Indians were up to. 

Henry Schlesinger: Sure. That was one - that was a very similar operation. They would download malware onto the phone and use, you know, photos of good-looking women to - you know, to lure these guys in. They've used social media as - you know, intelligence services now use social media not only to build the profile of their targets but also conduct operations. 

Andrew Hammond: Coming towards the end of the interview, what are - what's, like, one of the main - when you meet people, go out for dinner or meet people in your everyday life and you tell them what you're doing, what's, like, the biggest misconception you think that people have about sex, betrayal and weaponized love, like, the honey trap? Like, what's the biggest misconception? 

Henry Schlesinger: They have a more romantic conception about it, or they think that it's like spring break in Cancun, that it's not an intelligence operation, a planned and, you know, coordinated intelligence operation. And that's fine. The movie versions, you know, fiction, you know, and the myths - you know, they're entertainment. In reality, they're much different. 

Andrew Hammond: So - and, you know, one of the questions that some of our listeners will have will be, is this actually used by, like, the modern American intelligence agencies? Is this not in there with the Church and Pike Committee stuff, where, oh, sure, there was some naughty stuff that we've done in the past, but we don't do it anymore? I mean, is this something that they'll actually still be doing, or do we just not know that, or is it something else? 

Henry Schlesinger: We don't know. We can ask them, see what they say. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. I suspect I know what the answer will be. 


Andrew Hammond: OK. And, like, you've studied this, like, from the dawn of time, really. So if someone's out there in the intelligence community who listens to "SpyCast" and they're like, there's something about this that doesn't seem right, how - what are some of Henry's top tips for spotting that you're part of an intelligence operation where people are using sex and love to take advantage of you? Like, how do you know this is happening to you? 

Henry Schlesinger: It'll seem perfectly natural. 

Andrew Hammond: OK. 


Henry Schlesinger: How's that for an answer? 

Andrew Hammond: That's a good one (laughter). So this has been a lot of fun. There's so much more that we could speak about. Well, I really enjoyed your book, and I enjoyed our chat. So, yeah, thanks so much. 

Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Go to our webpage, where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalogue for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter at @INTLSpyCast, and share your favorite quotes and insights, or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at spycast@spymuseum.org. I'm your host Dr. Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter at @spyhistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The "SpyCast" team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.