Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Like a Spy to Honey: Sexual Seduction in Real and Fictional Espionage

A story is making the news this week about a US military contractor who is accused of passing nuclear weapons secrets to his Chinese girlfriend. This story is the latest episode in one of the most subtle and successful kinds of operations; the honey trap. But while this type of spy tale is titillating, it does not get the attention it deserves in modern espionage thrillers.

When Truth is Stranger than Fiction

In espionage parlance, a honey trap (or a honey pot) is the use of sexual seduction to recruit agents, either through blackmail or emotional manipulation. The use of honey traps can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Cleopatra’s seduction of Julius Cesar and later Mark Anthony to improve diplomatic relations between Egypt and Rome is one of the early honey traps. Casanova also used his seductive skills as a spy (as well as for general recreation).

Modern honey traps are also well documented. Dozens of military and diplomatic officers including Clayton Lonetree, Sharon Scranage and James Smith gave up secrets to their honey traps. One of the more bizarre cases occurred when a male Chinese opera singer named Shi Pei Pu pretended to be a woman, seduced a French diplomat and convinced him that “she” was pregnant to entrap him. This might be the most famous honey trap story of all because it was fictionalized into the play M. Butterfly.

A Bit of Honey

Honey traps have had a mostly minor role in spy fiction. Vesper Lynd is recruited by a male honey trap in Casino Royale. Nikita sometimes acts as a honey trap in La Femme Nikita. A honey trap poses as a prostitute to kill one of the assassins in Munich. The Fiona character in Burn Notice and her historical counterpart Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible act as short term honey traps in their respective teams. Most recently, Barry Eisler has shined the spotlight on his own honey trap, Delilah, in the novella London Twist. In the vast majority of espionage fiction, the honey traps act as love interests for the protagonist, rarely getting their own time in the sun.

A Taste of Honey

The book I’m currently writing is about a honey trap forced to spy on her lover. I’m creating a unique story, in part, because I am making the sexual seducer the protagonist. I’m exploring the motivations, struggles and choices that come with the use of sexuality as a tool of deception. The seduction in A Taste of Honey hasn’t been thrown in just for the sake of putting sex in a story. It is a way of exploring the true nature of the characters and the world they live in.

Human intelligence experts often refer to money, ideology, coercion and excitement (MICE) as the key motivators to recruitment. Sex is one of the most basic forms of excitement that we have and a powerful form of recruitment. There are plenty of examples of honey pots in fiction, but they are dwarfed by the number of assassins, rouge CIA agents and Delta Force heroes. I have nothing against assassins. Hell, some of my favorite characters are assassins. I just think the genre could use a bit more honey, and I plan to provide it.

Have fun.

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