by Julius Apostata
Picture this scenario: you’re a political candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 2014. Maybe you were elected back in 2012 and you’re running a reelection campaign. And, for the sake of argument, you need money. Naturally, your campaign needs to raise funds so you can get back in office and grow your powerbase. So you do just that; holding fundraising events and telling everyone that they should donate to your political cause. During one of these events, while you are going about your business, you meet her: a gorgeous bombshell with beautiful eyes and a wonderful smile. Not only do you hit it off with her, but she tells you that she’d love to help you and that she’s been active in other political campaigns before. You look at her amazing figure, her experience working in other political campaigns, and your campaign finances and agree. For a while, she works as a “bundler”, making sure to tell rich donors that you have their interests at heart. And, after a long-fought campaign, you win! But that apple of your eye isn’t going anywhere; she sticks around for a bit, recommending an intern to work in your office. Perhaps you got to see a little more of that body she has through a…private meeting, although we don’t know for sure. What can be confirmed is that she suddenly leaves you in 2015, and five years later you learn that she was likely a Chinese spy. Needless to say, you may have been thinking with the wrong head, and now you are in a world of trouble. Although hot and steamy political sex scandals like this seem far-fetched, this scenario has raised a very sexy question: what is the history of “honey traps”, as they are called? And what role do US adversaries such as China play in these operations?
To minimize confusion in this article, “honey trap” or sexual espionage refers to using sexual intercourse or charm to achieve a political goal, often done subversively. Many of us may assume that sexual espionage is a relatively recent phenomenon, yet in reality, the practice of using intimacy as a means of achieving personal or political goals is as ancient as history itself. In fact, examples of this can even be found in religious texts; in Judges 16, a form of sexual espionage is performed, with the “spy” Delilah using her charm to find out the secret of Samson’s great strength for the Philistines. Another biblical example can be found in the downfall of the Canaanite commander Sisera. Under the Prophetess Deborah, the Israelites smashed the Canaanites in battle, forcing Sisera to flee. However, Deborah predicts that the honor of killing the oppressive commander will go to a woman; upon fleeing the battle, Sisera seeks refuge from a woman named Yael. Yael, secretly working for the Israelites, gives Sisera milk and, according to the Talmud, has sexual intercourse with Sisera seven times to tire him out. Afterwards, Yael drives a peg straight through Sisera’s head while he sleeps, killing him and fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of an ancient “honey trap” not written into the Bible can be found in the tale of Cleopatra. The final Ptolemaic dynasty member to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was well-aware that her position on the throne was precarious; early into her rule, she was in a power dispute with her brother (and husband, ew!) Ptolemy XIII and had to deal with the ever-encroaching threat of Rome under its new dictator, Julius Caesar. Thus, in both a stroke of brilliance and political cunning, Cleopatra smuggles herself to Caesar’s quarters, supposedly in a rug, to seduce him. Upon doing just that, the pair overthrew Ptolemy XIII, installed Cleopatra as the de-facto ruler of Egypt, and later had a son named Caesarion. This seduction scheme by Cleopatra was a highly calculated political move for multiple reasons. Firstly, it secured Cleopatra’s position of power within Egypt as the sole queen of the region. Secondly, it allowed her to momentarily contain the expansionist Romans by charming Caesar. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the son she had with Caesar gave Cleopatra a legitimate claim for succession from Caesar to Caesarion. In fact, that’s exactly what happened following Caesar’s assassination! After charming one of Caesar’s closest associates, Marc Anthony, Cleopatra issued a declaration called The Donations of Alexandria, essentially granting Roman lands to Cleopatra’s children and naming Caesarion as the heir to Caesar’s will. Of course, Caesar already had an heir, his grand-nephew Octavian, and a civil war would foil her plan, yet this also shows how Cleopatra was able to use her charm and beauty to achieve practical political objectives.
In contemporary history, female spies have been a source of valuable intel for their benefactors, and have thus been extremely influential in determining the course of events in wartime. For example, during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederacy employed the use of women who would go behind enemy lines and would charm their way into getting information out of high-ranking officers. A famous example of this was the Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, who operated right in Washington D.C. Not only did she operate a vast spy network, but her seduction of figures like Senator Henry D. Wilson resulted in the Confederacy gaining early insight into the battle plans of the Union, resulting in their victory in the First Battle of Bull Run. Likewise, the intel brought about by the spy and abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew was invaluable for the Union to eventually defeat the Confederacy. While many sexy-spy-times occurred later on during the First and Second World War, it would be during the Cold War that the United States and the Soviet Union would step up their sexual espionage game. Considering the fact that an actual war between the two superpowers would likely result in the complete annihilation of mankind, the USSR and USA doubled their efforts in espionage, meaning, of course, more sexpionage. The Soviets had the upper hand in this, to some extent; according to both former CIA officer Jason Matthews and former KGB senior officer Oleg Kalugin, the USSR would persuade potential sexpionage recruits with greater luxuries as well as training these recruits at schools such as the creatively named Lenin Technical School or State School 4. Here, “swallows” (or “ravens”, for the male counterparts) would learn how to ensnare American tourists, soldiers, politicians, and even intelligence operatives into a lust-fueled passion. With the target being caught with their pants between their ankles, the jig would be up, and the target would be offered a chance to either work as an informant for the KGB or risk public disgrace. An example of this would be how the KGB recruited Edward Ellis Smith, a CIA operative working in Moscow. A reckless agent, the KGB had a “maid” seduce Smith, which resulted in his termination by the CIA and recruitment by the Soviets to root out spies within its ranks. Another example of a honey trap was when the KGB tried to blackmail French Colonel Louis Guibaud regarding his affair with a Soviet swallow, leading to his suicide in 1962. It wasn’t like the CIA was clueless about these tactics; under the amazingly sexy program “Operation Midnight Climax” (yes, that was the real name), the CIA used the allure of brothels to recruit unwitting participants into testing LSD and other mind-altering drugs.
Of course, with the USSR no longer being a thing, new rivals have sprung up to fill that sexy-spy-time void: China! As one of the fastest growing economic and political powers in the world, China’s rise on the world stage has led to another “Cold War”, per say. More specifically, both the United States and China have increased surveillance on one another, with tensions being inflamed in the early 2010s over the discovery of CIA assets within the Chinese Communist Party, military, and government, according to Foreign Policy. One way that China has done this was through the use of swallows. Remember how in the opening paragraph of this article I began with a hypothetical scenario? Turns out this actually happened! Enter: Christine Fang, an officer in China’s Ministry of State Security. Starting in 2011 as a political operative, Fang first started small, working on multiple fundraising campaigns and networking opportunities to get herself into contact with several officials. From here, she is confirmed to have charmed her way to eventually sleeping with two Midwestern mayors, according to Axios. Fang then met House Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) at a fundraising campaign for his reelection. An up-and-coming politician, Swalwell would later go on to be on the House Intelligence Committee. Needless to say, the two may have been close, although it hasn’t been confirmed that they have had sexual intercourse or that Swalwell gave up any classified information. What is guaranteed, however, is that the FBI has opened up an investigation into the matter, and is resulting in some representatives calling for Swalwell’s removal from the House Intelligence Committee. Of course, using swallows isn’t the only tool that China has in its arsenal; the authoritarian state has made many ways of committing espionage within the United States and elsewhere. However, it should be noted that Fang is likely not the only Chinese agent embedded within the United States, as current intelligence officials estimate that there are many more.
Sex, as it turns out, is a shockingly powerful tool for retrieving intel from a target. It also seems in line with human nature; the wanton desire created by lust has allowed “honey traps” to proliferate throughout history. Nowadays, the threat of a swallow may come from China, but in reality sexpionage has been a consistent tool in every spy’s arsenal. Whether this leads to the collapse of Eric Swalwell’s political career is uncertain. What is certain is the fact that China is already here. Maybe that one you’re seeing is secretly working for a hostile foreign power. Who knows? I know one thing, though: there’s definitely gonna be more sexy-spy-times, for sure.