Sex sells. Not only because it’s pleasurable, but also on a deeper, evolutionary level. We need to transmit our genes and to perpetuate the existence of our species. That’s true not only in humans but in the animal kingdom as well. And even though some animals have developed sex habits weirder than the imagination of humans, we are the only ones who actually saw the potential in turning this basic need into a weapon. And it was so effective that…
10. It Almost Brought Down Two U.S. Embassies
In 1985, the United States of America and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War. The KGB was constantly trying to obtain classified information that would balance the odds in their favor, and there was no better way to do so than by penetrating the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Clayton Lonetree was such a trusted Marine Security Guard that his job involved, among other things, providing security at a summit where President Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite the Marines being constantly advised against getting too friendly with Russian women who might be seducing them for sensitive information, Lonetree fell in love with Violetta Seina, part-time Soviet translator, full-time Russian sex spy, who arranged a meeting between the American and KGB operative Aleksey Yefimov. Soon after that, Lonetree started leaking restricted documents, including the floor plans of the embassy, and continuing in this manner even after he was transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. There he tampered with official documents and even disclosed the blueprint of the building. Because they had to move camp with the embassy in Moscow after the Marine came clean, they found that the new building they were about to use was, in the words of Bill Brown, a former marine assigned with inspecting it, “one big KGB radio station.”
As the first Marine ever to be found guilty of espionage against the United States, Clayton Lonetree was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Although at the time there were voices who considered that he should be killed, he got out after only nine years.
But using sex in the espionage world was not always so elaborate. Sometimes it was just…
9. An Unforeseen Lucky Chance
WikiLeaks became a worldwide phenomenon in 2010 when its founder, Julian Assange, leaked thousands of classified U.S. documents to the public. It was an unprecedented event, bringing espionage into the lives of the mainstream population and causing great distress amongst U.S. officials. It’s easy then to understand why Assange quickly became one of the most wanted people in the United States.
In 2010, the Australian was accused of allegedly raping two women in Stockholm. He was jailed in London, and the U.S. Justice Department saw this as an opportunity to get him extradited to the United States and tried for espionage. Although the judge insisted that he was not being held for charges of espionage, Assange was refused bail. As three out of the four charges he was facing got dropped over the next two years due to their expiration, Assange kept fighting against the extradition to Sweeden. This was particularly important for him in the long run. He would have agreed to go there of his own volition as long as he was guaranteed not to be transferred to the United States. He was denied that. When he lost his final appeal he fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he couldn’t be arrested while on the premises. In an effort to keep tabs on him, it cost the local police about $14 million for the non-stop surveillance of the embassy. The stakes were so high since, according to U.S. law, federal espionage could mean the death penalty for Assange. But that is a condition neither the UK nor Sweeden would accept, so they guaranteed they will not extradite him if that stays on the table.
Of course, the espionage charges attributed to Assange were different from anything else that had happened in the past, since he was not actively taking one particular side against another. That used to be the basic pattern in the past, and sometimes, when the opposite side played its cards right a sex spy could be…
8. Executed by the People You Spy For
An orphan since age 15, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, born in 1876 in Netherlands, decided that her beauty was going to be her ticket to a better life. That turned out true when, at 19, she married a Dutch captain two decades older than her whom she met through a newspaper ad. That didn’t last long, though, and shortly after the turn of the century she moved to Paris where she became a famous dancer and mistress, being given the most famous name in sexpionage – Mata Hari.
That worked out great for her, but as careers in the field of exotic dancing are strongly linked to the age of the performer, nearing 40 brought a halt to her activities. When her then 21-year-old Russian lover was left blind in one eye she accepted an offer to spy for France in order to help him financially. That didn’t go as well as she had hoped because soon the Germans, suspicious of her activities, sent an official message that intentionally mischaracterized her as a German spy and placed her on the blacklist of the French, who intercepted the message with little effort. Even though they were aware of the possibility that she had been set up, a sex spy with no real contribution served a better role as a scapegoat. Of course, there were historians who thought that she was, in fact, a double agent, but she denied that to her last breath. She was tried, sentenced to death by firing squad, and executed on October the 15, 1917.
But even if a sex spy survives…
7. Life After the Mission can be Traumatizing
Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that North Korea is not the friendliest country in the world, and nothing exemplifies this like their hatred for their neighbors to the south. Spies and assassins have been systematically sent to South Korea in order to gather information or make attempts on the lives of high-ranking officials, including the President. Most of the time, though, only low-level information was being passed on to the North. Won Jeong-hwa was a woman assigned with using sex to collect such data. She started off as an informer attributed with providing the whereabouts of North Koreans trying to flee the country via China. After that, she was sent to South Korea to use her sexuality in order to extract military information from an army captain. It wasn’t long before she was captured and sentenced to five years in prison.
South Korea is perhaps an unusual example of what happens to spies after they are released. Most of them are granted the right to remain in the country they conspired against and given a try at making a living there. Because the general population wants to hear about their past, they usually go into showbiz. That’s how it started for Won as well, but soon enough, thorough background checks by the media proved that she was in fact lying about her elite spy training, and started being seen as a simple informant who slept around, and whose role was inflated by the authorities in order to make North Korea look even worse. This caused her downfall in the public eye but left her with a high enough profile to be refused hiring everywhere, including as a waitress or cleaning lady. As a single mom who couldn’t even provide for her 12-year-old daughter, the woman who got the pompous name of North Korea’s ‘Mata Hari’ said that she had thought about killing herself multiple times. She was being fired on a regular basis for having that past, and she even thought about giving up her adolescent daughter to adoption for a better life, thus proving what two manipulating systems can do to the individual caught in the middle.
But whether they are trained or not, in the vast majority of cases sex spies know that what they’re doing is a job, because if it gets personal, the risk of getting caught grows tenfold. And that’s exactly what happens when…
6. A Sex Spy Falls in Love with an Enemy Sex Spy
Being an actress in post-World War II Germany was not a particularly lucrative idea, but Anna Maria Knuth was just that. As expected, she didn’t have any success with finding work, so she became a Soviet sex spy in a network called the Kolberg Ring, under the command of a former Polish cavalry officer.
With her background in acting she didn’t have much trouble seducing American, British and West German officials into having relations with her and then blackmailing them into leaking confidential information. She was very successful for a while, but success in espionage is bound to attract the attention of all the wrong people. One of those people was West German spymaster Reinhard Gehlen, who decided to beat her at her own game and sent after her a German agent known as Dr. Petersen. Although Knuth was actually warned about him possibly being a spy, she fell deeply in love with him anyway. Over the next year, he fed her carefully constructed forged intelligence, getting in return enough information to doom her and the whole Kolberg Ring. All the members, excluding the officer in charge, were arrested. Knuth died of cancer two years later.
Spymasters played an essential role at recruiting and training very effective informers. However…
5. It Doesn’t Always Take a Spy to Make a Spy
The interwar period was a time of turmoil and conspiracy, swarming with spies, informers, and extreme political movements. Kim Philby was a Cambridge student who had just finished his studies when he decided to go to Vienna to learn German. Litzi Friedman (born Alice Kohlmann) was not a spy, but she was the young woman with whom the Brit fell in love, and who made Philby adhere to her radical communist views and later become one of the most successful Soviet spies of all time. The two met in Vienna in 1933 at Litzi’s parents’ house where Philby stayed as a paying visitor. When they started dating, Philby was still had his virginity and his moderate leftist views. He lost both. Under the influence of the woman he was in love with he started actively taking part in and financially contributing to underground far-left organizations in Vienna where Litzi was heavily involved, and whose members soon became targeted for arrest and the leaders hunted down for execution. In 1934, Philby married Litzi in order to get her a British passport, and shortly after, they both fled to London.
There, Friedman put Philby in contact with a Soviet agent who ended up recruiting him as a spy. He was now fully convinced that communism was the best political view people should adopt; so much so that he accepted severing any connection with his wife in order to better infiltrate the British Intelligence. They went their different ways and got divorced in 1946 after years without any contact. They both remarried.
He had the charm of an amazing double-agent, mostly because he was one. He even became the head of the anti-Soviet department at MI6, all the while keeping the Kremlin up to date with everything. When his cover was blown, he moved to Moscow, where he was received as a hero. In 1988, he died disappointed with the discrepancy between what communism was preaching and how miserable the lives of people actually were.
4. Using Closeted Homosexuality for Blackmail
There has never been a better time in history for people to be open about their sexual inclination, and although there is still a fair amount of discrimination left in the world, homosexuality could never be used for blackmail as successfully today as it was during the Cold War.
John Alsop was one of the most influential columnists of his time and very openly against communism. What he wasn’t open about was his homosexuality, which he unsuccessfully tried to keep a secret. His friends knew, and so did the Soviet officials. In 1957, it was the absolute perfect opportunity for the KGB to set a trap. While on a visit to Moscow, Alsop spent the night after a party with a man he had met there. Indecent pictures were taken. When the Soviets approached him and threatened to push him out of the closet if he didn’t cooperate in passing sensitive information to them, the journalist went instead to the U.S. embassy and confessed to everything. The Soviets kept their word and sent the pictures to U.S. officials and to Alsop’s friends back home hoping to end his career within days. Given the fact that he was famous and that sodomy was considered a felony in every state of the United States prior to 1962, that should have produced a huge scandal. So what happened? Nothing. Nobody made it public because everybody understood that his work was more important than his preferences.
So were male sex spies actually a thing or was this just a special situation?
3. The Stasi Romeos
The title is in itself amusing, but the network of spies it represented was one of the most successful in Europe after the Second World War. In that period, it seemed like the globally accepted order of things was that men knew all the secrets and women tried to get them for other men. The direct approach was to train women as sex spies and then place them in the vicinity of the target, who was to inevitably fall for their exercised talents. As in any other field, though, a slight change of perspective can bring a huge advantage over the enemy.
A member of the Stasi, one of the most dangerous secret police forces in history, did it. Markus Wolf was the chief of East Germany spy agency and made it his life’s goal to hone the use of sex in espionage. He trained men to go in the West and seduce lonely women who would have, through their job, access to secret documents. He made huge time investments into both preparing each man for his mission by studying every aspect about the life of the woman he was targeting, and making sure that he would be consistent in his lies for years.
Gabriele Kliem, a single woman in her early 30s who worked as a translator at the American embassy (pictured above, later in life), was one of the targets. Frank Dietzel, the spy, approached her saying he was working as for a research company dedicated to world peace. Three months later they got engaged and stayed together for seven years, a period in which she passed over dozens of confidential documents in order to advance his made-up company’s honorable goal. How could she get so attached to him so fast? The answer can be found in the hours of research done before the mission. It turns out Gabriele Kliem had been in a relationship with a math teacher who looked just like Frank Dietzel. The Stasi Romeos were shaped very carefully and very specifically, to be weapons against their intended targets.
Frank Dietzel died years after the mission in a car crash, and Kliem was tried for espionage in 1996 and ended up with only a suspended sentence and a fine. Using people like that for information is awful, but it could be even worse. One man, for instance, was…
2. Sexually Lured Into Being Kidnapped and Sent to Jail
The man in question was Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician at the secret Israeli Dimona Nuclear center in the Negev desert. He had access to very sensitive information, the most important being that the country was secretly manufacturing nuclear warheads. He went to London and made the whole operation public in The Sunday Times, together with with pictures he had taken at Dimona.
The uproar was immense and Israeli officials were on the hunt for Vanunu. They couldn’t just march into England, where the whistleblower was taking refuge under an assumed name, and bring him back to Israel for a trial, so they sent Cheryl ”Cindy” Hanin to seduce him. She was an American who had moved to Israel ten years prior and married a major in Israeli military intelligence. Posing as an American tourist visiting London, she showed interest in Vanunu and led him to believe that she wanted to have an affair with him.
He was cautioned that she might be a Mossad spy, and actually claims to have questioned her on the matter. Of course, she acted ignorant of anything to do with that part of the world. That was enough for Vanunu, who was, in the words of the then deputy editor of The Sunday Times “a virgin at 31 and desperate to change that status“. Hanin was instructed to lure him to Rome, to an apartment where two Mossad agents were waiting. They drugged him and took him to Israel, where he was tried for espionage and treason and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
This was by all standards a textbook operation, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes…
1. It Can Backfire Hilariously
Once again, the KGB is puppeteering the show, only this time the puppet burns the strings.
On his flight to Moscow, Indonesian President Ahmed Sukarno got well acquainted with the beautiful Russian hostesses that were attending to him, and given that it doesn’t take a Don Juan to convince a bunch of sex spies who are targeting you to meet in a hotel room for an orgy, well, they met in a hotel room for an orgy. What, you were expecting some big twist? Don’t be silly. The actual twist comes in the next paragraph.
Two hidden cameras filmed everything in graphic detail. The entire affair seemed like a winner for the KGB, so they decided to go on with the next step and meet up with Sukarno to show him the damning evidence. The Indonesian President saw the tape…and liked it. So much so that he actually requested more copies to take home with him and show to his people. What the Soviets miscalculated was how open Sukarno would be about his sexuality and that, believe it or not, most men are going to be just fine with word getting out that they had sex with a roomful of hot women.