Russian 'honeytrap': Secrets, lies, sex and spies

Beautiful woman 'chances' upon lonely diplomat. History is replete with the pillow talk of compromise

So, Natasha Petrova, what exactly did you – a svelte, 22-year-old Russian woman with the hair and face of a goddess – see in this paunchy Western diplomat with a wandering eye and security clearance?

It's a rhetorical question about fiendish eastern European honeytraps that rather springs to mind after news of the out-of-office hours activities of James Hudson, very recently late of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, came to light. For those of you with a habit of not reading newspaper stories illustrated with grainy video stills of Russian prostitutes, he is the deputy consul general at Britain's outpost in Ekaterinburg who was filmed while communing (or "cavorting" as more colourful accounts had it) with two local hookers. The footage came to light, Mr Hudson resigned, and publicity-shy patrons of the establishment in question have no doubt taken their custom elsewhere.

The episode was widely interpreted as a possible "honeytrap", but our experiences east of Helsinki make us sceptical. So numerous are brothels in Russia these days, it is most unlikely that Vladimir Putin's little friends in intelligence are wiring them all up. Nor that Mr Hudson was deliberately targeted. Far more feasible is that the brothel routinely had cameras running for security and blackmail purposes, and they saw a chance to embarrass one of our men in Ekaterinburg.

Real honeytraps were – are – rather more planned. The bait had either been trained in all her various arts by men and women who had made a great study of these things – not least the kind of running-to-seed dupe who would fall for the fluttering lashes of some doe-eyed Slavic beauty. Or they were women who had begun a relationship with someone at a foreign embassy and who could be persuaded or threatened into putting her bedwork to state use. The plight of this genre was perfectly captured some time ago by the legendary Daily Mirror headline: "Dirty Hari was a Mata to the cause".

Perhaps the most famous Cold War case was in 1987 when a pair of marines, doing service as guards at the US embassy in Moscow, had their heads, and loyalties, turned by two enthusiastic local playmates.

The romance between Clayton Lonetree and Violetta Seina began with a "chance" meeting on the Metro, and, in the fullness of time, Sgt Lonetree was introduced to Violetta's "Uncle Sasha", who demanded something in return for the honour of his "niece".

The upshot of this – and the samplings of local ladies by other marines – was the lads assisting the Russkies to plant listening devices, breach all the embassy's coded traffic, and identify all American intelligence's Soviet contacts.

The marines were young fools, but the usual honeytrap target was an old fool. Someone like the Japanese diplomat who, in 2005, so fell for the young Chinese karaoke-bar hostess that he was soon irredeemably compromised. Or someone like Jean-Pierre Vettovaglia, the Swiss ambassador to Romania whose pudgy 49-year-old charms were apparently irresistible to Floriana Jucan, a smouldering 20-year-old Bucharest "journalist". The besotted envoy was certainly generous – he bought an apartment as well as the ritual jewellery – but what really captivated her (in reality, an operative for Romanian intelligence) was what the old chap might know. It was the mid-1990s, and the Romanians had a hunch that their late dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, had stashed $200m (£125m) in Swiss banks. If his excellency knew, he never said. But he was calamitously indiscreet. He took his inamorata on holiday, paraded her at official receptions (including some attended by his wife), and even introduced her to his two sons, one of whom was the lady's senior by two years.

It was only a matter of time before news of his affair reached Switzerland, and this duly happened after the Bucharest tabloids began reporting the liaison. Mr Ambassador was recalled. Miss Jucan, it turned out, was something of an old hand at this game. "He was not the most important person who was my boyfriend," she said.

As is so often the case, this honey-trap, as so many others, did not deliver the hoped-for intelligence goods. But, on the other hand, if you are in the espionage game, it is so much more fun than invisible ink and dead-letter drops.

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