Show Mobile Navigation

10 Real Honeypot Operations That Played Out Like Spy Thrillers

Eli Nixon

The honeypot might be the most glamorized espionage technique in fiction. It’s a tale of hushed phone calls and late-night rendezvous, of secrets whispered through lying lips. But femme fatales and lovers’ plots are not exclusive to fiction. Although the honeypot isn’t used as often as other spy techniques, it still has a place in the real world.

10For The Love Of Clayton Lonetree

Young military couple kissing each other, homecoming concept, wa

There was never a man lonelier than Clayton Lonetree. A Navajo native, Sergeant Lonetree was stationed at the US embassy in Moscow during the Cold War, and unlike many of the other Marine guards on base, Clayton didn’t have a wife or a girlfriend to write to him. He took to heavy drinking, which distanced him even more from his colleagues in the Corps.

Disconsolate and increasingly disillusioned with his assignment abroad, Clayton nevertheless refused to request a transfer. He came from a long line of proud Marines, distinguished Navajos who had died serving their country in past wars, and he wasn’t keen to be the one who stained the family name.

That’s when lonely Clayton Lonetree met Violetta Seina.

The two first crossed paths at a Marine ball in November 1985, and Clayton was smitten from the start. Violetta was a new translator at the embassy. She was beautiful, young, Russian, and exotic. Even better, she took a liking to Lonetree. They began taking long walks before sojourning to Violetta’s apartment for the night. Before long, Clayton Lonetree professed his love to Violetta. To his delight, she returned the sentiment.

It was a dangerous time to love a Russian. Lonetree recognized their situation for what it was, and he went to great lengths to make sure he wasn’t being followed to Violetta’s apartment. After they had been dating in secret for several months, Violetta introduced Clayton to her uncle, who lavished Clayton with just as much attention as Violetta had. Uncle Sasha seemed eager to learn about every aspect of Clayton Lonetree’s life, especially his work at the embassy. At some point, Clayton began to realize the truth . . . kind old Uncle Sasha was a KGB agent. In all likelihood, so was Violetta. He’d been duped.

But if love isn’t entirely blind, it’s at least tenacious. Lonetree doubled his efforts at secrecy and kept meeting with Violetta and Sasha for six more months, until he was scheduled to return home. Only Lonetree didn’t want to go back. At his request, he was assigned to the embassy in Vienna where he continued to meet with Sasha. He began selling documents and embassy blueprints to Sasha, stashing the money for a return trip to Moscow to marry Violetta. He revealed the identities of CIA agents in Austria. He gave Sasha everything the man asked for, seduced by promises of a reunion with Violetta.

Finally, though, Clayton couldn’t take it anymore. In December 1986, Clayton got drunk and spilled everything to a CIA agent. He was subsequently arrested and tried for espionage. Clayton Lonetree served nine years in a military prison and never saw Violetta again.

9The Blackmail Of Irvin C. Scarbeck

entry 9

She was a young Polish girl in distress. He was a married man with three children. The setting was Warsaw in 1959, and it was a set-up from the very beginning.

The case of Irvin C. Scarbeck is a matter of historical certainty. While serving as a foreign service officer for the US State Department in Poland, Scarbeck, 41, had an affair with Urszula Maria Discher, who was 22 at the time. Polish agents broke into the apartment and took photos of the two in bed, then threatened to send the photos to Scarbeck’s family unless he turned traitor and gave them state secrets.

But at Scarbeck’s trial, what had originally seemed to be a clear-cut, sexy spy scandal turned out to be a tale more convoluted than anyone could have imagined. According to Discher’s testimony, their affair hadn’t been about sex—at least, not at the beginning. When Discher met Scarbeck, she’d been an orphan for over a decade. Her living quarters were nothing more than a store cellar that she shared with several other girls. She couldn’t afford food, let alone a mattress to sleep on.

Scarbeck took pity on the girl and gave her money for groceries and new clothes. Later, he moved her into an apartment and paid the rent himself, just so she would have a roof over her head. Even while he was being blackmailed, Scarbeck refused to take any money for the information he passed on. Instead, he got Discher a passport and made sure she had safe passage out of Poland and into West Germany.

Maybe it was all a lie intended to drum up sympathy from the jury. Maybe it wasn’t, and Irvin Scarbeck simply went too far while helping out someone in need. Urszula Discher was never formally connected to the Polish police, and she even flew to the US to be a witness at Scarbeck’s testimony. Regardless of how the affair played out, Scarbeck was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to three consecutive 10-year sentences. The terms were later reduced to concurrent sentences, and Scarbeck was released on parole in 1966.

8The Sharon Scranage Scandal

Sometimes reaching out and taking someone's hand is the beginnin

The drought that plagued Ghana from 1981 to 1983 plunged millions of people into starvation. Seemingly overnight, the country became a famine-stricken wasteland, a situation that only got worse when Nigeria deported over one million Ghanaians back into a country that had no hope of feeding them.

The situation was dire, and it was into this sea of turmoil that Sharon Scranage landed on May 27, 1983. A clerk and stenographer for the CIA’s Directorate of Operations in Africa, Scranage was basically a nobody. She’d married once and divorced two years later, and when she arrived in Africa, the future was all she had. She had no way of suspecting that 39-year-old Michael Soussoudis would soon walk into that future.

Soussoudis was an intelligence officer for the Ghanaian government who’d studied in West Germany and New York City. He was handsome and charming, and by all accounts, he had a taste for American women. But Sharon Scranage wasn’t just another fling. For Soussoudis, Sharon was all business. He’d been assigned to her specifically, and it wasn’t long before Soussoudis had a leading role in her bed and her heart. Their romance lasted 18 long months, during which Soussoudis drilled Sharon for everything she knew about the CIA’s activities in Ghana. Scranage gave up the identities of agents, CIA informants, and communications information.

When Scranage returned to the US, she was given a polygraph test that revealed that she had been tossing out CIA secrets. The implications were enormous. Every single one of the informants she’d given up could be executed at a moment’s notice. But Sharon wasn’t quite ready to quit. Backed by the CIA and FBI, she asked Michael Soussoudis to meet her for one last night. It was time to set up a little honeypot of her own.

Soussoudis flew to the US, lured by the promise of more secrets and more Scranage. Sharon had him meet her at a motel where he was immediately arrested by the FBI. But when the Ghanaian government heard of Soussoudis’s arrest, they took measures of their own and arrested the informants whom Sharon had unmasked to Soussoudis during the past year. It’s believed that one of these informants was executed in the ensuing chaos, but finally the dust settled, and the rest of the informants were traded for Michael Soussoudis.

Sharon Scranage was sentenced to five years for exposing the CIA operatives, although she was later released after serving eight months.

7The Homosexual Plot

Frightened office worker

In 1952, it was illegal to be homosexual in Britain and practically a death sentence in the Soviet Union. That made life particularly difficult for John Vassall when he was assigned to the British embassy in Moscow. Vassall was a low-level employee, nobody who would have been considered a security risk, but he was close enough to classified materials that he could have accessed them if he’d put his mind to it. And that’s exactly what he did for seven years.

It all started with an orgy. After living in Moscow for some time, Vassall went out to dinner with one of the Russian interpreters from the embassy. He drank. A lot. Every time he emptied his glass, it seemed like someone was there to fill it back up. Then, he was led into a back room and given more liquor while several handsome men helped him undress. After engaging in “compromising sexual actions” with “two or three men,” the party abruptly ended, and Vassall found himself being led to an apartment. The party, of course, had been arranged by the KGB. Pictures had been taken. Still heartily boozed, Vassall was given two options: play ball with the KGB or risk exposure and criminal prosecution.

It was open-and-shut. Vassall grabbed the former option and immediately found himself sucked into the rigmarole of clerical espionage. If he needed to contact someone, he was instructed to “leave a circle in pink chalk on a wooden fence directly above the trunk of a [certain] tree.” He only did that once. The rest of the time, he simply stuffed some papers into his briefcase, walked out of the embassy, and photographed the papers.

Life was good for John Vassall. The KGB was now paying him for his work, and the extra money afforded him a lavish lifestyle. Even after returning to London in 1956 and being assigned to the Admiralty, Vassall continued to pass government secrets to the KGB.

Then, Anatoliy Golitsyn happened. A senior KGB official, Golitsyn defected in 1961 and cautioned that there might be a spy in the Admiralty. Inevitably, suspicion fell on John Vassall, who was clearly living outside his means. Vassall was arrested and given an 18-year sentence. He was released after 11 years and went on to live a quiet life until his passing in 1996.

6Code Name: Parlor Maid

For 20 years, Katrina Leung led a double life with three men in two different countries, and she made millions doing it. The first man was her husband. Kam Leung was a fellow student at Cornell University in the same class as Katrina. They met at a student picnic. Kam gave her his coat because she was cold. The two got married in 1975, and a year later, they both graduated and moved to Chicago.

In 1980, Katrina met the second man. She and Kam had just moved to Los Angeles, and Katrina was becoming involved in a pro-China activist group. Political relations were tense between the US and China at the time, and the FBI took a special interest in anyone who supported the People’s Republic. Katrina’s friend, Hanson Huang, drew quite a bit of attention from the Bureau, so they opened an investigation on Huang. The lead investigator was a G-man from LA, James J. Smith, known as J.J. around the office.

Before the investigation could amount to anything, Huang was arrested in China. It was a dead end all around, but J.J. still thought Huang could be useful. So he contacted Leung and asked her if she knew anything. Surprisingly, she did, and she gave it up immediately. Intrigued, J.J. cooked up a special assignment for the young girl who had wooed her husband with her innocence. He wanted Katrina to fly to the People’s Republic of China, finagle a visit to Huang’s prison, and convert Huang into an FBI informant.

The mission was a smashing success, and J.J. gave Katrina an FBI code name practically on the spot. She was now “Parlor Maid,” and for the next two decades, she was one of the FBI’s most prized agents inside Communist China. J.J. had brought her in, so he became her handler.

But like many men, J.J. didn’t realize who was handling whom in their official relationship . . . or their private one. Almost immediately, they were in bed together. Katrina had snagged the absolute loyalty of one of LA’s top Bureau men. J.J. had inadvertently tripped over a diamond in the rough, and he wasn’t shy about polishing it. Katrina’s field reports were so good that J.J. next encouraged her to contact the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and become a double agent.

It worked like a charm. Katrina flew to China at least once or twice a year and schmoozed with the country’s top officials. She smuggled classified information through the Red Curtain for Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations. Nobody could have stopped her if they’d tried. Not even, it turned out, the FBI.

Exactly when Katrina Leung turned into a true double agent is uncertain. She passed polygraph tests in both 1984 and 1986, so it was presumably sometime after that. But at some point, her work for the MSS became just as real as her work for the FBI. With J.J. wrapped around her little finger, she had access to top secret Bureau documents, many of which J.J. delivered directly to her.

And so entered the third man: Special Agent William Cleveland Jr. In 1988, J.J. introduced Katrina and Cleveland, unwittingly giving the Beijing Tiger another source of information. Cleveland took her to bed just as eagerly as J.J. had, despite being married. (J.J. was, too.) Three years later, Katrina was caught on tape giving classified information to her MSS handler. That should have been the end of it, but J.J. vouched for her so vehemently that the issue was dropped.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Katrina fell under suspicion again, and in 2003, she was arrested. By then, she had received more than $1.7 million from the FBI, plus whatever she earned at the MSS, but in 2005, her case was dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct.

5The Pakistani Penetration

Indian beauty

In 2005, the Pakistani air dripped with distrust. Foreign military presence was at an all-time high, and multiple insurgency groups along the northwest border had Pakistan’s government drawn thin. In the center of the conflict was the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), one of Pakistan’s major intelligence groups. Along with the CIA, the ISI funded and organized Al-Qaeda during the Afghan Civil War, and there have been allegations that the ISI continued to support Al-Qaeda and the Taliban through the turn of the century.

As a military attache to a foreign country, Brigadier Andrew Durcan was trained to spot potential intelligence breaches. But the young Pakistani girl was just another local. She didn’t talk like a spy, didn’t act like a spy. She was just friendly (and pretty), and Durcan saw no problem with letting her tag along when he got together with his buddies—buddies who happened to include high-ranking officers in the British army.

But eventually, this pretty young Pakistani woman caught the attention of MI6, and they dug up what Brigadier Durcan never even bothered to look for. The woman was an operative with ISI who’d been trained to pick up on the subtle nuances of after-hours officer talk. She’d never been interested in Durcan. She just used him to get into the bars where the officers drank.

Following the discovery, Andrew Durcan was dishonorably relieved of his position in Islamabad. And despite what most papers detailed about the extent of Durcan’s relationship with the ISI spy, at least one source says there’s no doubt that things got physical.

4From Kim Jong Il With Love


Few people have the fortune to defect from North Korea and live to tell the tale. But in 2001, 28-year-old Won Jeong Hwa managed the improbable when she stepped across the border into South Korea. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service picked her up immediately and paraded her around the country to give speeches at anti-communist rallies. She was an instant celebrity, a token of human triumph over the dangers lurking across the DMZ. But Won Jeong Hwa’s danger was far from over. In fact, she’d stepped straight into the fire.

While her tour bus rattled from city to city, Won Jeong Hwa took the time to get to know the South Korean officers traveling with her. They were happy to talk and even happier to let her into their rooms at night. For seven years, Won picked the brains and polished the brass egos of the military’s who’s-who for Kim Jong Il’s North Korean intelligence agency.

She was finally ousted and sentenced to five years in prison in 2008. One of the officers whom she had slept with for information was also arrested. Throughout her trial, North Korea steadfastly denied that Won Jeong Hwa was one of their agents. In true diplomatic fashion, they went a step further and called her “human scum.”

3The Romeo King Of East Germany

romeo spy

He was blond, blue-eyed, and a physicist. Gabriele Kliem had dated a man just like him once. She’d loved that man. Having a second shot at that love was almost too good to be true. And of course, it was. Frank Dietzel already knew everything about Gabriele weeks before he approached her outside a quiet Bonn hospital while she waited for a sick friend. He hated Russia. She hated Russia. She wanted world peace. He wanted world peace. It was a match made in the bowels of heaven. He’d even been chosen for Gabriele specifically because of his looks—the perfect shadow of a past love.

But in reality, Frank Dietzel was a Stasi agent, an elite master of seduction employed by East Germany. A “romeo,” as they were called. Dietzel had been assigned to Gabriele Kliem because she worked at the American embassy. But unlike most honeypot operations of the Cold War, which typically lasted a night before incriminating photos were presented, the romeos played for keeps. By cultivating their relationships with the women in East Germany over the course of years, they were supplied with a steady flow of information.

Frank Dietzel and Gabriele Kliem got engaged three months after they met, and although they never married (Dietzel already had a wife back across the Berlin Wall), they remained engaged for seven years. Duped by Dietzel’s cover story that he worked for a research company that sought to bring peace to the region, Gabriele supplied him with any embassy documents he asked for. And all the while, he told her that he loved her.

In 1984, Gabriele had finally had enough of her seven-year engagement. Of late, she’d only seen Frank a day or two out of every month. She had no way of knowing it, but he was likely working multiple assignments the whole time. Plus, he had a family at home and, well, things could get busy for a Stasi agent. Gabriele broke it off, but it wasn’t until 1991 that she discovered who Frank Dietzel really was. That was when she was arrested herself for espionage.

The realization was an enormous blow to Gabriele, but perhaps the worst part was that her loving fiance, whom she’d spent most of a decade planning a life with, had received an award for the job he did with her.

That hurts.

2The Woman Who Could Have Loved Hitler


Photo credit: Eglikarbolle

Martha Dodd was the daughter of an American ambassador and spied on the Nazis for Stalin. To say that her situation was complicated doesn’t quite do it justice. The only thing, in fact, that remained constant was the sex. And there was plenty of that.

In 1933, when Martha was 25 and working as an assistant literary editor at the Chicago Tribune, her father was assigned to Berlin as the US ambassador. Martha went along for the ride, and it wasn’t long before she was a steady presence in the Nazi nightlife. In this pre-war period, the Nazis fascinated her. Martha climbed Berlin’s social ladder with the effortless grace of a trapeze artist, stopping only to grease each rung with another sexual escapade with the Reich’s finest officers. Notably, Martha Dodd once shared a bed with Rudolf Diels, the leader of the Gestapo. And had things gone a little differently, she could have consorted with the Fuhrer himself.

Martha was sleeping with Hitler’s aide at the time, a man named Ernst Hanfstaengl, and Ernst insisted that Adolf Hitler needed an American woman just like Martha. The right woman, he said, could change the whole destiny of Europe. Ernst arranged a meeting between the two, and Martha spent an evening drinking at Hitler’s side. She later said that he was “rather dull and self-conscious” and that the encounter signaled the beginning of the end of her Nazi sympathies.

Tired of the booze-mongering Nazis and their increasingly brutal actions, Martha again found herself without an ideal to fall back on. That is, until a chance trip to the Soviet Union. She began a relationship with a Russian diplomat named Boris Vinogradov who was stationed in Germany, and she soon found herself head over heels for communism. Under Boris’s guidance, Martha decided to become a spy.

Her life was already perfectly cultivated for espionage. She was her father’s personal assistant at the US embassy, and her social contacts within the Nazi hierarchy afforded her ample opportunities to get down and dirty for government secrets. She had access to the pot of gold at both ends of the rainbow, and everything got passed to the KGB. Even Stalin knew who Martha Dodd was. For the next two years, Martha served as one of the Soviets’ top agents in Berlin, with nobody the wiser. Even after returning to the US in 1937, Martha continued requesting assignments, although her usefulness was quickly lost. New York City in the late ’30s was decidedly short on Nazis she could canoodle for intel.

Although Martha maintained her pro-communist stance in the years to follow, she slowly lost touch with the KGB, and by the ’50s, her brand of un-American activities had become increasingly unpopular. She fled to Mexico with her family, then spent the rest of her life nation-hopping to avoid extradition. She died in 1990.

1The Bumbling Spy


He stole candy bars from the local 7-Eleven. He skipped out on work to read comic books. Sometimes, he couldn’t find his gun. He peddled Tupperware from the trunk of his FBI car. There’s no denying it—Richard Miller was “more or less, a bad FBI agent.”

And it was exactly that type of bad FBI agent that Svetlana Ogorodnikov was looking for in 1984 when she called the Los Angeles FBI office and told Miller, “I know you. You don’t know me, but I want to meet you.” Miller was the perfect target: broke, unhappily married, and unhappy with work. They met the first time in May 1984 at a nearby restaurant and went on a sex bender for the next few months. For Richard Miller, it was a dream come true, and soon, they began to talk about trading information. For $50,000 in gold and $15,000 cash, Richard Miller said, he would sing for her.

After Miller’s arrest in October, FBI agents discovered a “hoard” of documents which Miller claimed he had smuggled out of the office to fuel his negotiations with Svetlana’s superiors. Exactly how much classified information he gave out is uncertain, but he didn’t appear to have given up more than one or two documents, which he never got paid for. Svetlana also bought him a raincoat on a trip they took to Vienna, but Miller never actually got that, either. It was a strange arrangement, but even stranger, nobody’s even sure if Svetlana Ogorodnikov was really a Soviet spy. Her own lawyer allegedly said that Svetlana and her husband were always involved in “some kind of scam.”

As for Miller, he claimed in court that he’d immediately seen Svetlana for the spy she was and was trying to use her as a springboard to infiltrate the KGB on his own. It was to be his last great contribution to the Bureau. Why? Miller’s lawyer simply said that Miller was “not very bright.” In the end, it sounds like both Miller and Svetlana were both, each unknown to the other, playing at spies and accidentally created a real spy scandal in the process. It might as well be a Coen brothers movie.

Nikola Tesla must die.