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How to Use Sex Like a Russian Spy

Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin was once asked why so many Russian spies used sex in their work, intelligence historian H. Keith Melton recalls. Kalugin's reply was simple: "In America, in the West, occasionally you ask your men to stand up for their country. There's very little difference. In Russia, we just ask our young women to lay down." 

Most people's first association with spies and sex is James Bond, but conducting espionage through seduction happens in real life, too. And in a briefing at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night, Melton spilled some of sexpionage's greatest secrets.

One of the most significant episodes in the annals of sexpionage occurred during the depths of the Cold War in 1963, when Britain learned the hard way that mixing sex and spying could cause even the best-laid plans to go off the rails. Britain's MI5 security service successfully dangled showgirl Christine Keeler in front of the Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov. But Keeler's knack for making men swoon had a downside. John Profumo, the British secretary of war, was at a party that summer when he saw Keeler swimming naked in a pool. He fell for her too.

As Melton put it, "You have a situation where the equivalent of the secretary of defense is having an affair with the same woman who is having an affair with the Russian naval attaché. This was not to end well." Indeed, after Profumo emphatically denied the affair on the floor of Parliament, Keeler decided to sell his love letters to the Express newspaper. Profumo resigned, and Harold Macmillan's Conservative government crumbled.   

In the United States, these kinds of scandals may have gone all the way to the top of the government. Suspected East German spy Ellen Rometsch, for instance, was a call girl at the Quorum Club, a favorite spot for politicians (who used the side entrance) in Washington, D.C., who allegedly became involved with none other than President John F. Kennedy. While the president had plenty of affairs, this one was of particular concern to his brother, Robert Kennedy, who had the unenviable task of sending her back to Europe, making sure she didn't talk, and getting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to drop his investigation into the matter.

Getting someone to fall into a sexual trap -- a "honey trap," in spy talk -- is not automatic. Markus Wolf, a former head of East German intelligence, was one of the masters. His idea was to dispatch male agents, known as "Romeos," to targets like NATO headquarters with the mission of picking up female secretaries. He later told Melton that a good Romeo had three critical traits: he was likeable, he knew how to make himself the center of attention, and he listened well, which made women enjoy talking to him.

If a Romeo wants to recruit women, Wolf told Melton once, "you don't go to them, have them come to you. You become the center of the party, you buy the drinks, you tell the jokes. You're the life of the party. She will come to you. And then naturally that will make it easier."

The next step in East Germany's playbook was to escalate the relationship. The agent would propose marriage and later reveal to his wife that he was a spy -- but for a friendly country (like Canada!). The finishing touch was for the agent to explain that he would have to be recalled, ruining their precious relationship, unless the wife could cough up some information to satisfy the bosses back home.

These tactics were so successful that by 1978 East German intelligence had racked up at least 53 cases of women falling for Romeos. By 1980, NATO had started compiling and monitoring a registry of single female secretaries to make sure they weren't marrying East German spies.

Sexualized spying didn't fade with the Cold War. Just three years ago, the FBI arrested 10 Russian spies in New York City, the most famous of which was Anna Chapman (pictured above), who used her marriage to a British citizen, whom she met at a rave in London, to get a British passport that she in turn used to enter the United States. Melton noted that her husband, Alex Chapman, was later asked if he noticed anything unusual about his wife. "Every time I would call her cell phone she'd answer me from a payphone, but at the time I didn't think anything was unusual," he said.

The digital age could make sex an even more potent tool for espionage. "In the digital world, the new honey trap is not sexual," Melton argued. "It's not compromise, but it's access." To illustrate his point, he showed a training video for defense contractors that depicts a woman picking up a man in a bar, drugging his drink, and then retiring to a hotel room with him. While the man lies passed out on the bed, the woman has plenty of time to install programs on his computer and read messages on his devices.

"Unfettered access to his laptop and cell phone could have provided unfettered vulnerabilities," Melton cautioned.

After the talk, one audience member pointed out that none of the examples Melton gave involved U.S. spies wielding sex as a weapon.

"The official statement is that we not only do not condone it, but that if someone did that, they'd probably also lose their security clearances," Melton replied. "So that is not something that we do."

At least that's the official statement.

DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images

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Is North Korea's Economy Really Growing?

On Friday, Bank of Korea, South Korea's central bank, released numbers showing that North Korea's GDP increased 1.3 percent in 2012 -- the country's fastest growth rate since 2008. But Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is skeptical. "I think 1.3 percent is a joke," he said. "Don't trust any datum about North Korea that comes with decimal points attached."

In a phone interview with Foreign Policy, Noland outlined his views on the North Korean economy, which he says is "probably growing." The exchange has been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Foreign Policy: How does the Bank of Korea come up with these numbers?

Marcus Noland: They use whatever techniques they can to come up with estimates of physical output: model or simulation farms, to try to simulate grain output. They may use satellite photography, they may have spies.... The way these things are usually done is with an input-output table, which is like a giant recipe book for the economy: to manufacture an automobile, you need four tires and an engine, etc. They previously used South Korea's input-output table, which is probably inappropriate for the North.  

The story is that they have a secret North Korean input-output table; not sure if a spy stole it, or if they've constructed it. I've never seen it, but I've heard such an input-output table exists. I don't know if these numbers come from the South Korean table or the stolen one.

FP: So what is the situation with North Korea's economy? 

MN: I take the numbers to mean North Korea's economy is probably growing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that things are getting better in Pyongyang and stagnating elsewhere. Nutritional surveys don't show much improvement.

What's interesting is the sources they attribute to this growth. Agriculture is up 3.9 percent, and is one-third of the economy -- but it's heavily dependent on weather. So North Korea could be growing because of the weather. 

FP: What about the joint factory project with South Korea in Kaesong?

MN: Inter-Korean trade, which is nearly all Kaesong, is up 15 percent, but remember this is 2012 (before the North Koreans shut the zone down this year). Unless something big happens, the numbers are going to look really bad in 2013.

FP: How do you explain North Korea's belligerence in the first half of 2013?

MN: It's very hard for me to come up with any explanation that would explain their behavior that would be internally consistent or coherent: Eric Schmidt goes to Pyongyang and gets snubbed. Dennis Rodman visits and spends hours with Kim Jong Un getting drunk. Rodman comes back and says that Kim Jong Un doesn't want war. Soon after Pyongyang make a statement threatening a first-strike nuclear attack, which to my knowledge neither China nor the USSR has ever done. They shut down Kaesong. They say they want to reopen Kaesong. They basically blow up the meeting in which they discuss reopening Kaesong. On the level of economic policy or diplomacy, it's hard to look at that set of actions and divine any sense of internal consistency or coherency.

FP: So what does that mean?

MN: I honestly don't know. There are obviously ways to rationalize it -- you could say the Rodman thing is completely idiosyncratic, for example. To me, this doesn't look like a regime that has a clear vision of its future or where it wants to go.