According to news reports over the weekend, a number of U.S. Secret Service agents brought prostitutes to a hotel in Cartagena the day before President Obama was due to arrive. (1) The activity came at the tail end of Secret Service efforts to prepare security in the area of Columbia for Obama’s visit.
According to a Reuter’s report, the activity would not have been discovered if it weren’t for the fact that one agent refused the demands of hotel staff to pay extra for the room since he had had a guest stay with him overnight. The disagreement attracted diplomatic attention, and ultimately the activities of all of the Secret Service agents came to light.
All agents that were in the scandal were immediately relieved of duty pending investigation, and a new Secret Service crew was flown in to replace them.
While such a scandal – one that overshadowed Obama’s entire trip to Columbia – is bad enough, Representative Darrel Issa, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Panel made an excellent point when he told Reuters:
“In this particular case, the president may not have been in danger but that’s to beg the whole question of … what happens if somebody, six months ago, six years ago, became the victim of their own misconduct and is now being blackmailed?” (2)
The concern is a very serious one, because intelligence agencies around the world have used such “honey trap” technique for many years, quite successfully. Particularly in a case like this one, where many of the Secret Service agents are married. If the Secret Service – the elite agency in charge of protecting the President of the United States – was ever compromised by such a foreign intelligence effort, it would spell disaster for the security of the President.
How Foreign Intelligence Will Use a “Honey Pot”
The use of a prostitute as part of a “honey pot” operation is not unheard of in modern times. The practice isn’t only a relic of the Cold War.
In 1978, Nora Astorga, an undercover operative, lured a Nicaraguan general to her bedroom where assassins were waiting to slit his throat. In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, an Israli technician that had leaked Israeli nuclear secrets before escaping to London, was lured by a woman to a location where Mossad agents could capture him. In 2009, a diplomatic liaison working in Moscow appeared to get ensnared by a Russian honey trap, but the U.S. Embassy blamed Moscow for fabricating the video tapes. (4)
China used a honey-pot prostitute to entice the former Deputy Mayor of London Ian Clement into a hotel room where she drugged him and stole his Blackberry mobile phone. (3)
Of course – the Russians were in fact best at the technique, and through a prostitution ring frequented often by U.S. employees in 1940, Russia had obtained “classified documents [that] were handled improperly and may have been obtained by Soviet workers.”
In fact, the CIA also employed the technique. One former CIA official told Harpers Magazine:
“There was a woman who was promiscuously involved with the Soviet community in Beirut and we put her on the payroll. I’m not aware that it ever led to anything, but we paid her for quite a while.”
Whether or not these individual cases were successful is beside the point – the fact is that intelligence organizations all across the world make use of prostitutes and prostitution rings to gain a foothold inside any line of security. Once that foothold is in place, it doesn’t take long to establish a scenario involving blackmail.
It’s a scenario that – when it involves the Secret Service – could clearly impact the safety and security of the President of the United States.