Espionage Files: 10 Real ‘HoneyPot’ Operations


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.

10 For The Love Of Clayton Lonetree

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.

9 The Blackmail Of Irvin C. Scarbeck

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.

8 The Sharon Scranage Scandal

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.

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