Imagine the scene. You live in a big city. You work as a secretary or an assistant of a political figure. One day into your lonely life comes Tom. He chats you up and he always behaves like a perfect gentleman – flowers, chocolates, little gifts, he listens when you need him, has a little nice compliment ready when you are depressed. Of course you fall in love with him – what else are you going to do? He is simply the nicest guy on the planet and he happens to adore you. Truly. And then little by little he asks you to tell him exactly what you work on. He is being curious, that’s all. You are flattered, you show off and tell him a lot, perhaps a bit more than is wise to tell, all things considering. Nobody likes to be a bore so you want to appear more important than you really are. One day he says he needs a photograph of some documents. By now you will perhaps have got a bit suspicious. “But if you loved me you would do it” he says. “I need them for my work”. Now you guess what Tom really does – he is perhaps a spy and he is taking your every word back to his masters. So what would you do? Risk exposure, be demoted or even fired and go back to having nobody to love? No, you’d carry on taking the bait. Perhaps he did need only that one document or that photo. Perhaps he still loves you madly. Perhaps he is a cop…In many movies it was exactly the other way round – a sexy female agent was seducing a male loner who happened to have access to interesting documents. The situation is often more fascinating, though, when men act as the Mata Haris and women are their preys. Because women will do anything for love, won’t they?
One former CIA officer said that while sexual entrapment wasn’t generally a good tool to recruit a foreign official, it was sometimes employed successfully to solve short-term problems. Seduction is a classic technique; “swallow” was the KGB tradecraft term for women, and “raven” the term for men; they were trained to seduce intelligence female targets. The whole technique has been known as “honeypot” – an appropriate agent, male or female, usually attractive but it wasn’t a prerequisite, tried to seduce and emotionally bind the target to get access to the information they needed.
One of the most successful “honeypot agents” was a Pole – Jerzy Sosnowski a.k.a Georg von Nałęcz-Sosnowski, active in Germany during the period of 1926-1934. Apparently he was a very handsome guy– rather tall, with dark hair and eyes and impeccable manners; he loved riding horses and he knew several foreign languages, German and Russian among them. While working in Berlin he single-handedly won the spy war with Germans just because of his unique “honeypot” abilities.
His career started in an ordinary way, though: Sosnowski promised well as a cavalry officer. However, a woman became almost his downfall – after taking a girlfriend away from his superior he knew he wouldn’t be promoted in the army any time soon. The scandal was too great and his personal enemy – too influential. Traveling with his new wife around Europe he happened to watch a German movie about a heroic spy – from that time he knew who he wanted to be. Isn’t it rather prophetic that his new career, which supposedly influenced to some extend Ian Fleming and James Bond movies, was kick-started by a film? In 1926 he was recruited to work in the II Department of the General Staff and, because of his fluent German, sent to Berlin, of course without his wife. As soon as he arrived there he pretended to be a rich dandy from the East. He lent a luxury apartment in a good quarter and put six of his horses in a horse stable near a horse racing track. He spread the news that he lived off a big landed estate left in Poland and he is an ardent Germanophile and he opposes the current Polish government and the Bolsheviks from Russia as well. The Berlin elite was duly impressed and some of them greeted him simply with open arms, especially a lady called Benita von Falkenhayn, his first German lover and a perfect source of information. Coming from a well-connected family, Benita knew personally many secretaries working in different Ministries. She was swiftly recruited and then she helped to entrap several other women, among them Irene von Jena, an office worker from the War ministry, who brought Sosnowski a dowry in the shape of the entire budget documents of the German state, and Renate von Natxmer, who showed him very important files concerning the cooperation between the Nazis and the Soviets. Small wonder the reports Sosnowski wrote were simply priceless and his efforts were noticed. In 1929 he was awarded the Goden Cross of Merit and two years later he was promoted to a major. It was too good to last forever, though.
Sosnowski and his net of female spies was finally exposed by a jealous woman – a dancer called Maria Kruse. She was of course his lover too but after a while she found letters in which Sosnowski promised marriage to other of his trophies. Perhaps she didn’t know the guy had been already married as well. Absolutely outraged, she went to the Gestapo with her revelations. Perhaps the clever major hoped that he would manage to outmaneuver the Germans as he had done time and again but his luck ran out. He was arrested with several dozen other people during a party, among them his three most important female agents. Although Sosnowski put all the blame on himself before the jury (and he was perfectly right) two women were sentenced to death just because they fell in love with a spy and did his bidding. He, however, after two years in prison, was exchanged for seven German spies, caught in Poland. After the outbreak of war Sosnowski was detained as a POW by the Soviets and after that it is rather difficult to find out what really happened to him. Some sources say he died of famine in one of Soviet prisons after a year or so; Russian sources claim that he agreed to cooperate with the famous NKWD – they were intelligent enough to recognize his talents and achievements. In 1943 he was sent undercover to Poland to help creating the Polish People’s Army and spreading Soviet influence. Allegedly he was also seen in the besieged Warsaw in 1944. Some say he was murdered there by Polish right-wing partisans, who would undoubtedly perceive Sosnowski as a traitor, but nobody found his body or any witnesses of his death. Perhaps he survived, and hid himself well under a false identity. I wouldn’t be surprised if a woman helped him to do so. I haven’t found anything about the fate of his first wife, the girl who started it all.
If Sosnowski could be called a brilliant artisan of the honeypot techniques his exploits couldn’t match those of the Stasi officers who worked under Marcus Wolf. One man, even very handsome and gifted, can’t outperform several dozen men; even if they were a bit less gifted and plain they were perfectly organized and had a bigger budget.
We do not know exactly how many women were duped by Stasi agents during the cold war. But over the course of four decades, around 40 were prosecuted for espionage only in the Federal Republic of Germany, as a result of romantic relationships with undercover officers of the German Democratic Republic. Early on in the cold war, the Russian KGB had perfected the art of sexual blackmail – usually one-off assignations with targeted foreign embassy staff in Moscow. But the Stasi operation was more extensive, with agents assigned to develop long-term relationships with their sources. Women were the principal targets – often secretaries in Bonn’s many ministries and other government offices. Wolf believed that just one of these well-placed women could prove infinitely more valuable to the Stasi than five or even 10 male diplomats. After all, women tend to gossip a lot at work; they know everything, and are often also responsible for their bosses’ private correspondence. He couldn’t have been more right. In the years following the second world war, Bonn was full of ambitious young women from all over West Germany. They hugely outnumbered single men in the capital. They were hardly even invited to official social functions. It was almost impossible to find a boyfriend and if you found one, almost impossible to keep him – the competition was too great. A perfect playfield for honeypots. Many of these women were delighted to be subject to the attentions of eligible men. Marianne Quoirin, the author of Agentinnen aus Liebe (The Spies Who Did It For Love), a book about Stasi “romeos”, sat in on the court cases of a dozen women. She says that a woman pursued by an agent was usually vulnerable in some way. “Perhaps she had been left by her boyfriend, or her mother had recently died, or she didn’t have many friends. When the romeo approached her, he already knew everything about her – her likes and dislikes, her history.”
In fact the Stasi did an impressive amount of groundwork before a woman was approached. Scouts were employed to inform officers who might be a good candidate and thousands of deutschmarks were paid for a job well done.
In the course of her research, Quoirin was struck by how ordinary – even physically unattractive – some of the Stasi romeos were. “The women definitely weren’t going for good looks. It was the old-fashioned manners … flowers, wining and dining, and, most importantly, these men listened to women. Men often don’t, so that was very attractive. Sex didn’t play a major role. It was important for Gabriele and a couple of the other women, but actually, it mattered rarely.”
Gabriele Kliem remembers everything about the day Frank Dietzel walked into her life. It was a sweltering summer’s evening in Bonn in July 1977. As she sat on the banks of the Rhine waiting for a male friend, a tall, blond, blue-eyed man strolled towards her. “He looked like my dream man,” she recalls, “and I thought, if I could ever meet such a man I would be so, so happy. I fell in love with him the minute he came towards me.” Dietzel introduced himself and told her he was a friend of the man she was waiting for, who was sick. Would she like to come to dinner with him instead? “My first reaction was that I should get up and walk away as fast as I could, because a relationship with a man that good-looking would be disastrous. But I didn’t, I just didn’t.”
Dietzel was, in fact, a Stasi spy. He had been sent by East Germany across the border to Bonn, on a mission to seduce Kliem, a 32-year-old translator and interpreter at the American embassy. He told her he was a physicist working for an international research company committed to world peace; beyond that, he remained vague. Three months later, in October 1977, the couple got engaged. And, over the course of their seven-year relationship, Kliem supplied Dietzel with hundreds of secret documents from the embassy – furthering, or so she thought, his noble aims. It was only in 1991, when she was arrested for espionage, that she discovered her former fiance had been a married, East German Stasi officer, who had been awarded a medal for his “work” with her. In spite of an advertising campaign by the federal government warning women of Stasi tactics, she says that she never asked her lover who else was looking at the material she collected. Too fearful of losing him, she lived instead for the days they spent together, when they shopped endlessly for the life she believed they would one day share. It was only at her trial for espionage in 1996, that Kliem discovered her fiance had given most of these consumer goods to his wife in East Germany. More shocking was the revelation that he had passed all her love letters to the Stasi’s psychologists. “So they would sit and read and laugh and analyse and see how they could hurt me some more,” she says. “To them I was just a laboratory rat or worse – and to him, I was just a tool.” She was treated rather leniently – the judges clearly took into account the fact that she was also a victim.
Although there were romeos who married their targets the large amount of paperwork needed to marry in West Germany meant an undercover officer risked exposure. But the Stasi were not beyond arranging mock marriages if it ensured the compliance of a useful source. A secretary and former nun refused to have sex with her romeo before they were married; she was obliged with a wedding in a small church in Copenhagen. “A Stasi officer played the priest, and took her confession,” says Quoirin, “and later on another officer played her mother-in-law at a small reception.” I bet they had the time of their lives.
I would like to finish this essay with something positive but honestly the best thing that comes to my mind is: “be careful what you wish for…” and “trust no one”.