Charts & Graphs

Honey Traps

Sex, lies, and spycraft.

According to an MI5 memo distributed in 2008 to hundreds of British organizations deemed potential targets for Chinese spies, intelligence services have “been known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships…to pressurize individuals to cooperate with them.”

  • A bust of Julius Caesar.

    As a young man, Julius Caesar is named ambassador to the court of Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, where he stays much longer than necessary. Though he denies rumors of a sexual relationship with the king, Caesar is dubbed “Queen of Bithynia” by his peers. Nicomedes later bequeaths his entire kingdom to Rome in his will.

  • A painting of Delilah.

    When she discovers that the strength of Samson, an Israelite judge, will disappear if his long hair is cut off, Delilah reports his secret to the Philistines, who hire her to lop it off. Thus weakened, Samson is turned over to the Philistines, who gouge out his eyes and force him to grind grain.

  • An image of Virginia Oldoini.

    Sent to Paris by her cousin Camillo Cavour to further the cause of Italian unification by any means possible, Virginia Oldoini becomes mistress to Napoleon III in 1856. Although the relationship is short-lived, the emperor commits French troops to help Vittorio Emanuele II establish the Kingdom of Italy.

  • A black and white photograph of Christine Keeler.

    British minister for war John Profumo resigns from Harold Macmillan’s government in 1963 after confessing to an affair with teenage model Chris­tine Keeler, who is discovered to have been simultaneously involved with a Soviet spy working as a naval attaché.

  • A woman wearing a 1930s hat.

    The upscale Berlin bordello Salon Kitty is taken over by the SD, a Nazi intelligence agency, in 1939. Until the salon is destroyed in a 1942 air raid, agents posted in the basement listen in as unwitting diplomats divulge secrets to specially trained prostitutes.

  • A black-and-white photograph of Urszula Discher.

    In 1960 Polish Security Service agents photograph the married U.S. State Department employee Irvin Scarbeck in bed with the much younger Urszula Maria Discher, a Polish national. Fearing exposure, Scarbeck shares top secret information until a federal judge sentences him to thirty years in prison.

  • A photograph of Cheryl Ben Tov.

    Former Mossad agent Cheryl Ben Tov strikes up a flirtation with Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu in London in 1986. She persuades Vanunu, who had recently revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press, to go with her to Rome, where he is kidnapped, smuggled back to Israel, and put on trial.

  • A photograph of Maria Butina.

    At age twenty-five, alleged Russian agent Maria Butina begins dating Republican political operative Paul Erickson, then fifty-one, in 2013. “I think in some ways,” Butina’s lawyer says after she is charged with felony espionage five years later, “it’s a classic love story.”