It’s a tale as old as time, a narrative captured in the lyrics of more country music songs than most of us remember. One memorialized in the 1980 film, Urban Cowboy, a cautionary story of love, jealousy, and mechanical bull riding. Pretty much in that order. While the film itself might be forgettable, the theme song is anything but. “Lookin’ for Love,” earned Johnny Lee a Grammy Award for Best Country Song, and in the process become a metaphor for every bad romance that every existed.

Fast forward forty-four years and you can almost hear Johnny Lee crooning again, this time for a lonely 63-year-old government civilian arrested last weekend for knowingly divulging classified national defense information. Unlike most men his age, David Slater allegedly went lookin’ for love on a foreign dating app, where his newfound romantic partner could only be satiated with classified information, which – again, allegedly – he was happy to do. It was true love, after all. And true love cannot be denied.

It was a classic honeytrap. “Sweet Dave” had fallen for someone claiming to be a woman living in Ukraine. Slater now stands accused of using his Top Secret security clearance to gain access to classified intelligence, which was then “willfully, improperly, and unlawfully” transmitted to the other individual. Slater entered a not guilty plea, but it will be a long time before he manages to free himself from the sticky mess.

Honeytraps are nothing new. From Mata Hari to Markus Wolf, honeytraps are one of easiest ways to lure in an unsuspecting asset and turn them. Find the right person lookin’ for love and compromise them. The rest is simple casework.

Of M.I.C.E. and Men

Intelligence organizations recruit assets from every corner of the globe, in every country, in every industry, but in very specific ways. Traditionally, agencies followed the pneumonic M.I.C.E., which reflected the pillars of asset recruitment: Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego. The agency determines what might motivate an asset to turn and then leverages that pillar to advantage.

Money is a common point of leverage, which is why we tend to be a little wary of granting security clearances to people experiencing financial difficulties. Ideology can be a major motivational factor, especially among people who are disenfranchised in some form. Compromise – what likely occurred with Slater – is the least stable but typically the most exploited type of recruiting. Often used in conjunction with one of the other pillars, it involves compromising someone’s vulnerabilities and the coercing them into turning. Finally, Ego comes into play when someone’s narcissism (or inferiority) drives them to become an asset. They’re fueled by a compelling need for attention, an uncontrolled need to feel important, something a recruiting agency is always willing to fulfill.

In recent years, the concept of RASCLS has come into play, describing the six universal principles of influence and persuasion. Reciprocation captures the natural human need to reciprocate in kind when someone does something for or gives someone something. Authority reflects the gradual assumption of authority a recruiter imposes on a potential asset, easing them into a position of supplication. Scarcity involves the practice of invoking a sense of urgency on a developmental asset by suggesting that an offer might be limited or that pressure from elsewhere demands immediacy. Commitment and Consistency help to earn an asset’s loyalty by demonstrating concern for them over time. Liking involves establishing commonality with the subject, which helps to build a human connection over something as simple as similar tastes in music, food, or movies. And Social Proof is the judicious use of other forms of information to compel an asset to divulge something that they might be withholding.

Rules of the Road

But even the best of us can fall prey to a honeytrap. You get old. Your daily step goal is to get out of bed. Your hairline executes a rearward passage of lines. Your finger cramps when scrolling your birth year on a drop-down menu. Your back goes out more than you do. You never pass a public restroom without stopping… “just in case.” You swipe right when you shouldn’t be swiping at all.

The question is, how do you save yourself from, well… yourself? How do you avoid a honeytrap?

1. You’re not that interesting.

Unless you’re a Delta operator or a member of SEAL Team Six, no one should be overly curious about your job. You make PowerPoint slides and sit in briefings most of the day; they write bestselling memoirs. That says it all.

2. You’re not that young.

Anyone half your age who shows romantic interest in you either wants something from you or is batsh!t crazy. Neither of those are good.

3. You’re not that good looking.

Face it, those pictures you’re getting are either faked or they’re stock images from some website. People that beautiful just don’t frequent your corner of the bell tower.

4. You’re not that wealthy.

No matter how good the story sounds, keep your money under the mattress where it belongs. If all else fails, pretend it’s your lazy ex-brother-in-law asking for another loan.

5. You’re not that lonely.

Okay, maybe you are. If you find yourself in this situation, you might want to get some help before it’s too late. And not from the person offering it on the end of your foreign dating app.

We haven’t heard that last of David Slater (the GPS ankle bracelet assures us of that). And it won’t be that long before we hear another story of another person making essentially the same bad life choices. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.