Most cleared personnel have attended at least one security briefing a year. By the time you reach Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, that’s the minimum you’ve received over your career of about two dozen years.

One favored threat briefing theme is the ‘honey trap’. This is where a government or military industry employee is approached by a caring, sensitive, heartwarming, young, and often handsome or stunningly beautiful counterpart. Unlike in eras past, such approaches are often made online these days.

The honey trap is set

We now have the sad case of retired LTC David Franklin Slater, later employed as a civilian at U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, NE. He’s accused of falling for what he believed was a love-lorn foreigner online. He’s alleged to have provided classified data to his inquirer who smothered him with endearments while asking specifically for information dealing with the Ukrainian war. He’s also said to have provided it, lost in dreams.
We don’t know if this was a young female seeker after a ‘beloved’ older man or a thick-necked guy named Guenter sitting in a data collection basement in Brooklyn. We observe once again a cleared person manipulated online in a common method of entanglement in espionage. That case is still being investigated.

The strategies are laid out

We find as defenders of our secrets that some attempts will always be with us. Thus in the training of our cleared personnel, we must repeat, but find new and updated ways to repeat, what should be well-known methods of approach. The honey trap has been with us even back to Biblical times. It never stops. From ‘Romeo Spies’ who deployed from the Soviet Bloc to democratic West Germany, there to romance and recruit lonely-heart government secretaries in Bonn, to Hamas agents pretending to be Israeli females requesting contact with Israeli Defense Force soldiers, the beat goes on and on. What to do?

You need to know that your staff can trust you to report possible approaches. These approaches might be somewhat embarrassing for them to report, so plan for that. Privacy of interaction with those you serve is essential. You can put out a general notice that you can be reached at your office during certain hours. Make clear what you are asking your fellow employees to do.

If they feel less confident reporting a possible approach at work, arrange a meeting off the facility. Remember, unless you are a badged and credentialed agent, you cannot act as one. Take your original report of a possible approach to your supporting government investigative agents. They must follow up. But what are they following up? They might be taking action against a threat that was not prevented. Consider.

Where is the prevention?

Prevention is our hoped-for outcome of every security awareness briefing. Every time we communicate our mission to defeat espionage, sabotage, or other threats against our cleared program, we must do so with a mission in mind. We want the listener to assess whether he or she has been approached. If so, they need to ‘run it by’ security for evaluation.

What if our lonely retired lieutenant colonel had advised his security staff earlier? He could have not only stopped an approach but also become a truly admirable defender of our country. Remember, your invitation to your listeners to come and talk offers them an ‘out’. Never threaten those you brief. See the world through their eyes. They might have fallen, but they have other influences working on them too. Their loneliness, their unspoken admission to themselves that they are no longer young, or a host of other woes may weigh heavily. Now you are suggesting they might be spies! ‘Wait a minute, I’m not telling anyone anything,’ they may think. Your goal is to overcome this attitude, privately, professionally, and sincerely.

There is still time to fix it

A failure of security is to overemphasize penalties. Often I’ve attended briefings where the speaker noted cases where the spy ‘got life without parole’ or even death. Who is listening? Imagine a genuine spy sitting in your audience, who hears he might be executed if he reports his problem—that he’s been working as a spy–to you. You are fulfilling the role set by the spy’s handler. This trained enemy handler of spies wants to scare his controlled spy into thinking there is no out for him with the Americans. Only death. He always, in a sympathetic way, conveys to his spy that only by staying with him and continuing to spy for the foreign government, will the agent be safe.

Your job is to dispel this argument. We want to stop espionage, not encourage it. Would that have happened if someone had reached LTC Slater?

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.