According to leaked French intelligence files, China has been employing beautiful female spies — the dreaded "honeytrap" method — and blackmail to steal business secrets from French executives. And it wouldn't be the first time that China has used such tricks to gain access to privileged information. Here, a brief guide:
How does the "honeytrap" work?
A beautiful woman wines, dines, and even beds a mark to get information from him, a la many a Bond flick. The French intelligence reports cite a case in which a young Chinese woman slept with a top French researcher at a major pharmaceutical company, a man unaware that she was a spy and that the encounter had been videotaped. "When he was shown the recorded film of the previous night in his hotel room... he proved highly cooperative," says an intelligence official.
Have other countries fallen victim to Chinese "honeytraps"?
Yes, in early 2010, Britain's MI5 accused the Chinese government of using honeytrap schemes to hack into corporate British computer networks. Two years earlier, MI5 had distributed a document titled "The Threat from Chinese Espionage" to security officials, British banks, and businesses, explicitly warning executives of honeytraps and subsequent blackmail attempts: "Chinese intelligence services have also been known to exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships and illegal activities to pressurize individuals to cooperate with them," it read. "Hotel rooms in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai which have been frequented by foreigners are likely to be bugged. Hotel rooms have been searched while the occupants are out of the room."
What other means of espionage are the Chinese reportedly using?
Other techniques cited by French intelligence officials include the "lamprey" and the "mushroom factory." The lamprey technique involves soliciting business proposals from Western countries, and then rejecting the applications, telling bidders that they need "to improve their technical offering"; the Chinese then use what they've learned from the bids to develop their own products. In a recent incident, France's TGV bid on a proposed high-speed Chinese train project, and even arranged a six-month training course for Chinese engineers, only to watch China build its own train that looked "remarkably similar" to the TGV trains. In the mushroom factory technique, local Chinese firms partnered with French companies in a joint venture, only to be bested by local "rivals" that were actually run by the original Chinese firm. Danone, a French dairy company, reportedly fell victim to this trick.