Before his visit to Beijing, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was reportedly warned by British spies to be cautious of potential security threats, including the use of “honey traps” by attractive women who could seduce and blackmail him or his team. Cleverly’s trip to Beijing was focused on discussing “malign cyber activity” with Chinese counterparts, following reports of Chinese and Russian hackers breaching the security systems of his office.
To ensure the security of Cleverly and his delegation, they underwent several weeks of security training prior to the trip. They were instructed to leave their personal smartphones and laptops at home and treat every hotel room and meeting room as potentially bugged. A government source stressed that civil servants should expect their accommodation to be wired for sound and video, emphasizing that hotel rooms were not private spaces.
The Daily Mail also highlighted the warning issued to Cleverly’s team about being targeted by “glamorous women” who could gain their trust before stealing from them or blackmailing them. It is important to note that there is no evidence to suggest that Cleverly or his entourage fell victim to these espionage tactics. Espionage operations are often kept secret, and it is uncommon for states to admit surveillance on foreign officials.
A spokesperson from the Foreign Office acknowledged that extensive security measures are typical for high-level foreign trips. The UK has long claimed that China employs “honey trapping” techniques to extract information from Western men. In a 2009 document, the UK’s intelligence agency, MI5, warned businesses and banks about female Chinese intelligence operatives who establish long-term relationships with Western targets and exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships to coerce cooperation.
China has consistently denied these allegations. When FBI Director Christopher Wray and MI5 Director Ken McCallum warned about Beijing’s continued targeting of Western businesses, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused them of fabricating enemies and projecting their own disgraceful acts onto China.
It is worth mentioning that instances of espionage, particularly involving foreign officials, often remain undisclosed until they are revealed by whistleblowers or leaked documents. The wiretapping of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel by the United States, for example, was only made public via revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Similarly, the US’ bugging of South Korean government communications came to light through leaked Pentagon documents earlier this year.
Overall, Cleverly’s visit to Beijing was overshadowed by the precautionary measures taken by his team, who were briefed on the potential security threats, including the risks associated with attractive women who could be part of espionage operations. These warnings reflect ongoing concerns about cyber threats and attempts to gather sensitive information through various means.