Why Are Spies So Hot?

Of the 11 alleged Russian spies arrested this week, Anna Chapman has garnered the most attention. The young, sexy redhead, who flashed a come-hither smile in photographs posted on social media websites, has become an internet sensation.

It's no huge secret why she's hot. For a work-a-day spy, beguiling looks are just one of the traits that can give you a leg up on your colleagues, so to speak.

"If you're an attractive person, who's incredibly smart, and is also seductive charming, you have a lot of power to get people to do what you want," said Patrick O'Donnell, a military historian and espionage expert, who has written several books on the world of spies.

Although hot members of both sexes make for successful spies, the targets of espionage tend to be powerful men who have access to important information, O'Donnell said, so employing beautiful women is one way government spy agencies have approached intelligence gathering.

Good looks won't get you very far, though, without the smarts and the charisma that are also needed to pull off a convincing act, O'Donnell said.

Successful seductress

One of the most successful seductresses ever was Elizabeth Pack, code-named Cynthia, who spied for America during World War II, O'Donnell said.

In one mission, Pack seduced a member of the French Embassy and in another, a member of the Italian Navy. The goal of both missions was to obtain access to code books that each man had.

"She had men eating out of her hand," O'Donnell said. Pack was a socialite who had been recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS was the predecessor to the CIA), and was in her late 20s at the time of these missions.

"She changed history," O'Donnell said. By using the code books she gained access to, the Allies were able gain knowledge of the position of Italian ships and carry out a bombing.

Confidence and the ability to take control of any situation are important too. Whether you need to convince a guard at a checkpoint to let you through, persuade someone to give you sensitive information or gain the trust of a would-be adversary, a self-assured demeanor helps.

American men seduced

American men, too, have fallen for the charms of fetching females. Christa Roy, who worked for the Nazi's during World War II, slept her way out of a jail sentence, O'Donnell said.

Roy was arrested after she seduced an American military officer to get information, and her hotness was recorded in official government documents. The American officers tasked with jailing her were so taken, "they were unable to distinguish between their glandular and official functions," according to the official OSS papers detailing her case.

"It goes to show you the power of a woman who is attractive, intelligent and charismatic," O'Donnell said, who's most recent book "They Dared Return" (Perseus, 2010) includes the story of women who aided American spies during World War II.

And it's not always women who use their sexiness to lure the enemy. Dusko Popov, a Russian-British double agent who spied in America, was code-named Agent Tricycle because of his penchant for threesomes, according to British Intelligence papers made public in 2002.

But for those of us whose attractiveness, wit and charm don't exactly rival that of James Bond, there still may be situations where we'd make a good spy, because it could also be the case that good looks work against a spy, O'Donnell said.

"It all depends on what the mission is," he said. "A great spy can be someone who just blends in. It could be counterproductive to be attractive if it makes you stand out when you don't want to."

This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.

Karen Rowan
Health Editor
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.