Unusual Espionage: Not Your Average Spy

From James Bond to Evelyn Salt, Angelina Jolie's latest oncreen alter-ego, the spies Hollywood brings to life are usually goverment agents conducting covert operations against other nations. 

But there are other types of spies too, and all share one goal: collecting secrets that their targets would prefer to keep hidden.

"The media portrays spies as pretty glamorous, but the reality is that there are many different forms of spycraft," said Patrick O'Donnell, a military historian and espionage expert who has written several books on the world of spies.

Whether they are capturing a lover's wandering eye or betraying secret recipes, the special agents below make their money using untraditional espionage.


A private detective, also known as a private investigator (sometimes shortened to P.I.), is often hired to investigate missing person cases and suspected adultery. The stereotypical private detective in movies and TV shows is depicted as hiding behind a tree or car, snapping away on a zoom lens camera as his targets blithely go about their day.

While most private investigators try to keep at a safe distance from the people they are spying on, a certain type of spy, often referred to as a honeypot, goes out of his or her way to get close to the target – in more ways than one, said O’Donnell.

Known in the industry as "relationship surveillance operatives," honeypot spies are hired by married men and women who are suspicious that their spouses may be having an affair – or that they wouldn't resist the temptation to cheat.

Janette Jones, a 45-year-old grandmother and mother of four, is a highly-paid honeypot living in London whose job it is to prove whether a husband or boyfriend will cheat. A woman who hires Jones basically pays her to innocently chat up her significant other to see if he'll take the bait. If he does, the flirting escalates – and sometimes leads to sex.

"If they want the ultimate evidence, they will request me to take it all the way and sleep with their man," Jones told The Sun, a British newspaper. "It is my responsibility to discover if a man would cheat. If it takes sleeping with him to do that, then that is merely part of my work."

Jones works for an agency that specializes in honeypot spies and she has described surveillance as a serious business that requires many skills. When she was hired, she trained for weeks in self-defense, surveillance techniques and how to use technology such as hidden microphones, cameras and videos. She was also coached on the various methods of how to attract the man, referred to as her "target."

"My success rate as a honey-trapper is a hundred percent," Jones said. "I have never failed to get a kiss at the very least."

Industrial espionage

Companies hire corporate spies, also known as industrial spies, to get valuable information from their competitors. Industrial espionage can also include former employees who go on to work for competitors and reveal their previous employer's secrets.

Company secrets can include information regarding flavor formulas  (for example, the recipe for Coca-Cola), the kinds of equipment used, the amount of product being made, projected profit estimates and plans for future advertising campaigns. For example, in  1965, Abbott Laboratories of North Chicago, Ill., filed a lawsuit against two of its former employees, claiming they memorized the formula for its highly successful artificial sweetener, Sucaryl, and duplicated it for a product belonging to Abbott's competition.

While corporate subterfuge is immoral, it's not exactly illegal. The Economic Espionage Act, which passed in 1996 and provides a way to deal with foreign agents stealing trade secrets from American companies, requires that companies prove that the stolen information was, in fact, a secret. For example, the source code for Microsoft Windows is a trade secret, but public filings, patents and annual reports technically are not. This loophole allows employees to quietly collect information while working for a company and then secretly offer their business rivals corporate secrets for a hefty price. Others may flat out quit and take a better-paying job for the competition, using their prior knowledge as leverage when negotiating a salary. Some companies  even have special ''competitive intelligence'' (or C.I.) employees on staff. These workers' sole focus is on attaining information about their competitors' projects so that their company can always stay one step ahead of the competition. While not quite conducting C.I.A.-level espionage, these spies still do their fair share of snooping.

This article was provided by LifesLittleMysteries, a sister site to live science.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.