Serpent's Egg

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G20 ‘honey trap’ warning: Fears Prime Minister’s officials will be seduced by Chinese spies and have hotel rooms bugged

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister
Theresa May, whose officials have been warned to be wary of Chinese female attention during the G20 summit CREDIT: PA

Theresa May’s officials have been warned to avoid “honey traps” amid fears that the Prime Minister’s team will be targeted by Chinese spies offering sex during the G20 summit.

British government aides have fallen victim to spying on previous official trips to China, with one Downing Street official reported to have had his mobile phone and secret documents stolen after he was seduced.

Government security chiefs are anxious to avoid a repeat of the incident, which took place during a visit by Gordon Brown in 2008, and have provided detailed guidance to Mrs May’s team.

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The Prime Minister’s officials have been warned to take steps to protect themselves during the G20 summit, which begins on Sunday.

Officials travelling with Mrs May have been issued with temporary mobile phones and email addresses in an attempt to evade Chinese state hackers.

Security advisers are also warning staff not to keep gifts they receive and to be particularly wary of electronic devices, such as free computer memory sticks, mobile phone SIM cards or chargers which they are offered by their Chinese hosts.

Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Hangzhou, after formally joining the Paris Climate deal at the G20 summit on Saturday
Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Hangzhou, after formally joining the Paris Climate deal at the G20 summit on Saturday CREDIT: AFP/GETTY

One Whitehall source said security chiefs had warned them that hotel rooms used during the summit were likely to be bugged. “We have been told that if you feel uncomfortable about people seeing you naked, you should get changed under your bedclothes,” the source said.

British security agencies regard China as one of the most aggressive nations when it comes to launching cyber-attacks against western governments and businesses, as well as posing a major espionage threat to the UK.

Chinese technological expertise has prompted security concerns at the highest levels of government and British intelligence.

There are fears that Chinese intelligence agents will use their capability to intercept emails and phone calls and to install spy software on computers during the summit.

Hangzhou, China, which will host the G20 Summit which starts on Sunday
Hangzhou, the host city for this weekend’s G20 Summit

However, one of the gravest threats posed by foreign spies is also one of the oldest: the honey trap.

During Mr Brown’s visit to China in 2008, one of the No 10 officials accompanying the then Prime Minister reportedly fell prey to a “beautiful” female Chinese spy. She went back to his hotel room, drugged him, stole his mobile phone and documents from his briefcase.

The incident was described by Mr Brown’s former spin doctor, Damien McBride, in his 2013 memoir, Power Trip.

Damian McBride, left, with then prime minister Gordon Brown
Damian McBride, left, was then prime minister Gordon Brown’s special advisor CREDIT:BRUCE ADAMS/REX

The No 10 team was “accosted on one side by a beautiful posse of Chinese girls and on the other side by an equivalent group of Russian blondes”, Mr McBride said.

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He wrote:

Even before our resident security expert could warn us that their interest was not to be taken at face value, we looked up and saw one of our number disappearing up the stairs to the exit with one of the girls, beaming back at us.

He woke up the following morning “minus his Blackberry and half the contents of his briefcase”.

The official also had a “‘very bad headache, owning to the Mickey Finn nightcap his overnight companion had administered to him in his hotel room”.

The G20 summit in Hangzhou comes at a time of heightened tension between Britain and China. Within weeks of entering Downing Street in July, Mrs May put on hold a final decision on whether to approve a Chinese-backed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Members of the US delegation check parts of the runway before the arrival of President Barack Obama at the Hangzhou  airport
Members of the US delegation check parts of the runway before the arrival of President Barack Obama at the Hangzhou airport CREDIT: ROLEX DE LA PENA/EPA

Her aides made it clear that she was concerned about the potential risks to British national security of allowing China to take such a major role in running a critical nuclear energy plant.

Mrs May’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, warned before taking up his No 10 role that the Hinkley project could allow China to shut down energy production “at will”.

He said that MI5 believed Chinese intelligence services were working “against British interests at home and abroad”.

Shortly after Mrs May’s decision to delay the Hinkley plan, the Chinese ambassador in London warned that blocking the £18 billion project would put Britain’s future relationship with China in doubt.

Mrs May is due to have her first face-to-face meeting with the Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, at the end of the G20 summit on Monday.

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