“Red Sparrow,” a dark, complex and violent thriller debuting this weekend, is a fresh take on an old trope: The Cold War between Russia and the United States.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a ballerina in modern day Russia who suffers a career-ending injury that leads her into the shadowy world of espionage. The film is a throwback to the years when spycraft was steeped in the concept of “kompromat” – using seduction instead of computers to lure diplomats and businessmen into divulging sensitive information, or outright blackmailing them.
The plot, seemingly anachronistic during a time when sophisticated digital hacking dominate geopolitical rivalries, revolves around Lawrence’s character being trained at a secret school that prepares her for a career in psychological and sexual manipulation.
Yet according to Jason Matthews, a best-selling author and a CIA veteran with more than three decades of national security experience, the movie’s narrative is in fact art imitating real life. “Red Sparrow” is based on Matthews’ book series, and the idea of using sex as a linchpin of human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering is something he euphemistically refers to as “sexpionage.”
As it happens, according to intelligence sources, the Soviet Union once ran a school to train young women in being professional “honey pots” to entrap diplomats. The events of “Red Sparrow”, which was published in book form in 2013, are an amalgam of Matthews’ own anecdotes from his years as a clandestine officer.
“The Russians have for many, many years, used women to try and sexually entrap [high-ranking foreign officials] for blackmail purposes, to try and tell their secrets,” Matthews told CNBC in an interview this week.
“If the conditions are right, in Moscow, someone with access to secrets is having one too many drinks in a Moscow bar, and a young lady for sure will sidle up to them and see how far it goes,” said the 66-year-old Connecticut native.