In Red Sparrow, Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina who’s manipulated into training for a certain branch of the Russian Intelligence Service called the Sparrow School. There, she is taught to use her body and mind as weapons, and to be a master of “honey trapping,” an investigative practice that involves engaging in the art of seduction to obtain sensitive information. Based on the novel of the same name by former CIA agent Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow looks like a masterfully crafted spy thriller, one you’d expect only from someone with first-hand experience.
That in mind, it makes sense that Red Sparrow isn’t entirely fictional — that sparrow-esque schools existed in real life and honey trap operations aren’t just found in movies. Matthews, who used his 33 years of CIA experience to write the book, claims that there was a dedicated sparrow program that operated in Russia during the Cold War.
And then there was the case of Clayton J. Lonetree, a Marine Corps security guard stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the 1980s. He was lured by a Soviet woman who went by the name “Violetta Seina,” and was blackmailed into handing over valuable documents, including embassy floor plans. Lonetree was later charged with espionage and spent nine full years in prison.
But perhaps one of the most high-profile double agent cases of recent history was that involving Anna Chapman. She was a Russian national arrested in New York in 2010, along with nine others, for being part of a Moscow spy ring. Although she wasn’t a sparrow, Chapman allegedly got too close to a member of Obama’s inner circle through a honey trap operation.
While a spy named Dominika Egorova was not an IRL person, there were still actual female spies who risked their lives for their country. In Red Sparrow, we’ll get a closer look at what they might have gone through to carry out their respective missions.
Red Sparrow opens in theaters on March 2nd.