Aide to British Prime Minister Victim of Honeytrap Operation in Shanghai?

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SHANGHAI, July 21 – A top aide for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been the suspected victim of a “honeytrap” operation by Chinese intelligence agents a leading British newspaper reported on Sunday.

The Sunday Times is reporting that a senior Downing Street advisor had his BlackBerry phone stolen after being picked up by a Chinese woman at a Shanghai disco.

“A senior official said yesterday that the incident had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap by Chinese intelligence,” the paper reported.

This is yet another suspected incident of alleged Chinese involvement in clandestine intelligence gathering on foreign targets. Last August, computers in the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel were hacked by persons inside China, with information being siphoned off almost daily by hackers in Lanzhou.

And just last month, U.S. authorities began investigating whether Chinese officials copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a visit to China by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and used the information to gain access Commerce department computers.

While not containing any top secret information, the Blackberry device that was stolen from Brown’s aide could enable a hostile intelligence service to hack into Downing Street’s server, giving the hackers access to emails traffic and text messages.

According to the paper,  source said that the incident occurred during Brown’s two-day trip to China in January. Reliable sources have said that the aide met the woman in question while socializing at Attica, a well known club along the Bund.

Whether this was an actual “honeytrapping,” or simply a case of simple robbery remains to be seen. But the growing concern of cyber security while traveling in China is very real. U.S. intelligence officials are debating whether to warn business travelers to China about the dangers of Chinese computer hackers. Joel F. Brenner, chief of the office of the National Counterintelligence Executive under the office of the Director of National Intelligence recommended in a speech late last year that business people use throwaway cellular phones during any trips to China.