Starring Jennifer Lawrence, the 2018 film is a cutthroat, high-impact film based off a novel of the same name. Red Sparrow revolves around Dominika, a ballerina-turned-spy in modern day Russia who is put into the State 4 school for ‘Sparrows’ — Soviet operatives trained to seduce targets for espionage. The film follows Dominika as she struggles with this path, trying to piece back together the life that has been ripped away from her.
Jason Matthews, an ex-CIA operative, wrote the novel that the film was based off of in 2013. Matthews brought the highly valuable expertise he had from the field into the story. Seductive and violent, the film gives audiences a different perspective on the spy film —outside of the suave acts of heroics and imperturbable facades, Red Sparrow focuses on the darker side of the Russian spy world that makes those involved in it quite miserable. It reflects a more human side of the Russian spy reality, which we audiences forget do not only exist on screen or in the media that we consume.
Here are five real life facts about Russian spies that might shock you.
1. Acoustic Kitty
In the ‘60s, the CIA attempted to spy on Russian spies by using a microphone inserted in the cat’s ear canal and a radio transmitter lodged in it’s skull. The cat was released near the Soviet compound in Washington where soviet spies would allegedly meet. Unsurprisingly, however, the cat strayed away and did not follow training. The CIA then abandoned the $15 billion project.
2. You can never run from Russian spies
An ex-Russian spy by the name of Alexander Litvenenko betrayed the Soviets when he released an exposé of Russian files and intelligence in 2006. He then fled to the United Kingdom to escape them. However, six years later, Litvenenko mysteriously died of radiation poisoning even though he was nowhere near any large source of radiation.
3. Spies are so good at being undercover, even their own families don’t know their real identities
It’s naturally part and parcel of the job to be undercover, but even this can go to extreme lengths. In the case of Tim and Alex Foley, they were already 20 and 16 years old respectively when the FBI raided their house in Cambridge in 2010. The raid was done under the claim that their parents have been part of an undercover Russian operation to spy on the US government. While the brothers swore that their parents were simply in real estate, eventually it was uncovered that their parents were Russian spies all along.
4. Sex is a real-life spy tool
It may only seem to be true in the movies, but sexpionage, or the use of sex and seduction to conduct espionage, is a very real and common tool in the Russian spy world. Historically, it’s been used as a distraction, a cover, or even an incentive to extract information or to get tasks done. Extracting or eliciting information from a sexual prey is commonly called the Honey Trap operation. Men who play the role of seducers in the Honey Trap operation are called Ravens, while the women are called Sparrows — just like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Red Sparrow.
5. Russian spies love infiltrating US universities
There is a long line of Russian agents known to have enrolled in US universities as a way of infiltrating and spying on the government. It’s a favorite method, many would say, even dating back to the Soviet era. This is due to the often lenient and lax security protocols conducted at universities and their common connections with parts of the US government.
Stream Red Sparrow on FOX+!