Some 8,000 US Navy personnel are stationed in the Bahraini capital of Manama, where the US Fifth Fleet’s headquarters are located. According to a Navy training video given to newly arrived servicemembers, one of the many dangers they face is the island’s sex trade, where prostitutes will reportedly fleece their customers for valuable information and then sell it to third parties.
“They’re collecting intel on you,” Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Special Agent Joe Minucci warns new arrivals in the video, which was posted on the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website in late May.
“They want to know about what your job is, what you do, what access you have, ship movements, the type of ship that comes in. Although they don’t really have a need for that information, they sell that information, and that’s how they make more money in order to get themselves out of the situation they’re in.”
“The broader intelligence community is aware that foreign adversaries often use prostitution as a conduit to solicit sensitive information from service members,” NCIS spokesperson Jeff Houston told the Navy Times for a Thursday story. However, the outlet noted NCIS provided no further specifics about the video.
In the video, Minucci says that US personnel are particularly desirable targets because they’re known to get steady paychecks and because they won’t risk getting in trouble by assaulting or turning in the women whose services they solicit.
“They also know you’re going to rotate out every 12 to 24 months,” Minucci noted. “Because of that, there’s going to be a new face, or somebody new to take your place, so business will always be there.”
A June 16 story on Military Times documented how a US Navy investigation found that a sailor, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Jihad H. Littlejohn, worked with a “mamasan” pimp named Lin Raiwest in 2017 to fly several women into Bahrain from Thailand and turn his apartment into the base for a sex trafficking ring.
However, after the ring was busted, it was revealed that not only was Raiwest part of a much larger web of sex trafficking, she was also “a longtime confidential NCIS informant, plying her illicit trade, reporting sailor misconduct and collecting cash rewards in the process,” according to Military Times. She reportedly went by the code name MEBJ-1580.
Another Thai woman caught in Raiwest’s web, named in a June 16 Military Times story only by the pseudonym “Mary,” thought she had found a savior in Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Dennis Mullens, who pledged to marry her and save her from prostitution. However, after she accused Chief Logistics Specialist Calvin Halfacre of raping her, she disappeared during the trial.
In the training video, Minucci specifically mentions trafficked Thai women, but also Russians, Ukrainians and Colombians.
“Some come over here willingly, the majority of them do not,” he said. “Sometimes they know what the job is they’re coming here for, sometimes they do not.”
In 2018, the US State Department upgraded its rating of Bahrain to Tier 1 in its Trafficking in Persons Report, noting the island nation “fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and highlighting “key achievements” made in combating forced labor.
“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not criminally investigate as potential trafficking crimes cases of unpaid or withheld wages, passport retention, and analogous abuses - indicators of forced labor, which it handled administratively as labor law violations,” the State Department said. “Its law enforcement efforts are disproportionately focused on sex trafficking, as it seldom investigated, prosecuted, or convicted cases of forced labor.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have reported similar kinds of “honey trap” operations, supposedly being carried out by Palestinian Hamas agents. According to the IDF, Hamas agents will pose as women on dating apps or social media sites such as Instagram. However, the purpose is not to solicit information, but to trick the soldier into clicking on a link, which will instead install spyware that would give hackers access to the contents of the soldier’s phone, including messages, phone calls, photos and GPS data, and even allow them to hack the phone camera and microphone.
In response, the IDF began its own campaign to root the catfishers out and warn soldiers of this tactic in what it called "Operation Broken Heart.”