Romance Scams Are Not Always About Money!
The very first known West African romance scam involved government intelligence instead of money!
In 1985, CIA stenographer Sharon Scranage was convicted of espionage and sentenced to five years in prison for providing sensitive CIA information to Michael Soussoudis, her Ghanaian lover and a member of the Ghanaian intelligence service.
Remember that this was 1985 – there was no online then! So it was in person.
Did you know that in-person romance fraud accounts for a significant percentage of all romance scams? But because it is in person and often viewed as mutually consenting is not very often investigated.
Sharon Scranage was a CIA clerk who was convicted of espionage for sharing classified information with her Ghanaian lover, Michael Soussoudis. Soussoudis was an intelligence officer with the Ghanaian Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
Scranage was assigned to the CIA station in Accra, Ghana in 1983. She met Soussoudis shortly after her arrival, and they began a romantic relationship. Scranage began sharing classified information with Soussoudis in December 1983.
In May 1985, Scranage returned to Washington, D.C. for a reassignment. She continued to communicate with Soussoudis and to share classified information with him.
In July 1985, the FBI arrested Scranage and Soussoudis. Scranage was charged with espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, disclosure of identities of US intelligence agents, conspiracy to disclose classified information and disclosure of classified information. She pleaded guilty to all charges.
In November 1985, Scranage was sentenced to five years in prison. She was released from prison in 1990.
The Sharon Scranage espionage scandal had a number of consequences. The information that Soussoudis obtained from Scranage led to the arrest of eight Ghanaian citizens who had been spying for the CIA. These individuals were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 25 years in prison with hard labor to life imprisonment. The US government believed that another CIA informant in Ghana who had been exposed was killed.
The scandal also damaged the CIA’s reputation and made it more difficult for the agency to recruit and retain employees.
According to Wikipedia:
After Scranage’s relationship with Soussoudis was discovered, Scranage agreed to help the FBI lure him to the United States. While on leave back in the US while Soussoudis was also there, Scranage contacted him and asked to meet at a motel in northern Virginia, where Soussoudis was arrested and charged with eight counts of espionage.
During a closed court hearing, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he was eventually traded in exchange for eight of the agents whose identities he had helped compromise in Ghana. He was released on condition that he quickly leave the United States. On December 3, 1985, he returned to Ghana and was greeted by thousands of cheering citizens.
The information Soussoudis obtained from Sharon Scranage led to the arrest of eight Ghanaian citizens who had been spying for the CIA. They received sentences ranging from 25 years in prison with hard labor to life imprisonment. The US government believed that another CIA informant in Ghana who had been exposed was killed.
The intelligence also uncovered a planned coup by Godfrey Osei, of which there are allegations that the CIA supported. The coup was allegedly already in motion with a boat carrying six tons of heavy weapons when the crew rebelled. That led to the boat of arms and mercenaries returning to Brazil and the mercenaries being arrested, and later breaking out of prison and making their way back to the United States. Among the eight arrested in Ghana included Naval Captain Oppong, Colonel Bray, Abel Edusei, Adu Gyamfi, and Major John Kwaku Awuakye. They constituted some of the most high-ranking informants that the CIA had in the government of Jerry Rawlings. These eight CIA spies were stripped of their Ghanaian citizenship before being deported to the United States, and being relocated in the Virginia, D.C., area. According to FBI affidavits and CIA intelligence declassified in 2011, Ghanaian intelligence chief Kojo Tsikata passed intelligence provided by Scranage to Cuba, Libya, and East Germany – Ghana was a Soviet ally in those days.
The Sharon Scranage espionage scandal is a reminder of the dangers of sharing classified information with unauthorized individuals. It is also a reminder of the importance of vetting CIA employees and providing them with adequate training on security procedures.
So remember, fraud happens in the real world not just online!