Who are you hiring as your new employee? Are you hiring an applicant who with his skill sets and attitude will prove a valuable asset to your working environment? Or you hiring someone who is less than what they seem? Worse still, are you hiring someone who may turn out to be a corporate spy.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, among other places, corporate espionage is on the increase. In a highly competitive global economy, companies will battle for the technological edge in order to advance their market share and compete with their rivals. Western Technology is the primary target. This is no longer a case of stealing military secrets, but even the most mundane proprietary developments are coveted by a rival group. As well as the usual weaponry and satellite and submarine technologies, rivals put their spies out their to garner such elements as the special chemicals in a package film coating, proprietary technology for more advanced fiber optics, and the advanced components and computers and hardware. There is really no end to what products and trade secrets offer allure to corporate spies. For each secret you can steal puts you one step closer to your competition without having to undergo the normally requisite research and development.
Spies have been caught stealing secrets from DuPont and a paint company, Valspar which uses special mixes in its pigments. A employee at Dow Chemical was recently arrested and charged with stealing proprietary data that is designed to improve the insecticide mix. There have been employees arrested for corporate espionage at General Motors, Ford, and Motorola. In fact there are few major companies who haven’t experienced some type of corporate espionage. A good many just won’t admit it publicly. In all, it cost hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars in lost revenue, annually. Corporate espionage results as well in the loss of thousands of American jobs.
The companies most responsible for corporate espionage are based largely in China, Russia, and Iran. Our old favorites. What else is new? China denies this, of course, as does Russia, Iran, and everyone else who would rather steal what they otherwise lack the resources to develop. But it’s true. It has been true for decades. We Americans just love to live in denial.
Some of the spies are foreign nationals, but a good many are American citizens. More often than not it is an inside job, that is the spy works for the company. Either the worker deliberately targets a company to work for so he can target desire secrets, or the employee has been working there and suddenly decides to get frisky. There are any number of reasons a good employee can turn bad, can resort to criminal theft and risk years in jail. In intelligence parlance the term ascribed to most motivations for spying is MICE. Money, Ideology, Coercion, and Ego. Idoeology used to be a big factor but in this age of self-aggrandizement, it is pretty much a bygone consideration. Coercion works if you first lure someone to do something wrong, adultery, promiscuous behavior, things that can cost him, and then blackmail him. Ego is a favor, knowing you are pulling the wool over the eyes of your employers and friends. It is not directly related but Bernard Madoff is a perfect example of that. And then first in the list, and first in priorities, is…money.
What a shocker, people spy for money. You could chalk it off to a tight economy, or you could write it off as greed. You could contend that they have been trapped into some heart rendering situation and that they are doing it for the good of friends and family. Mainly, there is nothing like sticking a few illicit bucks in someone’s pocket to get them going in the wrong direction. After you romance them first, of course. Long walks in the moonlight, lavish dinners, sweet nothings about you being oh so simpatico.
Some corporate spies are assigned to the task and are there to deliberate penetrate a company in order to pilfer its secrets. A rival group from China or elsewhere may have a wish list on its mind and send in the spy as a worker. But most are already working at the company when they are approached by outside sources. The sources either provide them with a wish list, that technology they most desire, or they pretty much leave the door open and tell the willing spy to get what they can. But then there are the more enterprising souls who seeing they are in the espionage worthy catbird seat initiate the contact and make an agreement with the rival companies. They let it be known that they are for sale and willing to walk out with every secret or piece of technology they can smuggle out in computer or briefcase.
As the global economy continues to become more competitive, you can be sure there will be more employees willing to spy for another concern. The cases of corporate espionage are difficult to prove and for the most part sentences are pretty light. The sponsoring or rival companies typically fail to cooperate with American authorities or corporations. They may tsk, tsk for the moment and make some noises about regret and the lamentable mishap, but more often than not they just deny any complicity. Additionally, when Human Resources personnel hire employees, they can conduct background checks and while some searches will raise some suspicions, it is still difficult to determine what kind of thief you are getting for his annual salary, vacation, and benefits. HR can check references and clock the work dates where the job applicants were employed at rival companies. If there are large gaps in their work history, this is a red flag. Criminal records are obvious but federal civil records and county civil records may reveal lawsuits former employers filed against your shiny new candidate.
Last year I had published my book, The Guys Who Spied for China. This was a roman a clef detailing how spies operating in America stole both military and industrial secrets, often selling prohibited materials to rival nations. My research and involvement with that book and the events therein was centered in the eighties and nineties. Every other day it seemed there were new headlines about Chinese Espionage efforts in the United States. Most were slanted toward the theft of military technology but some to corporate espionage. During that time some of the spies were Chinese Nationals, but most were American Citizens. Enterprising souls who took advantage of their positions for personal profit. Some went to jail. Some didn’t.
But now here we are again. I should really say, here we remain, still dealing with this issue as we in the West try to sustain our technological edge and innovative advantages. As with most news cycles, these reports about corporate espionage are coming in waves with increased frequency. When news saturation reaches this point, I would venture that some influential people have become very alarmed. Finally.