Combating economic espionage focusing on one global superpower

Many people think of espionage as a cloak-and-dagger business witnessed in movies like "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol." But the truth is that espionage, in the form of trade secrets being stolen and/or compromised, is a very real threat, not just to the federal government but to businesses that have much to lose economically.

Enforcement of restrictive covenants in employment contracts can prevent intellectual property theft. However, the task can become more difficult when the ideas are implemented in another country.

Lately the focus of law enforcement in terms of economic espionage has been China. An assistant attorney general says that China is the most "active and persistent" country in terms of stealing secrets. Several recent cases have involved former U.S.-based employees who have returned to their native country only to face charges for their activities -- involving at least for one New Jersey-based company.

According to the FBI, some of this is due to a lack of preparation by the firms that are at risk. Companies that are especially vulnerable should have a clear focus on security. But according to the FBI, many companies do not even have a position of chief security officer, for example.

Chinese companies are often public-private ventures, so tracing the involvement of the government is difficult for U.S.-based analysts. However, one scientist who pleaded guilty in his case said that the Chinese government leaned on him with appeals to his sense of nationality and loyalty to his native country.

That kind of pressure can be difficult to combat. But a rigorous in-house security program can go a long way toward preventing espionage and its machinations before thye even begin.

Source: Houston Chronicle, " Costs of economic espionage mount," Dan Freedman, April 27, 2012

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