You’re any American. You work for the government. You’re a federal contractor. You’re a cleared professional. You’re a target. Believe it or not (they’d prefer you didn’t), like it or not (they don’t really care if you like it), you are a resource for foreign agents looking to get their proverbial foot in the door of national secrets and security. Homeland Security contributor James Lint tells you how.
but it’s just research….
If someone’s asking you for information, you might feel pretty proud. You should feel pretty wary. What may seem like a routine, innocuous request for information on projects on which you might be working or that you might be researching could really be embryonic efforts to get you on the hook. “A simple request for information sent to your office via telephone or email could be the start of an espionage operation to acquire information about you and your organization,” writes Lint. “There are always constant exchanges of information in the academic world. Some countries’ intelligence services take advantage of these exchanges.” So before you get into the conversation, spend some time finding out exactly who’s asking, and why.
Summer’s here. Time for myriad enterprise conferences around the world where industry showcases its latest breakthroughs in everything from research and development to business practices to cybersecurity and information technology. Conferences are fun. Meet new people. Expand your professional network. Share information. Not so fast. “Trade shows are like playing poker with your competition standing over your shoulder,” writes Lint, “or like a library with no library cards. Everything is easily available and there is lots of free information.” And these spies will go to incredible and creative lengths to get the information they seek: “For example, one foreign agent dipped his tie into a beaker containing a solution used in a product demonstration at the company’s booth. That allowed his nation later to test the solution in a laboratory and gain a technological advantage through reverse engineering.”
Yes, summer. Cool breezes down Pennsylvania Avenue. Cooler bars crowded with pinstripes and sundresses. Everyone’s there. Indeed. We all know that a few drinks are good to loosen us up, help us relax after fighting bureaucratic red tape at the office all day, meet new people, expand our networks. Be careful. What might seem like innocent conversation with a new friend from an embassy could be something more nefarious. “Foreign espionage agents will often ask indirect questions to get information and to gain an understanding of the target’s knowledge and capabilities,” explains Lint. “These seemingly harmless conversations can lead to a more formal recruitment, and possibly prosecution as espionage against the United States.” So, while telling an acquaintance where you work, what you do, where you’re headed in your career strokes your ego, you could very well be setting yourself up for something more threatening.
That just scratches the surface. Don’t be fooled. The information you have in your possession, on your computer, in your head might not be classified Top Secret—SCI. It might not even be classified at all. However, it could very well be the next step on a path to espionage more complex that you could ever imagine.
Have a great summer!