Espionage in the defense industry starts out in many unexpected places and ways. For example, you might be interested to know that much of our military hardware originates abroad, despite our best efforts and desire to have American companies meet our national defense needs. While we try to make sure the contracted money stays in our shores, the companies themselves can almost outsource freely. Although U.S. companies with cleared facilities are controlled, sometimes, the devil is in the details. 

Espionage comes in Many Forms

Spies have tried anything and everything to steal our information. From their point of view, they could care less that our components and the information that produces them are controlled by U.S. laws. What they care about is access. Several years ago, a Dutch foreign ministry official was arrested for espionage. The Russians recruited him due to his access to classified Dutch information. What was of surpassing interest was his tasking after he’d provided much of the material he had access to. He was asked to provide biographical information about fellow government workers and others he dealt with.

  • Who were they?
  • What could they get access to?
  • What were their problems?
  • Could they be in need of money, or friendship, or were they politically alienated?

This was not considered part of the astounding revelation when the spy was caught. But it most certainly was to those who study espionage. He was being asked to provide secret arrows which pointed at future spies. He would be the bona fides that other Russian recruiters could use to approach his colleagues. The Dutchman would more than likely never know about what actions happened as a result of his treachery, particularly with reference to his biographies provided. 

Tracing the Connections

We’ve read recently about spies being arrested at airports, caught red-handed with phones or thumb drives laden with classified material. That is the sparkler of the spy world, the actual arrest. After that, the story is yesterday’s news. Of course, what do we learn from the often years-long debriefing of captured spies? They all seem to point to other aspects seldom even understood by the layman.

An American high school student wanted to visit Communist East Berlin during one of the thaws in international relations toward the end of the Cold War. He went to visit, and was taken under the mantle by a kindly professorial gentleman. After spending a charming day looking at East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, and the giant cemetery monument to the ‘fallen Soviet dead who liberated Berlin’ at Treptow Park, they went for dinner. While there, the gentleman asked the student to write short biographies of his teachers, and tell who might share his points of view on international peace and brotherhood. I often wonder what happened to this list. Did the State Security officer, posing as the kindly gentleman, ever follow up on these? We might ask that about all the espionage cases ever handled during the last eighty years. 

Finding an Entry Point

Spies look for any entry point. Perhaps it won’t be directly into your company, where regular counterespionage briefings are presented. However, if you outsource your production of a single component, not classified in itself but part of a classified, or at least more sensitive, program, think about where that information goes. Some questions to consider:

  • What kind of security measures does that company have?
  • What kind of personnel security do they employ prior to hiring someone to work on the project?
  • Would you have any way of influencing such questions?
  • Would you even know to ask about such startlingly important matters?

Keep an eye on the supply chain

If it were clear to you that spies study the details of your projects down to their earliest contact with the physical world, you certainly would. Spies now look to the long, long supply chain to start recruiting. If they dig deep enough, they might find someone who needs money, recognition, or a friend? 

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.