Recently, it became public knowledge that much of our aviation industry is outsourced abroad. Mexico, for instance, accounts for numerous manufacturers at the beginning of the supply chain for many of our major American defense corporations. This results in more stockholder profit because more money is made when the parts are made in lower cost countries. We share our blueprints, plans, and designs with countries where parts and components can be made cheaper. How we control outsourcing our work overseas is what we clearance holders need to concern ourselves with today.

Profit Over Information Protection?

The downside of this outsourcing of our nation’s defense demands our attention. How much money is it worth to risk our national defense abroad? When do we finally say our national protection can be compromised in pursuit of profit, out of sight of American control? What happens when we need something but can’t provide it for our service members in a battle? In short, we often have no idea what foreign nations do with our sensitive information, materials, or components. Is this overstating the case? Not when you consider that adversaries, be they competitors, information brokers, or spies, prefer to steal where they won’t get caught. Ingenious, no?  Not when you realize that sharing of our information with sub-contractors is an attractive place to start stealing our information. Why is this?

Old Friends Sometimes Change

We’d like to think foreign companies protect our information and components as well as theirs. For instance, our NATO allied nations have agreements in place with us to protect our mutual classifications and equipment the same as their own. But things pretty much stop there. We trust, based on decades of mutual assistance from, and interoperability with, our long time NATO allies. We know and share our mutual defense interests. We can, for instance, cite our treaties as a starting point for how cooperation looks in practice. Not so with other countries, nor for that matter with private corporations abroad. We provide information they should protect. Perhaps it is not classified, but it can point to classified information and is therefore sensitive. How is this enforced? How is it compartmented? What measures should be in place to control their protection?

Consider All the OPSEC Decisions Abroad

Bi-lateral investigations are a well-practiced activity for all our investigative agencies. We work well with agencies, investigative, and intelligence services abroad. But we must remember that our interests are not always theirs. Nor are our protections always considered important by them. Consider. At one armaments conference, massive numbers of attendees came to the briefing on Operations Security. This is the program that offers methods of detecting possible compromise of classified information by the lack of protection rendered unclassified but sensitive information. The classified is intuited by the unclassified. Or what does your company do when suddenly confronted with a demand to ‘see’ the sensitive information you are using abroad, or you can’t continue with your mission? For instance, consider if your team member faces a simple stop at airport check-in, where the customs official demands to take your computer away for ‘review’? All of these, and a host of others measures must be taken into consideration before you coordinate to have your product produced abroad. You must know how to properly transfer classified or sensitive data in this case.

Espionage a Risk with Outsourced and Overseas Enterprises

From the personnel point of view, it is even more intense. Who of your own company personnel are present with the sub-contractor to validate their activities on your behalf? Several? One? Any? Do they know what can and cannot be discussed? If confronted by foreign engineers to explain a part which would make manifest what the classified parts made in the U.S. do, how would your representative handle that? Does your representative on the spot abroad even know about the classified aspects of your cleared facility at home to know what not to discuss?

Before you even contemplate coordinating with foreign producers, remember that your first obligation with your defense materials is to your country, not your stockholders. You have these contracts in trust, because defense production is how we arm our people to defend our way of life. Major American corporations, with the panoply of cleared personnel, must know and understand that when contemplate work abroad. What can someone learn about your classified work through what they learn of your outsourced, overseas enterprises? What can they interpolate from what they see? How easy would it be to spy on your well protected secrets if you don’t know how they are potentially compromised abroad? Consult your government security officials, your threat assessments, and your present operations security awareness posture.

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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.