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Contemporary spying: Less about the war room and more about the board room

Mar 20, 20143 mins
Data and Information Security

While classified and clearly-defined national security information will always be sought-after by our adversaries, there is a rapidly growing interest in corporate America’s intellectual property.

By Doug Thomas, Lockheed Martin Corporation, a 2014 CSO40 award recipient

Throughout much of my 35 years of government service, I was focused on what many people are still focused on today: cleared people, classified programs, and traditional national security.  Supporting the counterintelligence (CI) arm of the intelligence community (IC), I spent a considerable amount of time doing CI operations and investigations, all aimed at subverting the intelligence services of our adversaries while detecting active or potential spies, often called the insider threat, within our own government. 

While classified and clearly-defined national security information will always be sought-after by our adversaries, there is a rapidly growing interest in corporate America’s intellectual property.  Proprietary information, trade secrets, research & development initiatives, pre-classified projects are all easier to obtain than government classified information.  These targets are not nearly as fortified or controlled, and the pool of data holders extends well beyond the confines of government affiliation. 

Today’s spies also come from private industry — financial institutions, industrial fabricators, defense contractors, members of academia, etc.  This emerging breed of spies might be engaged in economic espionage, where they are stealing information on behalf of the intelligence service of a foreign nation state, or industrial espionage, where information is stolen to benefit a competitor, either foreign or domestic.  Regardless of the intended beneficiary of compromised data, an insider with the right motivation and access has the potential to cause grave damage to a company’s future revenue, shareholder confidence, reputation, and competitive edge.       

Just as the representation of espionage and the insider threat has shifted significantly over the last ten years, so too have the contributing factors to national security.  Gone are the days of a nation’s security posture characterized solely by the size of their military and its arsenal.  Today there is no difference between national security and economic security.  By failing to safeguard the fruits of our innovative labor — our products, technologies and processes — we face the prospect of losing our position as a leader in the global marketplace.   

The threat of harmful insiders within both government and private industry is very real and growing at an aggressive rate.  The new realities of today’s business environment, such as technological advances aiding in the ease of stealing anything stored electronically, and increased exposure to foreign intelligence entities resulting from more globalized business operations, have contributed to more favorable conditions for insider activity. 

I urge private industry leadership to take steps to counter this growing threat to our economic prosperity and national security.  

Image Credit:  Spies by AJ Cann (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Douglas D. (Doug) Thomas is the Director of Counterintelligence Operations and Corporate Investigations for Lockheed Martin Corporation. In this capacity, he leads a staff that is responsible for providing advice and guidance relative to counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters impacting the Corporation.

Lockheed Martin Corporation is a 2014 recipient of the CSO40 award, presented to 40 organizations for their security projects and initiatives that demonstrate outstanding business value and thought leadership.  CSO40 winning organizations will be recognized — and many will be presenting their projects — at the CSO40 Security Confab + Awards event, to be hosted by CSO March 31-April 2.  Lockheed Martin Corporation will be presenting on April 1.  

CSO50 Security Confab + Awards focuses on defining the future of security and risk by leveraging a unique combination of keynote sessions and short-format presentations designed to deliver a range of thought leadership ideas, concepts and trends that will shape the future of IT security and risk management.

The CSO50 Security Confab + Awards will honor and share the critical viewpoints of today's leading CSOs, CISOs and security executives at the nation's leading CSO thought leadership conference.

The agenda for the February 23 - 25, 2015 includes presentations by many of our CSO50 bloggers.

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