When foreign intelligence
services or business competitors can't obtain information openly, they may devise some
more or less elaborate scenario to get it under false pretenses. Among the gambits used
are the marketing survey, the phony headhunter, and phony competitive bidding.
Foreign consultants, or a consortium of
foreign companies ostensibly looking for business relationships in the U.S., often fax or
mail or e-mail various kinds of market surveys to U.S. companies. Sometimes, the survey
sponsors state they are working on behalf of their country's armed forces. In any case,
the final recipient often remains unknown.1
These surveys sometimes exceed generally
accepted procedures for soliciting marketing information. For example, they may solicit
proprietary information concerning corporate affiliations, market projections, pricing
policies, program or technology directors' names, purchasing practices, and dollar amounts
of U.S. Government contracts. Customers and suppliers of a company may also be surveyed.
This is a standard ploy for collecting
competitive intelligence. In one case, the foreign consultant was identified as working on
behalf of a foreign company that was the primary competitor of the U.S. defense contractor
and was preparing a competitive bid on a multi-national program. The surveys were sent to
individual engineers, not the marketing department. Other surveys were sent to the
company's suppliers asking about the company's prices and supply line.
One foreign defense organization sent out a
survey requesting detailed information to include number of employees, areas of
activities, products, foreign collaboration, joint ventures, and infrastructure. The
marketing survey clearly exceeded generally accepted terms of marketing information. The
stated goal was to develop an international aerospace directory. A more likely goal was to
develop a targeting guide for collection of information on specific aerospace
The following indicators suggest
that an ostensible market survey may be an effort to collect intelligence for a competing
firm or another government.
- Marketing surveys are faxed or mailed to an
individual instead of the company marketing office.
- You are unable to find independent sources of
information about the sender.
- The Internet address is in a foreign country.
Note: A foreign web site usually has a two-letter country designator after the .com or
.org. For e-mail, however, there is no visible indicator of the country from which it was
sent. An e-mail from an aol.com address, for example, could be sent from almost anywhere
in the world.
- Technology inquired about is classified,
International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) controlled, is on the Militarily Critical
Technologies List, or has both commercial and military applications.
- The requestor identifies his/her status as a
student or consultant or says the work is being done for a foreign government.
- The requestor insinuates that the third party
he/she works for is "classified."
- The requestor says not to worry about security
concerns or assures the recipient that export licenses are not required or are not a
- The requestor says to disregard the request if
it causes a security problem or if it is for information the recipient cannot provide due
to security classification, export controls, etc.
- The requestor admits he/she could not get the
information elsewhere because it was classified or controlled.
The following measures are
appropriate when you receive any survey request that may not be legitimate.
Follow your company or
organization's policy in responding to requests for information. It there is no company or
organization policy, check with your security officer before responding to any unusual
Unsolicited contacts with
defense contractors should be viewed as suspicious and reported to the local supporting
counterintelligence activity. The purpose of reporting unsolicited contacts is to develop
a database of information about possible foreign technology or intelligence collection
requirements. This information can then be used to support future analysis or
investigations. It can also be consolidated and returned to other U.S. companies to help
them protect their classified or proprietary information
If you have knowledge and experience in some
specialized field, you may be contacted, usually by telephone, by a headhunter who
identifies himself or herself as representing a company that seeks applicants for a job
position. This is a legitimate, common practice, but not all headhunters are legitimate.
During the interview, a phony headhunter may
use skilled elicitation techniques to obtain information from you. In your zeal to impress
the headhunter and obtain a better job, you may, without even realizing it, provide
sensitive information sought by a foreign organization employing the headhunter. If you
are not interested in the job, the headhunter may elicit information on other experts in
the field. These individuals can then be targeted by the headhunter, or by the foreign
organization in other ways.
A variation of the headhunter ploy is the
repatriation of émigré and foreign ethnic scientists. One country, in particular, claims
to have repatriated thousands of ethnic scientific and technical personnel back to their
home country from the United States. Skilled scientific and technical personnel are asked
to return to aid the economic development of their native country. These are frequently
naturalized U.S. citizens, some of whom have a security clearances. This is an effective
means of transferring technology. Contacting and screening scientific and technical
personnel for repatriation also offers excellent opportunities for assessing and
recruiting persons as agents who remain in this country. Frequently, foreign intelligence
operatives appeal to a person's patriotism and ethnic loyalty. Some countries'
intelligence services resort to threatening family members that continue to reside in
their home country.
Competitive Bids Ploy
A request for competitive bids is a standard
business practice, but it can also be used as a means of collecting information when there
is no intention to let a contract.3
Officials of a U.S. defense contractor
reported an incident in which their company was invited to prepare a proposal for an
electronic control system and bid on a defense contract for a West European government.
The company prepared what it believed was the best, most detailed proposal of all other
bidders for the foreign government contact, and also the lowest bidder. Despite this,
after all the bids were in, the foreign government decided to build the control system
The U.S. company believes in retrospect that
the foreign government never had any intention of awarding the contract to a U.S. company,
but was only interested in obtaining technical information. Later, while attending an
international trade show, the U.S. contractor saw a foreign-built control system from the
same country that rejected its bid, and the foreign country's control system looked
identical to the U.S. company's own system.
By deceiving the company, the foreign
government acquired preliminary concepts and designs from proven systems and saved money
and time in the R&D process. While the U.S. firm may have anticipated some risk in
providing technical proprietary information to the foreign government, it also expected an
honest competitive process.
It is not unusual for foreign organizations
to demand that U.S. companies divulge large amounts of information about their processes
and products, at times much more than is justified by the project being negotiated. U.S.
contractors can reduce the risk of losing such information by conducting research on their
prospective foreign partners and by factoring the potential for being the victim of
industrial espionage into their cost benefit analysis. If a particular country or foreign
government has a documented history of economic or industrial espionage, companies may
decide that it is not in their best interest to conduct business with that country or
company. At a minimum, companies may elect to provide the absolutely minimum amount of
information necessary to compete for the contract.
A number of governments use front companies
to gather intelligence and provide cover for intelligence operations. They are often used
to purchase high technology products legally and then export them illegally to an
Front companies are also used by countries
and corporations that do not wish to show their hand when conducting competitive
intelligence activities such as market surveys, collection of information at conferences
and seminars, or purchasing reports from the Defense Technical Information Center.
Countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the United States commonly use front
companies as cover for placing their intelligence officers in this country.
1. Defense Investigative Service brochure, Technology
Collection Trends in the U.S. Defense Industry, March 1997.
2. James Norvell, "Assessing Foreign Collection Trends,"
Security Awareness Bulletin, No. 1-98 (Richmond, VA: Department of Defense
Security Institute, 1998).
3. Information obtained by Defense Investigative Service as reported in
National Counterintelligence Center publication, Counterintelligence News and
Developments, August 1996