Espionage – A Threat to National Security and Private Property Rights

Espionage poses a threat to national security and private property rights. For example, security vendor Securonix recently published a case study of two people who stole Hewlett-Packard designs and information on exosome medical research from the cancer institute.


Spies are recruited by their handlers through appealing to ideologies, patriotism, religion, ego and even greed. Those that are captured must be given fair trials.

Industrial Espionage

Industrial espionage is the illegal theft of trade secrets, such as engineering designs, formulas, or business plans. These kinds of secrets are used to gain an edge on competitors in the same industry and can lead to costly lawsuits. It is most common in technology-heavy industries such as computer, aerospace, chemical, and auto companies. The thieves may be foreign governments or disgruntled employees who work for a competitor.

Unlike military espionage, where a spy acts on behalf of a government, industrial espionage is usually carried out by private businesses on behalf of themselves or their customers. This type of espionage can also involve many white collar crimes such as altering company records or insider trading.

The penalties for such activities can be steep, even if criminal prosecution is not pursued. For example, a high profile case from the 00s involved Hewlett-Packard hiring multiple private investigators to spy on its own board members by using “pretexting,” which involves calling and bluffing with phone service providers in order to obtain information about your targets. This is a crime in California, and the saga ended the careers of several Hewlett-Packard execs.

To help prevent this kind of espionage, you can take steps to tighten up your security practices. You can also take extra precautions when it comes to employee background checks and conduct periodic checks on terminated employees who have privileged access to your business’s data. You can also be careful to monitor any unusual spikes in living expenses or travel that might be a sign of an employee trying to steal trade secrets.

Economic Espionage

Economic espionage is the act of unlawfully obtaining critical economic information, such as intellectual property or trade secrets. This information can be highly valuable to companies, nation states and individuals alike. It can include everything from proprietary or business data to research and development (R&D), market intelligence, financial projections, pricing strategies, sales, policies and potential bids.

Spying acts are often aimed at technology industries. This is because they tend to spend a significant amount of money on R&D and the products they produce are frequently fast-moving in active markets.

Information obtained through industrial espionage can be stolen directly from a company’s physical premises or digital assets. It can also be obtained by bribery, dumpster diving, cyber-attacks and wiretapping. These types of activities are generally conducted by a foreign government or foreign instrumentality.

A common practice is for competitors to attempt to hire away a company’s employees, which can provide access to sensitive information. While it is legal to transfer knowledge gained through one job to another, stealing this information for the purpose of establishing a competitor’s advantage can be prosecuted under the Economic Espionage Act. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side in the event of an investigation can help you avoid serious penalties or a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1831. Our team of attorneys can work with the federal prosecutors to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Political Espionage

When states spy on other countries for political or foreign policy reasons, it is known as political espionage. This type of espionage involves the transfer of sensitive information to a foreign government to harm or advance that country’s national interests. Political espionage may involve defence, political, foreign relations or security-classified information as well as industrial and commercial data that affects the sovereign state.

If you are caught engaging in espionage, it is considered a serious crime. The penalties for committing an act of espionage include imprisonment, fines and even death depending on the severity of the case. This type of spying can be done in a variety of ways including hacking, bugging, microphotography, bribery, blackmail, murder, and even sabotage.

Spies are often seen as the antagonists in novels and films. In fact, the term espionage is derived from a 17th century French novel called “Le Spy”. The book is about a man posing as an enemy to gather information for his country.

Modern technology has added new complications to the debate about espionage. Although customary international law continues to accept espionage as an allowable activity, scholars are increasingly concerned that the way intelligence agencies operate may have to change to comply with oversights reflecting widely held social values. This has contributed to a shift in the academic discourse about espionage, with more proponents of a view that it is necessary but not legitimate to engage in certain types of sabotage and other activities that violate the principles of international law.

Military Espionage

Before the United States entered World War I, it already had a sophisticated structure in place for the training and handling of spies. Before the start of war, President William Howard Taft signed into law the Defense Secrets Act of 1911. This criminalized both the collection of information from military facilities and the sharing of such material with people who lacked the proper clearances. It also prohibited the acquisition of code and signal books, blueprints and photographs, with the intent to harm the country or its allies.

Military spies gather information on the enemy, including the size of its forces and the composition of its units or elements. They also find out about the enemy’s weapons systems, ammunition supplies, training and tactics. They also collect information on the enemy’s leaders. The information gathered by these spies is analyzed to create intelligence reports that can help the military plan attacks and retaliations.

Unlike other intelligence gathering disciplines such as codebreaking (cryptanalysis or COMINT), aircraft or satellite photography or research in open publications, espionage requires the spy to go into enemy territory and gain access to the desired information. However, there are a number of ways that a spy can obtain sensitive information without physically meeting his or her target. This is known as sleeper agent work. Examples include Navy chief warrant officer John Walker passing cryptographic secrets to the Soviets and CIA officer Aldrich Ames selling CIA information to the Russians for nine years before being exposed.