Leaks flow East -- and West; US industry and high-tech spies
The whir and click of computers have never been louder. But joined with the rising hum of the high-tech revolution is a growing public outcry over the threats posed by foreign efforts - legal and illegal - to acquire US technology.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For its part, the Reagan administration seems to define the problem as strictly East-West in scope. In the interest of national security, it has set out to limit Soviet and Eastern bloc access to American high technology.
But other Americans see the nation's industrial competitors in Western Europe and Asia as also unfairly benefiting from US breakthroughs. Still others warn against overly strict export controls, saying that the US would lose more than it would gain through such measures. They argued that US leadership through achievement was the only practical course.
As the year ends, the notion that the US has suffered from illegal ''technology transfer'' has gained general agreement from leaders in business and academia, as well as government. ''Based on my personal experience and background, including prosecuting two cases on the West Coast,'' says Theodore Wu, the new head of the Commerce Department's Office of Export Enforcement, ''the problem is monumental. There is no doubt the rate of illegal technology exports is very high.''
''There's much more evidence (of high-technology espionage) than two or three years ago,'' agrees Jay BloomBecker, director of the National Center for Computer Crime Data in Los Angeles. ''Some of it is because more is going on. Some of it because government has taken more interest'' in the subject, he says.
Indeed, government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Customs Service, and the Commerce Department have moved aggressively to combat leakage of strategically important technologies listed on the Defense Department's critical military-technologies list. At the same time, they have introduced programs to induce cooperation from businesses whose products may be the target of espionage.
Government officials seem particularly enthusiastic about the potential for businesses and citizens to help in the effort through heightened public awareness. Mr. Wu, the Commerce Department's highly regarded new deputy director , calls compliance by business with export regulations ''the first bulwark against the initial loss'' of technology. ''Prosecution and investigation are necessary, but they alone are not enough,'' he says.
For its part, the FBI has introduced a program it calls DECA (Development of Counterintelligence Awareness) in an effort to alert key industries to the threat of foreign espionage. The bureau's program has targeted 11,000 US companies that have ''secret or top secret'' contracts. At least one agent in each FBI field office works on the program. In addition to the ''most targetable'' companies, the FBI is expanding the program to include other firms dealing with emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering.
'High-tech research and development had been driven by the military, but since early '70s there's been a turnaround,'' says Lyle J. Theisen of the FBI's intelligence division. ''A lot of high-tech R&D is publicly available - a lot of sensitive information.
''We have been briefing security officials at the facilities, giving them background for talking to employees. Now we're getting into the briefing process ourselves. Employees like to hear our 'war stories.' Generally, they respond very favorably.''
When the FBI knows employees at a company have had contact with a foreign agent, Mr. Theisen says, the bureau works particularly closely with them. He declined to say how many companies have had employees contacted.