COMPUTER hacking, wire tapping, and invasion of fax transmissions are becoming common occurrences in business.
"Always important historically, information and adequate protection of it are now absolutely vital to business success," says William Johnson, executive director of Business Espionage Controls and Countermeasures Association (BECCA), a non-profit organization in Seattle.
A range of existing data banks provide businesses with 90 percent of the information they want about competing companies, Mr. Johnson says. But "we're concerned about the 10 percent" of the information that is not readily available, he says.
The number of security workers engaged in countering industrial espionage, including private security guards, now outnumbers commissioned police officers, Johnson says.
With the downsizing of the military, a growing number of former officers are looking for ways to take their military expertise into the private sector, Johnson notes.
There has been a two-fold increase of interest this year - about a dozen inquiries a month - on BECCA courses from high-ranking officers, Johnson says.
"These skills are carried over into the marketplace," Johnson says. "Unethical people use them for spying, ethical people use them to catch spies."
A 1992 study sponsored by the American Society for Industrial Security finds that 12 percent of the 246 companies that responded had experienced espionage through a competitor's use of consultants.
Retired Central Intelligence Agency officials often work as consultants, says Arthur Hulnick, who is himself a retired CIA official. Some of these former government officials have found their previous occupations exciting and want to continue the work in private practice. Instead of working for a single agency, they just change employers, Mr. Hulnick says.
"I'm frankly surprised more haven't done it [become corporate spies]," Hulnick says.