Thursday, November 7, 2013

Global Impact: Escalating Economic Espionage Sadly Promotes Increasing Multilateral Distrust

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, BHP (Australia-based BHP Billiton Limited--see was among the companies aided by Australian spy agencies as they negotiated trade deals with Japan, a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer says.

A former diplomat has also confirmed that Australian intelligence agencies have long targeted Japanese companies. Writing in The Japan Times, Professor Gregory Clark said Australian companies were beneficiaries of intelligence operations.

Business information is a primary target for [intelligence] agencies, he said. The targeting is also highly corrupting influence the information can be passed on selectively to co-operative firms, often companies that provide employment and cover for intelligence operatives. 

More recently, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published by Fairfax Media in 2011 revealed former BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers privately offered "to trade confidences" with US officials about China.

COMMENT: The US and Britain have repeatedly denied charges of economic espionage following the disclosures of US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Australia says it is longstanding policy not to comment on intelligence matters.

Having spent a career as a senior Regional Security Officer (RSO) in the US Foreign Service, I fully support the use of economic espionage as well as proactive counter-terrorism intelligence for a nation to protect itself from its adversaries.

That being said, I generally oppose the use of economic espionage by nations against trusted allies and friends for which shared trust has already been established. Otherwise, one's word renders another country as an adversary in the absence of validated trust.

Unfortunately, the US has already acknowledged that it has eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone in the recent past, although it now claims it not doing so.

Sadly, the US National Security Agency has apparently monitored emails and phone records of both friends and adversaries alike on a global basis, simply because it has the intelligence infrastructure to do so. Access to privileged information can in fact be addictive to the point that such a capability can easily be abused.

It is, therefore, completely understandable why upwards of a dozen "friendly" sovereign nations are very upset with Washington for violating their nations' privacy laws, which means that the US could very soon not be trusted on a multitude of fronts, which could make the jobs of US diplomats now and in the future even more difficult.

A final note. Competitive intelligence, which is defined as "an entity's ability to use public and publicly available private sources to collect information on their competitors is within the laws of most nations unless prohibited by statute."

Yet, using technology to eavesdrop, monitor or covertly capture verbal, electronic or data across international borders of ones allies can only be described as "economic espionage."