Increasingly, foreign companies and governments are stealinginformation from U.S. biotechnology companies, Edward Appel,assistant special agent of the San Francisco division of theFederal Bureau of Investigation told BioWorld.

"We've found several instances where biotechnology firmshave been the victims of rather expensive information loss," hesaid.

"There has been an upsurge in the last few years of intelligencecollection targeting U.S. technology, not by countries thought ofas adversaries during the Cold War, but by countries thought ofas friends and allies," said Appel, who is in charge of counterintelligence matters in Northern California. "Most industrializedcountries are doing it," said Appel.

But because espionage by foreign governments is sometimesdealt with diplomatically, Appel declined to name the countriesinvolved.

For years, other high-technology companies have been raidedby foreigners. But biotechnology companies are especiallyvulnerable, Appel told BioWorld, because academic traditionsof information sharing die hard.

The San Francisco division began investigating espionage ofbiotechnology companies only three months ago, and "we arevery dependent on the scientists or the marketing person tohelp us understand, number one, what it is that can get stolen,and number two, to help us ferret out who can be doing it,"said Appel.

The best protection is to have a professional review of securityprocedures and to educate employees as to what is proprietary,he said. "We have found that when management thinks aboutthat and discusses it with employees, the chances of beingripped off are dramatically lessened."

Since biotechnology is one of six types of technology the FBIhas designated critical to national security, biotechnologycompanies can request a briefing on security from local fieldoffices under a program called Development of Espionage andCounterintelligence Awareness (DECA).

Biotechnology companies can also learn from other high-techcompanies' experiences. According to a survey by the AmericanSociety for Industrial Security, in which 246 high-technologycompanies responded, 30 percent of thefts involve employees,and "twenty-some percent involve ex-employees," Appel toldBioWorld.

"One of the things we've found in the Bay Area, people who getin a jam, live over their head, develop a cocaine habit, have amistress on the side -- all the many reasons why somebodywants more money -- they will sell things they have access to.We find the same with banking.

"Many times companies will realize they are being stalked, as itwere. They take a proactive approach and collect informationon their competitors, not through illegal means, but simply bykeeping track of the people that would most likely steal theirtrade secrets."

Foreign espionage can be conducted openly, Appel explained. Aforeign post-graduate student was admitted to the RochesterPolytechnic Institute, to which Kodak is a major contributor."Kodak was sophisticated enough to know that this persondidn't need to learn more about photography," said Appel, andthat through the institute's connections with the company, the"student" could gain access to privy information.

High-technology companies have frequently failed to approachlaw enforcement agencies about espionage, Appel toldBioWorld. The companies, he said, fear loss of stock value ortaking the blame for sloppy handling of critical information.They also worry that in an investigation more companies mightgain access to critical information.

Finally, some believe the cost of criminal or civil investigationwould outweigh the benefits. But companies sometimesoverlook the fact that unlike corporate attorneys, the FBI'sservices are free, says Appel.

As for fears of information hemorrhage during investigation,Appel said the FBI is discrete. "When a person is kidnapped, weusually don't put out the word until we get the person back tosafety. When we go after foreign spies, we do not advertise thefact. We don't need to share these things publicly until there isa prosecution."

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.