Military Contractor Spy Scandal Has Lessons for All Employers

Modern-day spy stories that hit the news don’t feature high-tech gadgets or chases around winding mountain roads. Instead, the reality is often much more mundane: one person handing a small USB thumb drive to another in an airport before parting ways. Defense-related secrets, especially the design and engineering behind technology, are a hot commodity in the international intelligence community. Nations such as China exert considerable effort to cultivate sources through which they can obtain secret US military information to enhance their own projects.

A 23-year veteran of the United States Army pleaded guilty late in June of 2022 to acting as an unregistered foreign agent when he stole classified materials from his employer and sold them repeatedly to Chinese intermediaries. After retiring from the Army and settling into a job with a defense contractor authorized to handle classified materials, Chinese nationals approached the man and offered him a job as a “consultant.” Over several years, he made tens of thousands of dollars across multiple transactions in exotic locales such as Shanghai and Bali, handing over USB drives with secret data related to aviation designs.

The man faces up to $500,000 in potential fines and a maximum of 15 years in federal prison for his actions and lying during government background checks conducted as part of his civilian employment. What does this story have for employers of all stripes to learn? While you may not need to worry about state secrets in a retail business or an IT company, that doesn’t mean this spying scandal can’t impart important lessons.

First, it can serve as an important reminder of the importance of a skeptical nature. Even those exceptionally trustworthy individuals can lie, and some can lie quite skillfully even in high-pressure situations. While that does not mean you should be mistrustful of everyone you employ, it does mean that verifying (and re-verifying) trustworthiness is an important process. That is why background checks have an essential role in hiring.

Second is the fact that background checks are not a silver bullet—they can’t cover every possible scenario, such as when an applicant commits crimes after joining your business. Tools that provide for ongoing monitoring of criminal record databases have a vital role to play here. Continuous criminal history monitoring alerts employers who can take appropriate action when an employee enters the justice system via an arrest or a new charge.

Ultimately, there is no bulletproof way to know the instant an employee commits a crime, especially if law enforcement is not initially involved. However, many tools at every company’s disposal can reduce your risk level. A proactive attitude towards safeguarding against bad actors and the right solutions to back up that commitment leads to a safer, more alert business.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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