Corporate/Industrial Espionage - How overt is it within the spying company?

I’m facinated by corporate espionage.

How does it work, and how formal is it, in terms of how it is organized by the spying company? I’d imagine that managers who are running the spy programs would probably be a little discreet about it.

“Good morning. Welcome to Interstate Union Industrial Parts, Inc. You have been assigned to our Espionage department, which is called the Special Product Quality division on our public balance sheet, where you are to surreptitiously get a job with West River Forge, Inc., our biggest competitor, and locate the procedure to manufacture the alloy “Riverside Special Steel ™”. Their introduction of this product has helped them to corner the market for cogs and gears. You will deliver the process to us, then turn in a resignation. If you succeed, you will receive a raise of 20%. You are now a covert field employee - do not come back to the office until your task is performed. HR has been instructed to reveal that you were laid off as of today, so please list this in your job application with Riverside. Good luck.”

It’s not like the big boss is gonna place an ad on Monster for a fulltime W-2 spy. This kinda stuff is either done by outsourced private investigators or security firms, or by disgruntled insiders who approach competitors.

Of course, the vast majority of industrial intelligence is perfectly legal activity: combing through public records and filings, talking to people, making observations. Walter Chrysler used to hire guys to go up in hot air balloons and count the number of cars coming out of GM’s factories, for example.

Right. But when laws are being broken, how much of a conspiracy is there in the office (at least based on cases that have come to light). Is it a matter of the entire engineering/marketing/what have you team in on a conspiracy, or is it more a case of an employee assigned to write a design document deciding to go maverick and steal a design document from a competitor, then submitting it to their supervisor as normal?

One relatively current scandal you may be interested in is the HP leak scandal, where the board hired a dubious security outfit to find the source of a leak. They then hired a third party which used unscrupulous means to obtain phone records. In this kind of case, one generally leaves the details to the investigators: “Oh, hi there. We need you to find who leaked this stuff. But don’t do anything illegal. Wink wink. Err, did I just say ‘wink’ out loud? I meant, uhhh, not wink.” ::wink::