Direct, unsolicited requests for information are the most
frequently reported foreign collection activity. Most such requested are
directed to defense industry, but they are also received by the military and
other government agencies. The requests may
be faxed, mailed, e-mailed, or communicated by phone or in person. The request may be for
information or be an inquiry about purchase. This procedure is so popular because
it is low cost, low risk, and often works. It is not unusual for one or more
middlemen to send out multiple requests for specific information or a specific technology, hoping to
find one one person willing to respond in a positive manner.1
Various ploys are used to increase the
likelihood of an initial response. For example:
- The request is sent to individuals with the
same national, ethnic, religious, or other background as the requestor.
- The requestor claims to be a student
requesting help with a thesis.
- The requestor asks for a copy of a trade
journal article authored by the recipient of the request. If the recipient responds, the
requestor follows up with detailed questions about the subject of the article.
There are many potential indicators that an
unsolicited request may be suspicious. One of the more common is that the
request is directed to an individual employee by name, rather than to the
corporate marketing department. There are two reasons to use this technique. First,
individuals are more likely to be unaware or forget about company or
organizational policy in responding to such requests. Second, the purpose
may not be to actually collect information. The purpose may be a preliminary
screening to identify those who are willing to be helpful by responding to
such a request. The few who respond may then be targeted and assessed
further by other means.
Many companies label an unsolicited request
as suspicious whenever the information requested is on the Militarily
Critical Technology List, is covered under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR),
or would require
a license for export. Other indicators are:
- The request comes from a foreign
country, especially a country subject to U.S. export controls.
- The requestor is ostensibly a student or
consultant or is otherwise vague about what organization is behind the
request or how the information will be used. Insinuates that the identify
of the third party he works for is "classified."
- Requestor admits the information could
not be obtained elsewhere because it is classified or controlled, or
advises to disregard the request if it is classified or subject to export
The success of direct requests depends largely on three factors:
- The knowledge of US organizations regarding export laws. When
diversion of US technology is discovered following a direct request by a
foreign entity, a common argument used to mitigate punishment for the
transfer is that the US supplier was unaware that the item was controlled
or was a trade secret.
- The willingness of US organizations to carry out due diligence on the
foreign buyer. In some cases, direct requests are placed through
organizations whose names provide no indication of the foreign nature of
the requestor. If, in addition, the person attempting the acquisition does
not state that the item is to be exported, the US seller may feel no need
to make a more concerted effort to learn about the final destination of
- The honesty of the US seller. In a number of cases over the past few
years, the seller has simply chosen to ignore clear indications that the
item was to be transferred overseas. Indeed, many US firms—eager to make a
sale—have been complicit in efforts to disguise either the type of
equipment being exported or the end-user destination
Recipients of such requests should find out
as much information as possible about who the requestor represents and why
the requestor wants the information. Advise your security officer and
marketing or public relations office of any
suspicious requests. Do not respond to any unsolicited request without prior
approval from your supervisor or security officer.
1. Defense Security Service, Suspicious
Indicators and Security Countermeasures for Foreign Collection Activities
Against the U.S. Defense Industry, 2003. Accessed via Internet at
Dec. 8, 2004.
2. This section copied from National Counterintelligence
Executive, Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and
Industrial Espionage - 2004. Accessed via Internet at www.nacic.gov/publications/index.html,
June 20, 2005.