The legs threat'
in economic espionage
haps, used in their own countries It could be the cleaners who were paid
when they return from a Hong Kong to deliver the contents of rubbish bins
visit. to a competitor, or merely the result
Loyalty to the employer, he thinks, is of cleaners selling discarded letters to
at a premium in Hong Kong. Most em- a paper merchant.
ployees' loyalty is to the family and The paper merchant could have a con-
the Almighty Dollar, not the em- tract to deliver from one firm to an-
ployer. other. Those receiving the discarded
He says bosses should be careful who letters could put two-and-two to-
they talk to and what they say when gether by reading and analysing over
they do talk. It all boils down to pro- a long period spoiled carbons that had
per staff training in security : a securi- merely been screwed up and thrown
ty attitude has to be a trained one. away.
Barry James is Chief Consultant at the
security consultancy firm called HKS
Consultants, which is an autonomous Freightening
part of Hong Kong Security Group. He says it is also rather frightening
But he's quick to say that as con- what a skilled interrogator can find
sultants, his firm does not favour the out by using a sprat of confidential
parent group, unless it has an expertise information to get somebody talking
other commercial security agencies do do catch a mackerel.
What Barry L.T. James, a local ethical- not have Chinese and Japanese people are
ly-minded security consultant, des- He says he invariably advises his clients generally easily obligated to someone
cribes as the "legs threat" appears to to go out to tender for any services or who does them a favour or entertains
be the main way commercial and in- equipment he may recommend they them. They feel duty bound to do
dustrial espionage is conducted in need. something in return, and to give in-
Hong Kong : people just walk out When HKS Consultants first began in formation that costs the individual
with vital knowledge of a competitor's 1982 it was the only security con- little.
plans either in their heads or on a o n firm listed in local business Though Hong Kong may still be re-
copy. directories. But now seven or eight latively unsophisticated at commercial
Barry James doesn't think bugging de- are listed and Barry James wonders espionage the application of micro-
vices are used all that much for eaves- whether or not all will have the processor technology is coming to the
dropping, though those who do dis- same ethical outlook he practices or local business community. Barry
cover their plans have become known have n vested interest in sales? James warns about the loss of valuable
to their competitors do sometimes He says when people come to him "chips" in their course of manufacture
think they must have been bugged — after having lost the confidentiality affecting the electronics industry and
their telephone tapped or their room of business secrets he usually finds the need for security in firms provid-
bugged, for instance. it is not a tapped telephone or some ing computer on-line data services.
He says most losses of information other bug but a lack of office security Access control, by using a simple card
happen by word of mouth. Yet bug- that is to blame. issued to an employee with his photo-
ging devices are freely sold in certain Barry James says it could be the boss's graph, is easily enough defeated he
Hong Kong shops, ranging from any- executive secretary who could have says. Micro-processor technology has
thing as cheap as $50 to sophisticated been unwittingly careless, or the boss as a result begun to be used in Hong
bugs that pick up vibrations on win- leaving a confidential letter on his Kong for employee identification pur-
dow panes costing several thousand desk. poses. One method used so far identi-
dollars. It could be a skilled interrogator who fies the geometry of the employee's
Barry James says these devices are grilled someone without his knowing hand : no two hands are alike.
mainly bought by tourists and it, or who could have disarmed some- He says other methods that could be
visiting businessmen. They are, per- body by getting him drunk. adopted are devices that identify the
36 THE BULLETIN NOVEMBER 1983
way an employee writes his signature blurred because there is as yet no lem and she was the contest winner.)
or that check the characteristics of his international institute of security con- Barry James says his clients include
voice. Another method of identifying sultants. Barry James is, however, a banks and property companies, or just
is the individual pattern of blood Member of the Institute of Industrial VIPs (Very Important Persons). Multi-
vessels on the retina of the eye. De- Security, a body incorporated by the national companies are sometimes also
vices using this factor have not yet be- International Professional Security concerned about their senior staff who
come commonplace. Association. The latter has a very may be a kidnap risk, not necessarily
How soon these more sophisticated active Hong Kong Branch. for political reasons but for a big
electronic applications will come to After a good consultant has surveyed ransom.
Hong Kong, Barry James says, will and analysed a client's security prob- He says Hong Kong has a colourful
depend largely on their cost- lems and made his recommendations past history of piracy on the surround-
effectivess. He says that as a security he should help his client draw up ing seas. But today shipping is virtually
consultant he tries to optimise security specifications so that he can call for free of this menace. Singapore is a dif-
for Hong Kong business, not to re- tenders for whatever services or equip- ferent story, because so many
commend costly maximum security ment may be needed. Indonesian islands are so close and
measures that are overkill. protect pirates.
Most Hong Kong firms do not so far Barry James emphasises his work is
make much of a conscious effort to Optimum essentially preventive unlike the police
look to their security. Most just Barry James says the most cost- who play a criminal investigative role
muddle through until some important effective designs for optimum security as well as providing prevention.
information or goods are lost. Then should be made at the planning stage He says local murders are not generally
they may decide something has got to for any development. In Hong Kong political. In Hong Kong there exists an
be done. most consider security too late. underground gangster world, not
But their own expertise is not in Personally, he finds this a little para- political terrorists. The gangster
security. They could, as a result, end doxical. The Hong Kong population as world's motivation is money.
up buying the wrong system. It could a whole is very security conscious. He The nearest Hong Kong has recently
be sold by a security salesman, not a says he's never been in a place so come to political terrorism is the
consultant. He says it is the consultant riddled with metal gates, grilles, threat of, e.g., the Japanese Red Army
who can give independent and un- barbed-wire, burglar bars on windows, mounting a local attack, But the
biassed advice that gives clients opti- intercoms, peep-holes in front doors, Japanese Red Army is now largely a
mum security at a price they can door chains, and even 10-feet high spent force.
afford to pay. perimeter walls, with broken bottles He says little usually surfaces about
Barry James says what a good security cemented on top and guard dogs roam- the industrial spy in Hong Kong who
consultant does is make his own sur- ing the yard. seeks information to copy other peo-
vey and analysis of a client's problems. He thinks this siege mentality is a ple's new products. Most cases just do
He does not necessarily accept what legacy of a lack of law and order in not become known, even of computer
the client has to say. China from time to time in its history fraud, because the victim seldom
The good consultant is systems- and the local high population density. reveals what happened to him. He's
oriented and is rather like a general Everybody believes they must look afraid it could affect public con-
practitioner in medicine. He treats the after themselves exclusively. fidence in his firm. The same is prob-
firm's security problems as a doctor ' He says Hong Kong's iron bar syn- ably true of kidnap victims who,
would a patient's health problem. He drome can have its dangers. For in- after ransom is paid, remain quiet for
recommends a specialist if it is a stance, it blocks fire escapes. Burglar fear of reprisals.
specialist problem. bars that are not hinged can also block Barry James thinks the trend in Hong
A difference is that security consultants escape from fire and smoke. Kong, as elsewhere, will be toward
in Hong Kong do not have any ex- Barry James says good security con- more eavesdropping using electronic
ternally defined standards like doctors. sultants don't talk about their clients devices but so far it's mainly the "legs
The fact that there are virtually no in- and their unfortunate experiences nor threat" and rumours on the stock
dependant standards has led to a de- the security steps consultants may re- exchanges.
bate on whether or not Hong Kong commend that could help commercial "That's the way it's going to go and it
security consultants should have their spies or just plain burglars. is already moving in that direction in-
own association or even a government But he does list a few of the jobs he ternationally." He says, "Rich rewards
authority to regulate their work. But has undertaken, like guarding the QE2 could lie in premature information
to date it's still the old story : Buyer when she's in port with a host of about company dividends and mergers.
Beware! millionaire passengers and protecting It is going to happen in a matter of
the pretty entrants in the Miss time." •
Security consultancy originated in the
Universe contest when it was held in
United States and spread to Europe.
Hong Kong. (Miss Israel was the prob-
Definitions internationally also remain
38 THE BULLETIN NOVEMBER 1983