Economic espionage is a problem that costs the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year and puts our national security at risk. While it is not a new threat, it is a growing one, and the theft attempts by foreign competitors and adversaries are becoming more brazen and varied. The FBI estimates that hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars are lost to foreign competitors every year. These foreign competitors deliberately target economic intelligence in advanced technologies and flourishing U.S. industries.
What is Economic Espionage?
According to the Economic Espionage Act (Title 18 U.S.C. §1831), economic espionage is (1) whoever knowingly performs targeting or acquisition of trade secrets to (2) knowingly benefit any foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent. In contrast, the theft of trade secrets (Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1832) is (1) whoever knowingly misappropriates trade secrets to (2) benefit anyone other than the owner.
Historically, economic espionage has targeted defense-related and high-tech industries. But recent FBI cases have shown that no industry, large or small, is immune to the threat. Any company with a proprietary product, process, or idea can be a target; any unprotected trade secret is vulnerable to theft by those who wish to illegally obtain innovations to increase their market share at a victim company’s expense.