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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/22/12

Whose Secrets Is the US Protecting These Days?

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    $13 Billion Lost
   Protect America's Trade Secrets

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Chances are you missed the FBI billboards running the message above. They ran for just two weeks and only in the nine areas that the agency pegged as leading national research centers. But in their brief stay they raised a question that concerns all of us in the U.S.: Just how do the nation's top law enforcers decide what constitutes "America's trade secrets" in the era of multinational corporations?

 Should you go to the FBI website as the billboards suggested, you can read the story the agency posted on the ad campaign's first day, entitled "Economic Espionage: How to Spot a Possible Insider Threat." It opens with a tale of five "companies controlled by the government of the People's Republic of China" charged with stealing trade secrets from "DuPont, a company based in Wilmington, Delaware," the location presumably being the basis for the FBI's interest in protecting the secrecy of its manufacturing processes. But does being based in Delaware automatically make DuPont an American company and its trade secrets, therefore, America's trade secrets?  

There appears to be an internal difference of opinion as to exactly how many people DuPont employs. The company's website says 58,000 at more than 210 sites, while its Securities and Exchange Commission filing says 70,000, but both agree that they work "in more than 90 countries." What neither says, however, is how many of them actually work in the U.S. And in this DuPont is not unusual -- about eighty percent of U.S.-based multinationals fail to provide a domestic/foreign employment breakdown. This lack of information may no big deal to the FBI; they do, after all, have their ways of finding things out. But it does make it hard for the rest of us to judge just in whose interest the agency operates here.

Frank Figliuzzi, Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, told the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the House Committee on Homeland Security that theft of its secrets "would undercut DuPont revenues and business" currently constituting "the largest share of a $12 billion annual market." The profits from those revenues would undoubtedly return to the U.S., but what about the wages? General Electric, for instance, has now exported 54 percent of its jobs. Is it still an American company? How many of DuPont's jobs would have to go abroad before the American taxpayer would be relieved of the obligation to fund a government agency to protect its secrets?

A bill filed by Representative Gary Peters (D-MI) would shed some light on this question by requiring all U.S.-based firms with revenues over $1 billion to disclose what portion of its employees work abroad. In the meantime, we can rule out protection of government tax revenues as a motive for the FBI's solicitousness on behalf of DuPont, anyhow. Last December, the campaign finance reform organization, Public Campaign, reported that not only did DuPont pay no federal income taxes while making a profit of $2.1 billion during 2008--2010, but it actually netted $72 million in tax rebates. (DuPont did contribute to the economy, however, by spending $13.75 million on lobbying and increasing the pay of its top five executives by 188%, to $27.4 million in 2010.)

The FBI appears to harbor little doubt about its mission, though, although its own website suggests that maybe it should. The site's "Economic Espionage" page tells us "The Cold War is not over, it has merely moved into a new arena: the global marketplace. The FBI estimates that every year billions of U.S. dollars are lost to foreign and domestic competitors ... who cull intelligence out of shelved technologies by exploiting open source information and company trade secrets." "U.S. dollars" are being lost to "domestic competitors"? "Exploiting open source information" constitutes espionage? For better or worse, things seemed a lot clearer during the real Cold War, Spy-versus-Spy days when the FBI protected U.S. military secrets and the KGB protected the U.S.S.R.'s.
Things are not likely to become clearer anytime soon, either. The case involving the alleged Chinese espionage concerned a process DuPont has employed for fifty years to create a product used for coloring paper, plastics and paint, but the company's patent claims have subsequently reached into much murkier territory. As far back as 2001, Greenpeace and Misereor, a German Catholic Church development agency, charged DuPont management with "biopiracy" for trying to patent a variety of corn with "certain traits" that they "neither invented nor even fully understand." Earlier this year, the African Centre for Biosafety reported that "DuPont plans to begin selling sorghum varieties containing a valuable gene taken from a sudangrass that was collected in 2006 in Bolivia," but "acquired under exclusive license from Kansas State University" although it and "the two professors who claim to have 'invented' the Bolivian gene have all refused to explain how they acquired the Bolivian Seed."
Are these now part of "America's Trade Secrets"? Will the American taxpayer foot the bill for protecting them? Unfortunately, if I have to hazard a guess, I'd say the answer is yes. As the world economy crosses borders with increasing ease, we've seen the international owning class do a splendid job of bending national governments to its will and interests. That is, the taxpayer will pay -- if no one objects. We don't have enough money for our schools yet we have the funds to protect the trade secrets of U.S.-based multinationals? In a time when government agencies face increasing pressure to justify their budgets, this may not pass muster if the government is called on it.
And, by the way, while you're pondering these larger questions, you may also want to check out the FBI website's tips on identifying spies. Among other things, it tells us that "They work odd hours without authorization ... They take short trips to foreign countries for unexplained reasons ... They buy things they can't afford ... [and] They are overwhelmed by life crises or career disappointments." So, all you depressed insomniacs thinking of splurging on a foreign junket you know you really can't afford -- watch out, they're on to you!

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Tom Gallagher was a Bernie Sanders delegate elected from California's 12th Congressional District. He is the author of "The Primary Route: How the 99 Percent Takes on the Military Industrial Complex."

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