Dayton area defense contractors face both insider and a barrage of cyber threats from foreign adversaries to steal military-related technology, according to the FBI agents who work in the region.
“Besides terrorism, the counter intelligence threat is the No. 2 priority in the FBI so it’s very significant,” said Paul A. Kunkle, FBI supervisory special agent in the foreign counterintelligence efforts in southern Ohio.
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Hundreds of defense contractors have ties to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — many with offices in the Dayton area — that could be targeted for classified information on emerging technologies, officials say. The military base is home to key Air Force units, such as Air Force Research Laboratory, focused on creating future battlefield technologies, and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, which has provided intelligence analysis to ground troops to the White House.
“The threat is real,” said Eric F. Thomas, an FBI Special Agent in the Dayton region assigned to the Foreign Counterintelligence Squad. “… The fact that we do have adversaries that are attempting to gain our technology in order to close the gap is a real threat and we need to make certain that the individuals that have those technologies or work in those industries are aware of that.”
Thomas said he couldn’t comment on the number of suspected insider threats the FBI works on in the region. But, he added, “suffice it to say, we do have a number of cases that we work within the Dayton region and that’s primarily because Wright-Patt is here.”
The two FBI agents briefed dozens of members of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association on Friday about insider threats to companies from employees or others who may try to steal technology and classified information for profit or other motivations.
China, Russia and Iran have posed the biggest potential espionage threats, Kunkle told the contractors.
U.S. military technological superiority has eroded against potential adversaries, and the United States needs to be “more careful than ever” to protect that advantage, said Carl E. Francis, a Dayton Defense past president.
“I think one of the things that we all are concerned about on the defense side is the supply chain and how that supply chain can quickly become compromised depending on how we manage it,” he said.
Dayton Defense President Anthony Lee Schmidt said if an employee travels overseas on business with “secret information” in a laptop that’s left, for example, in a hotel room, “the odds are it’s going to end up in the wrong hands and that information is going to be leaked.”
Stolen technology could hurt the U.S. military and economic harm that could cause job losses in the United States, Kunkle said.
Employees who have been recruited by intelligence foreign intelligence services may not act for years until they begin passing secrets, officials said.
Among other potential signs of insiders selling or offering sensitive data, defense firms should be aware of employees who have unexplained additional income, frequently travel overseas, attempt to gain access to classified information beyond their job duties, and unnecessarily copy proprietary or classified material, according to the FBI.
Other behavioral signs may include working odd hours without authorization when it’s more likely data might be compromised, and taking home documents, thumb drives and other materials without need or permission, and remotely accessing a computer network while on vacation, sick leave or other unusual times, according to the agency.
“It’s never just one thing, it’s a multitude of things,” he said.
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