PROTECTING AMERICA’S SPACE VEHICLE SECRETS
This is a case summary from our files, of a government client, using the undercover trade craft that I posted an overview on previously.
It was March 4th, a Tuesday, and we had just finished our 8 AM staff meeting which usually lasted about 30 minutes depending on issues we needed to handle. At a few minutes before nine, I was reviewing undercover reports that had come in the night before to determine if any clients needed to be briefed on urgent events, when my assistant called me and said I have a call from someone who said he was referred to you on line 3, I said OK I will pick up.
I picked up the phone and said good morning this is Phil Little how may I help you. He said this is Mark Wilson (named changed) and Matthew Roberts (named changed) who speaks very highly of you and said your agency would be able to help us. Mark went on to say I am head of operations for a joint military operation involving the space program in another state and we would like to come tomorrow and see you to talk privately since this is a classified operation and we are on an open line. I looked at my calendar and saw there was anything I couldn’t change, and I said of course what time.
Mark said they would be on a private plane coming into the Burbank airport and would arrive about 9 AM and I said great how many will be coming, and he said three and I said we will have a town car there to bring you to the office.
Mark and his team arrived about 9:45 and after introductions and with coffee in hand we went to the secured conference room to talk. Mark said they were part of a joint military services complex dealing with the space shuttles and they had internal problems and were concerned about foreign governments trying to obtain information and plans about the space shuttles. He unfortunately said the heads of the complex are scientists and do not understand the importance of security.
I ask Mark would this not be an FBI or other agency handling issues like this? He responded yes but there is concern about any people the government agencies might use being compromised due to the area being small and the chance that an under cover agent being recognized is very high. He said this is going to be a project which will take some time, so we wanted a dedicated agency with the background and experience in handling undercover operations. He said he got approval to bring in West Coast Detectives.
Then we got down to details and they said one issue is we cannot tell any of the HR department so the agents would have to go through the interviews on their own, I thought OH great there always has to be challenges.
I called in Rick; the head of our undercover unit and we had Mark Give us detailed descriptions of the jobs and a profile of the type of agents who would fit in to work force. I also ask Mark prepare a profile on the people who would be interviewing for the jobs. I asked for all their likes and dislike, their background such as any military experience. Give me any hot buttons that they would react positively to from the new hire.
As we wrapped up the meeting right before noon, we arranged for me to visit the complex on the following Monday, and they would give me a tour and have the profiles on the interviewers. I took them to lunch and after dropped them at the airport.
I met with Rick and other unit chiefs to layout plans to find the three agents we needed. I left them with the task of coming up with recruitment plans and would also be screening for agents we had who would qualify and be able to relocate for up to six months.
The next Monday March the 10th found me in my element, walking among flying machines. In the US Airforce I started on C-130s and was to be assigned to B-52s but after training I transfer to a fighter squadron in California, which was the base where Fighters were being flown out to Vietnam. “I love airplanes.”
I was in every corner of the complex, including secured areas to get a feel for the activities so I could brief our agents going in. After a day with Mark and getting the profile on the interviews I returned to the airport and back to Los Angeles.
March 13, Wednesday, found me back at my office and I was pleased to learn the team had made good head way with two of our current staff of agents identified who would fit the profile and could be gone for up to six months. I went over the profiles of the interviewers at the client location so they could do initial briefing of the two agents separately and then I would spend time with each one.
I wanted to be sure they understood the importance of security with this being a classified operation and both of these agents had security clearances from other assignments. By Friday, March 15, we had the third agent identified and the next week we would be updating backgrounds on our agents and doing a pre assignment Polygraph as part of our internal due diligence to protect our clients.
By Friday, March 22nd we had finished the pre assignment work and had them going to the client location for a new hire interview a day apart. Now we would see how good of actors the agents were. We had set up separate living locations for the agents so they would not be together and bring attention to three new hires living together.
I had learned from my time in the Air Force about the word prevention over and over again and this stuck with me into my business life, particular since we were protecting people and property. So, we did redundant role playing with the agents prior to sending them to the client location and it paid off. All three were hired within a week without anyone knowing they were undercover. That was kind of scary for if we could plant agents inside this secure government operation, then any foreign government with their resources could do the same thing. That would be in my finally report to the client.
We had an agent on each of the three shifts and the daily reports started showing a lack of security and very little concern about it with a lot of wasted time and drug use. This was a reminder that when the people at the top were not security aware that worked its way down to the employees who took advantage of the lack security. We would be looking to see if there was dealing of drugs going on internally or theft of government property. The reports after being formatted were mailed to clients every day and if there was an problem that was life threatening the client was notified by phone and an action plan was discussed.
Within 6 weeks our lead agent was promoted to team lead on the night shift, and this gave him more access without being questioned. This is another one our prevention trainings points, that the agents have to be able to play a dual role, the good employee for the management and one open to work with the employees who were suspects.
Our normal approach is to build any criminal cases as we go on with the operation, but not making any arrest until the end so we don’t expose the undercover agents. Our trade craft is to use the undercover reports to lead us to ways we can build a case without undercover testimony, so the agent can be used on other cases.
Over the next six months I would go to the client location for meetings to discuss project developments and make sure the client knew our objectives. As the weeks went by the list of employees who needed to be replaced grew. There were the basic lazy employees and only doing another to get by, which was affecting the mission of the operation, and there were drug users who were enough involved to affect their jobs and would need to be interviewed at the end of the assignment to try and find out their suppliers.
The night shifts were the most exposed with darkness hiding some activities. We would recommend more lighting in some places. With the size of the plant and number of employees our list was over had over 50 suspects going into the 4th month.
It was in the fourth month that one of our agents was alerted by another employee that a couple of the employees seemed to be asking a lot of unusual questions, like where were certain critical parts kept when it wasn’t in their need to know. The employee said they were moving around a lot to places that they didn’t need to be.
The agent provided me with the two employees names, and I called Mark and ask him to get me a copy of the two files and anything they might have on the background done on them.
He noted when he sent me the files that when he reviewed the backgrounds, he saw that a lot of the background items were not done on both the subjects. He said only the basic check was done. That made him wonder how many more was like that.
I immediately sent the file to our research and ID team and told them to do a full work up on both subjects back to birth and do it quickly.
I was on a plane to the clients the next morning for meetings with the agents to go over how they were to focus on the two subjects. They were to be normal but look for and develop openings to talk to the subjects and see if any social meetings could be put together to try and learn more about them.
I spent two days meeting with agents and client and when I got back to my office, I had large files on my desk with the first part of the work up on both subjects. We had many “Red Flags” starting with gaps in their history, questions about where they were born, how they received Social Security Cards. I directed the research division to keep digging.
We also discovered that they had two different addresses at the client location, both were mail drops and further digging showed they were actually living at the same address in a low-income area.
After briefing the client, we initiated surveillance from when they left the office until they went to bed. I alerted the agents that we were possible dealing with plants by foreign governments so be alert. A big part of undercover work is the agents fitting into their surroundings and with the surveillance on the two suspects living location being lower income the surveillance can or high profile cars were out of the question. We sourced two older vehicles with some defects and the agents dressed for the area and moved positions frequently.
I am going to summaries the past 2 months of the case. If I had written blow by blow of all the details, it would be a book.
After starting the surveillance, we were looking for evidence that would show what the subjects were doing and if they were trying to steal plans on our space vehicles. The surveillance ran from the time they left their house in the morning until lights went off at night.
We also focused the agents on the subjects to see if they could build relationship with them. We suspected that if the two subjects were “Spies” they might have their guard down with the ease they got hired and the lack of security so apparently at the complex.
Over the weeks with now having two areas of investigations we maintained our internal focus on drug, supervisor issues, areas where illegal activities were going unobserved and where changes or upgrades to security were required, while the outside team worked on the two subjects.
We were several weeks into the surveillance when we hit the jack pot. Both subjects left their house going in different directions as we followed them they went 10 miles out of town to a roadside café. After going in and taking a booth at the back of the small restaurant they were joined by a subject that arrived shortly after they did.
One of the surveillance agents had gone in after the suspects and when the third subject arrives to the booth, he let the outside agents know and they got the license plate and put a non-traceable tracking device on the subjects car in case we lost him on a loose surveillance expecting him to be watching for a tail. The tracking device proved to be a God send for when he left, he started doing techniques which showed he was looking for a tail. The agents backed off and used the tracking device to get him to his location.
The subject who arrived and met with the suspects after some work up on him, gave suspicion that he was a handler for the suspects. It was time to meet with the local FBI office.
We were now approaching time to bring all the investigations to a close with over 60 employees being interviewed for illegal activities along with preparing a hard-hitting report on the need for a complete revamping of the security system approach along with details on how to make the changes. Our government security support division stayed on as consultants to help select the equipment and train a more professional level of security agents.
We had meetings with the local FBI field office and briefed them on all our discovery during the investigation with copies of reports, videos, audio, and photos of the all the suspects. They took over the final work on the two suspected spies and their support network and I coordinated the internal interviews with the employees who took part in drugs and other company violations. The FBI took several weeks to get to the point where they could bring the suspects along with the man who met with them in for interrogation. We assisted them with details that helped them bring the came to successful conclusion. The suspects were plants by a foreign government but now they were out of work
This was a very rewarding conclusion for us, but due to the case being undercover and classified we couldn’t use any of the clients appreciation for a job well done. But knowing we had helped keep our space program a little more secure was all the thanks we needed.
God Bless America