That summer of 1937, all air flight enthusiasts were in Buffalo, NY. The most amazing was a prodigy barnstormer from Germany, Ernst Udet. He piloted his two-winged plane beautifully. The audience in the grandstand applauded in amazement as they picked up a handkerchief with a wing from his civilian plane as it sped along! He impressed the crowd so much that no one asked why this German, whose nation was denied an air force by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, bought two Curtiss Hawks “privately” “Hell Divers”. The world would learn a few years later. In 1939, the Junkers Corporation in Nazi Germany introduced the Stuka dive bomber, based on these American models. A Stuka, emitting a howling howl, would continue to precision bombard Polish targets for Hitler’s Germany.

We all have permissions, and for that reason, we need to protect our information, equipment and processes. If asked, could you provide any tips you turn to to make sure you’re doing the right thing? I am talking here about how you sell your product. If your weapon system is for sale, what is actually for sale? The whole plane, let’s say? Or is it an airplane, or a weapon system? Are all components for sale or are some not to be given to a buyer? So you take your weapon system to an air show, to better show off its capabilities. Real professionals surround the plane, photographing every angle, part, component, bulge and concavity imaginable. The enthusiasts wonder about what they see. Your employee, representing the company as a subject matter expert, does their best to answer questions. It welcomes many visitors, all of them record and even photograph every comment he makes, all his brochures, and especially any film of the plane in flight he offers. What could go wrong?

Who is your audience?

Start with the audience. Who are they? Most public air shows are just that. Anyone with the entrance fee can attend. We send our products to be seen because we want to sell them. It is important to do this for the future of our jobs and our business. A first question to ask yourself then is what should I protect? Is the whole plane a secret? No, you have checked in advance and know that only an on-board component is. Where is this component? Who knows? Can it be inferred from a bulge in the width, for example, or the length of an unmarked part? Rest assured that every part of this plane will be measured, in order to better identify where the “secret” lies. And of course, if you protect your product from a country … or a competitor, they’ll know what they’re looking for. Their spy, or “competitive intelligence” agent, will have told them where he is.

What can they see – and how long will they see it?

What can we show? If you allow someone to enter the cockpit, will they have time to measure? Will they be able to extract a piece of the construction element? The Soviets sent visitors to foreign factories with gummed shoes, the better to remove shards or microscopic components of construction metals from the floors. Do you have a similar need to protect such parts? What are you doing about it?

What will you say

What can we say? I’ve been to shows where a simple question was enough to throw a rep into the climax of the engineering tradition. He told me everything about a component he had known or speculated on. He told me who his colleagues were, what they were doing and what they were planning to do. “Are you having problems?” I asked. “Problems?!!” he would cry. “Of course we had problems, and here’s how we solved them…”. It went on and on, literally saving a real competitor a lot of money and research time. Now a “bad guy” knew not only what not to do, where the pitfalls were and how to avoid them, but also which paths to follow were working and not. Now the salesperson / subject matter expert had another problem – only now he had no idea that he had just created it himself by not planning ahead.

“Have you been made aware of what you can and cannot say about this component? I would inquire. “What? By whom?” You see where the dangers are. Here is a true engineer, no doubt master of his subject and rightly proud of his achievements. He just couldn’t imagine, as he had never been told what to protect and what to expect while he was representing his company at their booth. I must add that examples of all the components of the weapon system were neatly laid out in front of the man, so that a curious mind could distract him and lift one to take him home. There were so many pieces present that it was impossible for her to notice what might be missing. The photos provided on the walls of the exhibition stand have also not been verified. They alone were worth their weight in gold. The answers to a competitor’s questions could be easily determined from them.

What to do before sending your employees to speak?

What to do? Before someone is sent to represent a booth or attend an event for the company, give them a full briefing. Let them know that others want his information and, ultimately, his job. In fact, these spies want to compromise the information that the United States needs to protect itself, that this representative is there to keep. That is why it must have the appropriate permissions. Not only should he be aware of this, but also his briefing should indicate who among the competing companies is seeking to soak up his information.

For your representative’s pre-briefing, make sure you have not only a counterintelligence professional present, but also a licensed subject matter expert. The first can describe the collection methods and the second can describe what to protect. Did I mention that the representative must, must know what it protects? Otherwise, it might involve answering a spy question innocently. This opens your pre-briefing to the required presence of the foreign disclosure officer. It must explain what can and cannot be revealed, even about unclassified information. He would get this information not only from his own needs, but also from the company’s operations security officer.

Lectures and shows can sell a project. Or they can sell them. Know how to protect your business, its reputation, its future and its employees. You never know why an innocent barnstormer asks about a dive plane.