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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Secret world of industrial espionage
Alec Guinness plays spy George Smiley in John Le Carre's Smiley's People
The Cold War spy's vocation has found new life in the corporate world

An Israeli police investigation into a ring of companies suspected of using a sophisticated computer virus to spy on rivals has shed new light on the shadowy world of industrial espionage.

BBC News uncovers recent examples of alleged corporate snooping, in which the spymaster's base has often been the boardroom.

Rocket rivals

US defence giant Lockheed Martin sued rival defence contractor Boeing in 2003, alleging industrial espionage in the race for US Air Force contracts.

Lockheed Martin said Boeing had acquired thousands of confidential documents relating to its bid for a $2bn (1.1bn) military rocket programme in 1998.

As a result, the Pentagon barred Boeing from rocket work and revoked $1bn worth of contracts with the company.

The ban was only lifted this month, when both companies announced they were planning to bury their rivalries over US government rocket contracts by forming a joint venture.

Store war snoop

In 2004, UK retail icon Marks & Spencer revealed it was investigating an apparent attempt to spy on the mobile phone records of its boss Stuart Rose.

M&S boss Stuart Rose
Did somebody obtain the mobile phone records of M&S's boss?

The company confirmed that someone had attempted to access Mr Rose's phone records from mobile network O2.

Mr Rose is thought to have realised that something was wrong when 02 asked him for a security code which he had not set up.

The apparent phone snooping came at the height of a bitter takeover battle for M&S.

Swedish mole

A diplomatic row between Sweden and Russia broke out in 2002, following allegations of espionage at Swedish telecoms and defence giant Ericsson.

Sweden expelled two Russian diplomats after Swedish police arrested three people on suspicion of supplying confidential company documents to a contact in Russia.

Moscow later responded in kind by expelling two Swedish diplomats.

Although known for its mobile phone interests, Ericsson was also a key manufacturer of advanced technology for the Anglo-Swedish Gripen fighter jet.

However, the leaked documents were not thought to be linked to military projects.

Dirty laundry

US consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble agreed to settle out of court with Anglo-Dutch rival Unilever over allegations of corporate spying in 2001.

Proctor & Gamble, whose household brands include Ariel and Daz washing powders and Pantene shampoo, was alleged to have searched through the rubbish of Unilever for commercially sensitive information.

Unilever products include the Organics and Sunsilk brands of shampoo.

Proctor & Gamble admitted breaking its own rules on corporate espionage to obtain information on Unilever's hair care business.

Supersonic mystery

At the height of the Cold War in 1968, a supersonic passenger jet took to the skies of the Soviet Union shortly before the maiden flight of Concorde.

Tu-144 supersonic jet
Dubbed 'Concordski', the Tu-144 looked much like its Western rival

The ill-fated Tu-144, which was quickly nicknamed Concordski in the West, bore a remarkable resemblance to its Anglo-French supersonic rival.

According to papers smuggled out of Russia by dissident KGB officer Vasili Mitrokin, detailed documents spanning thousands of pages of technical specifications on new aircraft such as Concorde were stolen by a spy codenamed "Ace".

The Soviet Union was able to steal a march on its Cold War rivals but Concordski's commercial future was all but finished after one of the planes crashed at the Paris Air Show in 1973, killing 13 people.


SEE ALSO:
Israeli firms 'ran vast spy ring'
31 May 05 |  Middle East
The spies watching while you type
17 Mar 05 |  Technology


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