One recent Tuesday (June 29th) first thing I got a very excited e-mail from my marketing colleague and friend Professor Plum. “Did you see the thing in the [NY] Times about the Russian spies who were arrested?” (Indeed, I had read it earlier with great interest.) “I know one of those guys, Don Heathfield…he works with a business development firm I’m also working with.”
Interesting coincidence. Being the research guy I am, I looked up Heathfield and found that his company had a product FutureMap that sounds similar in some respects to a product we’ve been working on at TKA—something to monitor trends and events that could affect a company. I emailed my futurist colleague and friend Colonel Mustard a link with a “Check this out!” subject line.
Within five minutes Mustard called me back. “You’re not going to believe it, but I know one of these guys—Donald Heathfield. I met him through the World Future Society. He was always asking me for introductions, and to have my clients try out his software.” We had a rollicking conversation during which Mustard pointed out the many things in Heathfield’s story that didn’t quite add up.
A few days later, Friday afternoon, I was wrapping up what had turned into a surprisingly busy week. My phone rang, and it was my security colleague and friend Mr. Green. “Have you been reading about this Russian spy ring? You won’t believe this…” I could smell the rest…”but I know one of those guys.” Yup, Heathfield. “I met him at a meeting of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.”
The story Green told about Heathfield was similar in key respects to that told by Plum and Mustard. To wit, He tried to use my contacts…there was always something a little “off” about him…he wouldn’t take NO for an answer…he was always trying to get me to install his software in my and my clients’ computers.
“Heathfield” was later found to be the assumed identity of Andrey Bezrukov, a Russian spy who, after being discovered, was subsequently winged along with several of his colleagues back to the mother ship in early July.
What lessons can we learn here? There are a couple. There are some great networkers out there. With LinkedIn, Facebook, and all the other “sharing” tools, it’s much easier than ever to build these networks—and to exploit them, for means both fair and foul. LESSON 1. Be smart when you use these tools. Especially if you have access to sensitive information, which many of us do. Always try to make sure you know whom you’re talking to, and what their “agenda” is.
Bezrukov’s software is now suspected of containing keystroke monitors that, once installed on a client’s computers, would send key information out of the company—and possible, out of the country. LESSON 2: Never willingly install software from a source that you don’t trust 101 percent.
In our digitally hyper-networked age, you never know where your conversation is going to end up—and who might be listening.