FBI Rolls Out Red Scare Film to Highlight Threat of Economic Espionage

"The Company Man" tells the story of an engineer approached by Chinese businessmen to sell his firm's secrets.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 5crop

It’s no Red Dawn, but on Thursday the FBI delivered its contribution to the canon of cheesy U.S. films to stoke fears of America’s communist enemies. As part of an effort to raise awareness of the threat posed by economic espionage, the bureau has released The Company Man: Protecting America’s Secrets, the true story of an engineer at an insulation company who is approached by Chinese businessmen to sell his company’s trade secrets.

For government work, the film is actually a pretty slick production, even if the script is something of a clunker. The film tells the story of Robert Moore, a rumpled family man stressed about paying for his children’s college tuition and desperate for a big promotion at his company. Against this background, he is approached by two blundering Chinese executives intent on acquiring the American company’s top-of-the-line insulation technology. They offer him $200,000 in exchange for the engineering plans they seek. Moore turns them down and alerts his bosses, who go to the FBI. The bureau then uses Moore to set up a sting operation and arrest the pair.

The film functions as a message of reassurance to companies who might be hesitant to reach out to the FBI for help. It is replete with messages about how the bureau will keep the company’s trade secrets out of court and how going to the authorities can prevent potentially devastating business damage. It’s also an attaboy for the agents of the FBI and the loyal, faceless employee extolled as a paragon of ordinary, everyday American-ness.

As a piece of anti-Chinese propaganda, it’s far from the worst offender. Vaguely Chinese-sounding music plays as the two Chinese businessmen arrive for meetings at the company. An FBI agent is quick to offer this piece of expository, politically correct dialogue: “The vast majority of business with China is legitimate and good for our economy, but occasionally we run into situations like this where there is clearly a hidden agenda.”

The full film is available here:

Though the film plays into tropes of anti-communist filmmaking, it isn’t cutting a threat from whole cloth. Experts estimate that economic espionage may cost the U.S. economy as much as $100 billion a year, and China is typically identified as the prime offender by U.S. officials.

The FBI says it plans to use the film to raise awareness among American firms of what it describes as the growing threat posed by economic espionage. “We’ve had cases, and it’s outlined in the video, where we have people literally walking into warehouses and factories attempting to steal secrets,” Randall Coleman, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement. “It’s actually shocking the lengths they will go to try and steal information.” While economic espionage in the past has typically focused on the defense industry, it has now expanded to include a variety of sectors.

The bureau says it plans to use The Company Man in briefings with industry leaders. It has already carried out 1,300 such briefings and has installed liaison officers at its 56 field offices to work with companies on issues of economic espionage.

Photo credit: Screenshot via YouTube/Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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