Thursday, October 20, 2011

School of Economic Warfare: Spies like them

Via Canadian Business -

Most business schools offer a variety of specialities, from marketing and accounting to corporate finance. But there is a school in Europe with an MBA program in what faculty members call “defence against the dark arts.” The institution in question is well-known to its stated enemies—greedy corporate executives who attempt to dominate the business world via evil means—but is nearly invisible to the general public. Tucked away in the bowels of Paris, down a side street near where Napoleon once studied the finer points of waging war, its entrance is an unmarked storefront. Window blinds are typically drawn to keep out prying eyes. As a result, most people on the street tend to stroll by without ever gaining awareness of the powerful forces being taught inside.

Don’t be fooled by the reference to fighting dark arts. This isn’t a graduate program offered by Harry Potter’s beloved Hogwarts. The institution out to conquer evil in this case is the deadly serious École de Guerre Économique, known in English circles as the School of Economic Warfare, where students are equipped with a unique and controversial set of skills that school founders insist are required to successfully lead modern corporations on the battlefield of capitalism, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When most people talk about industrial espionage in the West, the finger wagging is typically aimed at China and Russia. In emerging markets, more than a few people insist that Uncle Sam somehow manages aggressively to deploy the CIA to steal trade secrets for select U.S. corporations without raising a legal peep from other American companies. But what those concerned talk about when not tossing accusations at China or the United States is France—an aggressive collector of industrial intelligence since the mid-1700s, when the British naively invited French operatives to inspect their mines, smelters and foundries. The British Board of Longitude even foolishly let French operatives examine John Harrison’s revolutionary marine clocks.

Intelligence experts around the world warn the business community not to underestimate the French. But faculty members at the School of Economic Warfare have little time for corporate Boy Scouts. They’re more concerned with warning executives not to underestimate the risks associated with always playing fair. “All is fair in love, war and business” isn’t the school’s official motto, but it fits the bill, insists faculty member Jean-François Bianchi, a specialist in information engineering who teaches courses on the theory and strategy of influence and counter-influence.


Furthermore, as pointed out by Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer with Mandiant, an information security company based in Washington, D.C., playing defence all the time can be “a losing strategy in more than just hockey.”


Bejtlich says most unethical acts of corporate espionage are still conducted by governments, or state organs, working on behalf of national champions. But he thinks more and more companies are being tempted to cross the line. And the security expert sees a growing desire to fight back in a far more aggressive manner. Whenever Bejtlich deals with a company that has been attacked, he says executives always want to know, “What can we do to get back at these guys?” Those conversations, he adds, never go anywhere because lawyers quickly get involved. “You will be hard-pressed to find any company with a legal department that allows them to do anything more than defend themselves,” he says.


The School of Economic Warfare—which charges tuition of between €10,000 and €15,000 per year (depending on support from an employer)—was clearly founded to help French companies get a leg up on the competition. But it is open to students from around the world, although some nationalities can be blacklisted if the school suspects an untrustworthy government behind the application. It offers a one-year program that requires about 800 hours of study and exercises, aimed at the same audience that would undertake a traditional MBA. There is also a part-time program for working professionals, which requires about 350 hours a year. The school attracts students from all sectors, but the student body is typically weighted toward hyper-competitive industries such as energy, auto making and finance.

No comments:

Post a Comment