According to the Detroit News, an FBI search of the Dearbon, MI, offices of Ford turned up secret recording devices that may have been used to steal trade secrets.
“Ford and the FBI are working together on a joint investigation involving a former employee,” a rep for Ford tells the News. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details.”
The particular reasons behind the investigation and the FBI’s July 11 search of Ford HQ are currently unknown as federal court records related to the search are sealed.
However, the News reports that FBI agents were authorized to seize digital and electronic recording devices given to Ford representatives by a former Ford engineer, along with e-mails and other records.
Three weeks earlier, FBI agents searched that engineer’s home and seized dozens of items, including several computers, a credit card, thumb drives and financial records. However, that engineer — a 17-year vet of the car maker — has not been charged with any offenses.
The News reports that the engineer was fired in June after Ford security discovered recording devices in company meeting rooms. Her lawyer says his client has admitted to using the devices, which were placed under the tables, but that she was just using them so she could transcribe the meetings she attended.
“It didn’t involve anything of a spying nature,” says her lawyer. “She wanted to record conversations of meetings she attended but didn’t know how to do it. She was insecure about her note-taking.”
So why were the devices left behind, where they may have recorded other meetings, intentionally or not?
“It was very difficult to remove them when other people were in the same room,” explains the engineer’s attorney. “That leads to Ford Motor security finding this activity suspicious.”
He says his client never intended to share her recordings with anyone and that she erased the files after listening to the audio.
“I think you’re dealing with a person who was seeing how sharp the new kids are and maybe feeling a need to keep up with them,” says the lawyeer. “And maybe she realized that she’s not as attentive as she once was and needs a little assistance. Maybe her memory was failing her on the technology end but she didn’t want to admit it.”
He theorizes that the reason the FBI got a warrant to search Ford HQ is that perhaps the car company had not turned over all the listening devices that his client had placed.
A law professor, and former federal prosecutor, at Wayne State University tells Detroit News that the search of the Ford offices may indicate concerns that there are others involved beyond the one mechanical engineer.
“If it’s an economic espionage case or trade secrets case, that rarely involves one individual,” explains the professor. “So the concern is if you send a subpoena and ask for recording devices, those things can be erased.”