"Wanted: VP, Senior Manager, Marketing. Essential Duties & Responsibilities:  Develop  and  maintain a process  for gathering intelligence on marketplace competition."
­"” from an April jobs classified in the Enquirer for Covington's Citigroup

So the dirty little secret is out. The spies truly are among us. The corporate spooks are hovering in the hallways, eavesdropping. The conference rooms are indeed bugged. The hidden video cameras are rolling at the water cooler. And industrial espionage is a given.
And perhaps this is as it should be. Competitors are competitors "¦

But spying in Cincinnati? Skull-duggery in the oh-so proper Queen City? Is such a thing as corporate spying "” or "competitive intelligence" as it's known in the trade "” possibly found here?

"Absolutely, it is," maintains Ed Casey. And Casey should know "” for two decades, he served as director of global corporate security at Procter & Gamble and now runs his own trouble-shooting firm in town, Ed Casey & Associates.

"There is corporate espionage in Cincinnati. I know that first-hand," Casey continues. "If you have competition, then you have people who want to gain competitive information on you."

This isn't the James Bond, KGB kind of spying, but rather, it's kissing cousin "” often barely ethical or legal, sometimes outright actionable. But it's happening every day, warn the experts, and CEOs who don't realize this pronto will wake up one morning to find their prized new development, idea or product on somebody else's store shelf, with their customers diverted and their employees demoralized.

Watch your enemies carefully, the ancient proverb goes, and your friends even more so. Corporate Cincinnati has learned this lesson about its gullible if well-meaning employees, its disloyal consultants, its untrustworthy supply chain partners and outsource vendors, and "” yes "” its competitors.

When a company's edge rests in its databases, internal materials, prototype designs, custom software or other proprietary information, extreme caution is urged by the pros in the security industry. Competitors may covet your marketing plans, customer demographics, manufacturing schematics, trade secrets, corporate strategies, wage data, P&L statements, confidential research, secret formulas, bid breakdowns, you name it.

"Companies, employees and senior business leaders generally do not take this topic seriously enough," Casey points out. "At least, not until it is too late."

CEOs should realize that plain-Jane security systems may not protect your intellectual assets or defend your physical perimeter. Burglar alarms and steel safes often don't cut it, nor do rent-a-cops hauling toy badges and walkie talkies. There are too many loopholes, too many opportunities, for details on new products and processes to sift out, often via loyal employees who innocently take briefcases stuffed with work home, or who just get duped by sophisticated private eyes.

To shield your company from being spied upon, you first need to understand about how spies work, then convey that knowledge to your employees. "Too many CEOs never have that conversation with their employees. It's like the birds-and-the-bees discussion with the kids. It often never happens," says one private investigator-for-hire who agreed to talk anonymously about his trade.

While most company executives have become well-versed in the high-tech world of hackers, firewalls and virtual theft, they may have become complacent about the low-tech spying that can go on, on site, at the office premises.

Unlocked doors are an invitation, as are unattended desks. "Certainly don't allow computers to leave your property for any reason, and dispose of old computers carefully. Hire a company that specializes in destroying, really destroying hard drives," suggests the private investigator.

Then there are the dumpsters. It wasn't that long ago that a Procter & Gamble contractor got caught rifling the trash outside rival Unilever's offices in Chicago; P&G agreed to pay $10 million to settle that particular case.

In Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, the law does not protect any property left in a dumpster. "Dumpster diving," in fact, is perfectly legal. The courts have held that if it's left to be accessed by commercial carters, then it is abandoned property and no longer private. (For years, P&G reportedly made hay out of this loophole, operating a safe house near the city, dubbed "The Ranch," where "rubbish archaeology" techniques were refined.)

By studying a competitor's discards, spies can help their company be first to market with a given service or product. Even the presence of paper-shredders in your offices won't help particularly.

"Think about this. If you dole out paper-shredding to the lowest-paid person on the totem pole, do you really think he won't avoid the hassle and the mess, and just throw things out?" asks Mike Callihan, owner of Document Destruction LLC, a Cincinnati based shredding firm. "And if you expect higher level employees to shred, it's just not realistic to expect. They're busy people."

Callihan and others say customer lists, price lists and employee records can all assist your competition in raiding your secrets and your best talent. What's more, some of these records, according to federal or state law, must be protected "” otherwise, the CEO of the firm can be held liable. "Shredding these records yourself provides no verification of compliance" to those laws, points out Callihan. "We shred the documents right there on the spot, so they never leave the facility. We turn everything into confetti, then provide the verification you may need for regulators."

What is the first indicator you're being targeted by spies? The very nature of spooks, of course, is not to have their presence identified. But you can calculate the odds you're being bugged, taped, robbed, or whatever.

"First of all," suggests company security expert Casey, "make a determination if you have information or technology or processes or materials that give you a competitive advantage. If you just change tires, then nah, your only advantage is the level of customer service you offer. But if you have a process that is better than your competitors, then you have to decide if you need a formalized program to protect your assets."

Another early warning sign of ongoing break-ins or surveillance is, somewhat obviously, that competitors routinely scoop you with a new product or innovation to market.

Again, the phrase "formalized security program" is vital here, says Casey. "The courts have generally said if you have a formal protection system in place, then the information you lost was obviously of value." There can then be legal remedies and actions taken. But no formal protection system, no cash settlement, no luckee.