Houston, We Have a Problem: Managing a Security Investigation

Author's Note: Simple truths are often best revealed in the telling of a story. The tortoise and the hare come to mind. Following is a story with a few simple truths, not exactly Aesopian, but a story that invites you to get into the shoes of the main...


Author's Note: Simple truths are often best revealed in the telling of a story. The tortoise and the hare come to mind. Following is a story with a few simple truths, not exactly Aesopian, but a story that invites you to get into the shoes of the main character.

You're the director of security for FNG, one of the nation's largest fabricators of oil field equipment. It's a few minutes before 8 a.m. at corporate in Houston when you receive a call from Dallas. The caller is Adam Rollo, a senior auditor whose office is just down the hall from yours. He's been in Dallas all week auditing a subsidiary that assembles high-pressure valves. "We have a problem," Rollo tells you.

Get the preliminary facts.

After filling three pages of yellow foolscap with scribbled notes, you agree with Rollo. It appears that the head of the Dallas office, a pushy guy named Chester Brown, is an embezzler. "And he must have had help," Rollo says. The concern in his voice drops a notch when you tell him you'll be in Dallas before sundown.

Form a team. Delegate and assign.

You brief your small staff: Madge Dowd, secretary; Jim Cowan, investigator; and Harvey Kantor, physical security specialist. Then you lay out their roles. "Madge, you hold down the fort here while Jim, Harvey, and I are in Dallas."

You tell Jim Cowan you want every one of the 56 employees in the Dallas office to be interviewed separately and privately, and as many times as necessary to piece everything together. "I'm putting you in charge of that, Jim. You'll have two, maybe three PIs to help." He nods his understanding. Only last month Cowan had worked with you in identifying outside vendors. He's an FBI retread, likeable, and possessed of common sense. He says, "We don't want to move too fast. If we hurry, we may miss something important." You are pleased to see him writing in the small notebook he always keeps in his shirt pocket. Notes taken early in the investigation will be invaluable later.

Harvey Kantor accepts with solemnity his role as custodian of things collected: witness statements, notes, sketches, diagrams, documents, printouts, ledgers, photographs, audio and video recordings, whatever. Harvey will also carry with him a notebook PC that he'll use to log in the collected materials, make a record of team activities, and keep track of expenditures.

Set objectives. Move deliberately.

The objectives in the preliminary stage are to gather up anything evidential, or potentially so, and identify the involved parties, including persons outside of the company. You envision a secondary stage in which the innocents will be differentiated from the possibly guilty. The investigation can then move to ... But wait. You are getting ahead of yourself. Take it one step at a time.

Get your boss in the loop.

You head to the executive floor and find your boss in the conference room with the CEO and CFO. Their expressions are grave as they listen to a voice on the speakerphone. It is the voice of Chester Brown in Dallas and he's vigorously protesting the "unprofessional tactics and unwarranted insinuations" of Adam Rollo. You catch your boss's eye and he joins you in the hallway. He okays your intentions, and you suggest he talk with the CEO about placing Brown on administrative leave, at least until the early facts are sorted out.

Obtain needed resources. Tap into existing technology.

The operator of a PI firm specializing in forensic accounting meets you as you deplane at Love Field in Dallas, late afternoon. You tell him you want three PIs skilled in interviewing and familiar with business practices. Included in the package of agreed services is the use of a software program that captures information from a variety of media, converts it to a common digital format, and places it in a data warehouse where it can be "mined," i.e., massaged in combination with other data. "Interesting match-ups are possible," you are told.

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