Bugs in the boardroom

Expol team of Robert Kinrade and David Bell

Expol team of Robert Kinrade and David Bell

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Business bosses are becoming more concerned about people bugging private meetings and ultra-sensitive dealings in the boardroom.

And corporate espionage is fast becoming more of a problem

And there’s a growing threat from disgruntled employees with an axe to grind against their employers.

That’s the message from two experienced former Isle of Man detectives David Bell and Robert Kinrade.

Running a company called Expol they are corporate risk consultants and forensic investigators specialising in enhanced due diligence, white collar crime, training and employment screening.

A few years ago it would have sounded like something from James Bond but the message from Expol is that ‘bugging the boardroom’ is a real and growing threat.

So much so that David Bell, a former Det chief inspector with the Manx force says this part of their business has grown ten-fold in the last decade since he established Expol.

The business is gaining a name for its work in electronic bug sweeps - or to use the technical name ‘Technical Surveillance Counter Meassures’ (TSCM)

David Bell said their work in this area is not new but they have noticed there has been a lot more awareness of the problem recently.

Robert Kinrade said: ‘We are actively working on this both here in the island and in the UK at the moment.’

David Bell said it was legitimate in business to want to know what the opposition is doing ‘as long as you use open source information, and there is plenty of it out there. That’s a legitimate tactic and you would expect a good business to do that, to be aware of what the opposition is doing.

‘But when it becomes illegitimate, when someone plants a bug or listening device into premises, then that’s when it goes into a completely different sphere.’

Mr Kinrade said: ‘I think companies also have to be concerned about disaffected employees and we are aware that there are concerns in many boardrooms now that disaffected employees are taking steps to pass on sensitive information to competitors or to record conversations for what ever benefit there may be.

‘So there is a threat within.’

Expol have a team of experts who go into business premises to give a clean sweep

using ‘state of the art equipment that can detect even the smallest of bugs or surveillance equipment.

Mr Kinrade said ideally these sweeps take place at night when there are usually fewer staff around asnd the Expol investigators can get on with their vital work unhindered.

Mr Kinrade told Business News: ‘We are being contacted regularly now by organisations on and off the island.

‘More often than not they are quite substantial companies who have concerns in their boardroom and they want a sweep of the premises being made .

‘The sweep includes a physical and an electronic search of the premises.

‘Depending on the size of the premises it can take days [to complete the sweep] Obviously we have to do it at a time when we cause as little disruption as possible to the organisation. No stone is left unturned. When we leave our aim is to give the client a 100 per cent health check so to speak. And what we have done is search physically and electronically for any device that might be there.

‘But at the same time we are taking note of their security systems and feeding back to the client breaches or weak points in their security and suggestions on how they can go forward to improve security services.’

‘So the onus will then be on them to introduce a more robust and vigorous security plan. It’s in their own interests .’


Mr Kinrade said the larger the organisation the bigger they perceived the threat from competitors.

He added that when the Expol team leave premises they know the place is ‘clean’ and a number of companies are retaining us to come back as part of their management of risk and to return in four to six months to do it again.’

Mr Bell said that over the last 10 to 15 years listening devices had become smaller and battery capabilities have become increasingly better. ‘So you could be searching for something capable of being switched on and off remotely from a distance even from the other side of the globe in some cases.’

Mr Bell said their team have years of experience and their skills were sought after by businesses.

Mr Kinrade pointed out that these days people can pick up bugging devices quite cheaply off the internet thus giving capabilities for disgruntled employees to take part in disruptive action against their bosses.

Expol, based in Douglas, are also involved in active pre-employment screening of would-be employees.

‘This is a growing tool used by bosses before taking people on. We would recommend people to pre-employment screening every time,’ said Mr Bell. ‘Because it really should be a precursor to employing somebody’.

Mr Kinrade said: ‘You need to know your employee really because there is so much at stake. It’s another part of the management of risk of staff.’

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