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Pan American Bank: Economic Espionage and Theft Essay

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2020


Economic espionage and theft is a serious crime that may not only threaten economic stability but also the political environment of a country. When one country- working through proxy or directly, spies on another to obtain economic information, then it is a sign of a direct attack on the country’s economic environment. As Bagby and McCarty (2003) say, it is an indication that the spying country or organization is planning economic sabotage against the spied country.

It is for this reason the United States Congress passed an Economic Espionage Act of 1996 to criminalize the vice and to specify the nature of punishment that individuals who engage in the act shall be given. In the case study, it is clear that Pan American International Bank has suffered economic espionage and theft that has left many stakeholders worried. This is one of the most important financial institutions in the United States that serves the locals and the international community, especially Latin Americans.

The cyberattack on the bank that led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars is a theft that borders economic sabotage given the ripple effect it would have on the economy and individual clients of this bank. Spying on organizational clients of this bank, especially major research institutes, is another crime defined in the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (Sims & Gerber, 2009). This is a very sensitive issue that needs the attention of Denis McDonough, the current Chief of Staff. Immediate action must be taken to ensure that this problem is addressed in the most effective way possible. It is not only necessary to find ways of recovering the stolen cash, but also to determine reasons why the criminals are interested in spying on these major high technology firms in the United States.

Analysis of the Problem

The case study presents a sensitive issue that borders economic sabotage targeting the United States. It has been indicated that this issue has attracted the attention of the senate. Senator Jones, a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Finance Committee, has come out strongly with suggestions about the approach that should be used to solve this problem. According to him, the government should use its cyber capabilities to destroy these perpetrators. Before deciding on whether or not this should be the best option, it will be necessary to look at this problem critically and determine the government can approach it.

Pan American Bank is a privately held financial institution that operates within the United States. It has individual and organizational clients who are American citizens and citizens of other nations. This attack, therefore, targeted a private institution. Under normal circumstances, the government would treat it as a criminal act perpetrated against an entity that enjoys the protection of the United States security agents.

However, there are several twists in this case that make it complicated hence necessitating greater government involvement. The initial report indicates that the attack was organized and executed by non-Americans or Americans living outside the United States. Secondly, it is also indicated that it was not just money stolen from this bank. The criminals were able to implant Trojan horse in computer systems of major high-technology firms which are clients of this firm.

These criminals are currently monitoring activities conducted by these technology companies. The investigation also revealed that although the IP address was traced to the Netherlands, the authorities in this country revealed that the data taken from these technology companies are forwarded to other IP addresses in various countries. These IP addresses kept changing, making it difficult to trace them.

It is a clear indication that it is not just money these criminals are interested in when they made the attack. They only needed the money to finance their activities which are at the planning stage. Their target could be these leading American high technology companies. It is even possible that these criminals are spying the United States government by critically analyzing the developments made in the technology sector.

The attempt by the bank’s IT department to solve this problem has borne no fruit because the criminals are using highly sophisticated technologies and systems. Rose (2010) says that in most of the cases where criminals use high-tech equipment and techniques to spy on a country or its citizens, including companies, their sponsor is often a hostile government. Based on this argument, these criminals may be sponsored by a government that is hostile to the United States.

The aim of this hostile government is not yet clear, but its danger to the country’s economy is already clear. If this government becomes insolvent, millions of dollars will be lost, hundreds of Americans will lose their jobs, and the government will lose its income earned through tax. As such, it is in the interest of the government to not only trace back this money but to also determine the aim and sponsors of the perpetrators and to thwart their plan. The chief of staff needs to review the proposed strategy of using offensive cyber capabilities in countering and destroying the perpetrators.

Use of Government’s Offensive Cyber Capabilities to Counter and Destroy the Perpetrator

The Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, must protect Americans and their property. The case presented shows that the attack on the bank may be intended to infiltrate many American technological companies, and this is dangerous for the state. An offensive against the perpetrators seems to be the best option at the moment. However, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of this strategy before considering its use to manage the situation.

Advantages of the strategy

The involvement of the government of the United States will make it easy to trace these criminals because of the sophisticated cyber capabilities that will be used. The government will find it easier to trace the IP addresses used to spread the data within a shorter time than the bank would if it were to be left to address this problem. The involvement of the government will also show the seriousness with which a solution is sought.

The government has instruments of power that it can use to arrest these criminals from whichever part of the world they operate. As Andress and Winterfeld (2014) notes, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has several agents located in various countries around the world. These agents can be alerted to help in identifying the possible physical locations of these criminals and possibly in arresting them so that they can help in further investigation and recovery of the stolen money. If these criminals were sponsored by a hostile government, then full involvement of the United States government in this counter-offensive will be an indication that the government is willing and ready to engage. As such, the espionage will be stopped to avoid direct government to government confrontation.

This strategy will assure the affected technology companies that the government of the United States is handling this issue with the level of seriousness that it deserves. They will be assured that the incident will not have any impact on their current and future operations. Winkler (2005) says that such assurances are often very important in cases of crisis as a way of fighting panic. When the involved parties panic, then their actions may be counterproductive. Sometimes the aim of the perpetrators is basically to cause panic among the targeted group hence disorient them completely in their activities.

The government stepping in to address this problem either through the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Central Intelligence Agency will allay the fears of the individuals and organizations which are directly affected by the theft and espionage. This strategy will send a clear message to the international society, especially the criminals and the hostile states, that the government of the United States is always willing and ready to defend its citizens and companies from any external aggressors using the maximum force necessary. It will be a message that an attack on an American company or individual American is an attack on the entire country. This will make hostile states and criminals to be hesitant every time they consider making similar or more serious attacks on American companies in the future.

Disadvantages of the strategy

It is important to appreciate that there are several disadvantages of using this strategy that is worth noting. It is important to note that the involvement of the government in this problem will set a precedent in the country. If other firms face a similar problem in the future, they will demand direct support from the government. According to Burgess and Power (2008), firms need to be responsible for their security systems. Since the government has the mandate to protect them, it may be too costly for the government to engage in cybersecurity of individual firms in the country. Rose (2010) warns that when an organization is assured of government support, then it tends to forget that it has the primary duty of putting into place the first line of security. These firms must ensure that they are their first line of defense. The government’s involvement may, therefore, create a culture of laziness among local firms.

When the government gets involved directly into this issue by organizing an offensive, it may magnify the perceived problem. Sometimes these criminals aim to engage the government of the United States as a way of determining how it will react to real threats. There is a possibility that this is a ploy by a hostile state to see how the government is likely to react if it is under a real attack. As such, the offensive will be informing the enemies how well the country is prepared to handle the attack. The enemy may need such information to organize its counteroffensive if it may be necessary for the future.

Implementation of the strategy

Under the current circumstances, it may be necessary for the Chief of Staff to authorize the use of offensive capabilities in countering and destroying the perpetrators. Central Intelligence Agency will coordinate this counteroffensive. First, this intelligence unit will need to move with speed to alert its agents all over the world of the need to be on the alert to trace and arrest the parties because the aim is not just to destroy their systems used in the espionage but to also to arrest them and retrieve the stolen money. The team tasked with executing this plan will infiltrate the system of the affected companies to determine the kind of information that the perpetrators are targeting.

This will be done after getting an order from the court. However, it will be done without the approval or informing the affected companies because there may be a possibility that there are moles in this company that can alert the criminals. After getting the nature of the information they are interested in, it will be possible to determine their primary objective. The team will then start monitoring the IP addresses that are receiving the information. Given that each IP address was used for about four hours in various parts of the world, this will be enough time to organize and successfully make an arrest if the agents are equipped with the right tools to trace the specific locations of the IPs and quick means of communication.

Once the agents identify the IP, they will be expected to move with speed and identify the location. If it is a government premise or a protected area that they cannot get into and make an arrest, they shall communicate with the central command immediately and inform them of that fact. If it is in a private apartment and making a successful arrest is possible, then they shall do so without causing any confrontation.

All the equipment used in that facility to receive, process, and store or share this data will be confiscated. The individual will remain under arrest awaiting communication between the government of the United States and the host government. The aim will be to successfully arrest the criminals, seek necessary authorization from the concerned governments, and deport them to the United States to help with the investigation.

If it is determined that the crime is taking place within a government facility, then the United States will make a formal complaint to the host government and demand for appropriate action to be taken to retrieve the money and to arrest the perpetrators. This strategy may enable the agency to arrest some of these criminals. However, it is very involving, expensive, and may face criticism from the host country.

The CIA can avoid this aggressive strategy and use its unique cyber capabilities to trace the path that the money took to the final decision. If the money is still in the online banking systems, the experts from this agency can wire it back to the back by hacking into their system. If it is already deposited into one or several bank accounts, the government can issue instructions to the relevant banks to freeze these bank accounts so that the money can be recovered and the criminals knew. Using the same cyber capability, the agency can then trace all the databases that have received the information from the bank and technology firms affected.

The information can then be retrieved to help the bank be operational again and to secure the secrete of these technology firms. The databases can then be destroyed by installing malware that will render them useless. The databases can also be swept clean to ensure that they do not have access to the information collected from American companies. This strategy is less expensive, more effective in recovering the lost money and data, and in destroying the databases of the perpetrators. However, it may not be easy to make arrests using this strategy.


Depending on the approach that is used, the decision to execute a counteroffensive will have several implications. There will be both negative and positive implications. If the CIA agents are used to trace and arrest the criminals outside the borders of the United States, it may raise diplomatic issues between the host country and the United States. It can even result in a standoff in cases where the host country refuses to hand over the criminals to the American government. The positive implication is that the government may most likely recover the money that was stolen if the program is as successful as planned.

That would mean the Pan American Bank will be back on its feet and in sound financial health to meet its financial obligations. Hundreds of employees of this bank will have their jobs secured. All the affected technology companies will be assured that their important data is safe and not in the hands of the wrong group. This intervention will send a very strong message to the international community about the willingness of the government to protect its people and its companies.

Conclusion and Further Recommendations

The economic espionage and theft against Pan American Bank that is presented in this case is a very sensitive issue that requires effective government intervention. The government should act decisively to protect this bank and all its clients because it is apparent that they are using highly sophisticated technology to frustrate the affected companies. The case study reveals that these criminals are not only interested in stealing money from the bank but also spying on important American firms.

This is unacceptable and it can be considered economic sabotage. The relevant government agencies should take immediate action against these cybercriminals in a way that will send a message to them that the government is serious about protecting its people and its companies. The following are further recommendations that Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, should put into consideration.

  • The counteroffensive may be started using cyber capabilities to trace the money and recover the whole or part of it within the shortest period possible.
  • The identity of the individuals involved should be traced using these cyber tools and their locations precisely determined.
  • The CIA agents can be sent to make arrest especially if it is proven that the criminals are using advanced technologies that are dangerous to the country’s economy.
  • The government should inform and involve the host country about the problem just before making the arrest but after identifying the location of the criminals.


Andress, J., & Winterfeld, S. (2014). Cyber Warfare: Techniques, Tactics and Tools for Security Practitioners. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

Bagby, J. W., & McCarty, F. W. (2003). The legal and regulatory environment of e-business: Law for the converging economy. Mason, Ohio: Thomson/South-Western/West.

Burgess, C., & Power, R. (2008). Secrets stolen, fortunes lost: Preventing intellectual property theft and economic espionage in the 21st century. Rockland, Mass: Syngress.

Rose, S. (2010). For all the tea in China: How England stole the world’s favorite drink and changed history. New York: Viking.

Sims, J. E., & Gerber, B. L. (2009). Vaults, mirrors, and masks: Rediscovering U.S. counterintelligence. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Winkler, I. (2005). Spies among us: How to stop the spies, terrorists, hackers, and criminals you don’t even know you encounter every day. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishers.

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