Horns of a Dilemma

Case / Ethics and Responsibility

Horns of a Dilemma
Andrew Blaine , Business Consultant, South Africa

The Importance of Confidentiality

John had just completed 30 years service in the Army and, on retirement aged 49, moved into the Defence Contractor Industry as a consultant. His last posting, prior to retirement, was in the confidential experimental field, developing advanced monitoring systems for use by troops and vehicles on the battlefield.
While working on advanced monitoring systems, John’s programme had identified two different routes. After lengthy discussion both routes were examined and one was found, after time, to be fatally flawed and, as a result, abandoned. The cost of this decision was limited by the fact that it was made early and the alternative proved so successful that the lost funding was recovered. Information on both routes remained classified and restricted to process management only. When John left the Army, he signed documents agreeing to maintain the security of the project.
After some time working as a consultant, John was approached by the CEO of EyeSpy Electronics, a company which designed and developed electronic monitoring equipment for battlefield use. After working with the company for six months without encountering any problems relating to his work in the Army, John was asked to attend a weekend workshop at which it was planned to strategise the way forward.
The workshop had been underway for the Saturday and, at the end of the discussion period, John was approached by the CEO. He was asked to join a small executive group after close of the day’s proceedings to give his opinion on a new, highly confidential proposal that had originated from the Engineering Research Centre of the Company.
At this meeting, the Head of Research outlined the following details:
• The Company was planning to develop a new avenue of research into the development of vehicle mounted and handheld monitoring systems for use under battlefield conditions;
• The initial planning had already been completed, during which two alternative routes forward had been identified. The research department had chosen one route and now the project was moving forward to the design phase;
• When describing the alternatives considered phase, it appeared to John, that the research project was almost identical to that John had worked on as a soldier, but that Eye Spy Electronics had selected to follow the flawed route that his unit had avoided. Detailed consideration of results put forward by the Head of Research confirmed this opinion.
• Despite John advising the CEO not to proceed, he was unable to give reasons for this advice based on the security requirements from the Army work. As a result, the CEO was determined to initiate the next step.
The correct development of this programme would be successful and beneficial to troops and commanders were it to proceed along the correct avenue but could well terminally damage Eye Spy Electronics if they progressed on the basis that the CEO had suggested.
What should John do?

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