The critical importance of securing confidential information was brought home again yesterday when the intersection of trade secrets and spy games made the newspapers.

Four men, one a United States Department of Defense systems analyst and three Chinese natives, were arrested and charged with espionage in two separate cases. Aside from the political ramifications of ongoing Chinese espionage, which one top Justice Department official characterized as reaching “Cold War levels,” these two cases highlight the importance of confidential secrets not only as a protectionist principle for businesses, but also for national security.

One of the two cases concerned a civilian analyst’s sale of classified information concerning U.S. weapon sales to Taiwan; the other case concerned a long-time civilian contractor employed by Rockwell International and then Boeing Co., who was accused of providing China with classified military aerospace information. In giving a statement on the arrests and charges, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, noted that increased Chinese espionage is “a threat to our national security and to our economic position in the world, a threat that is posed by the relentless efforts of foreign intelligence services to penetrate our security systems and steal our most sensitive military technology and information.”

The case of the defense industry employee from Boeing is just as disturbing. Mr. Greg Chung, a 72-year old naturalized U.S. citizen, is reported to have given national defense trade secrets to the Chinese government out of “loyalty to the Motherland,” according to a U.S. Attorney, despite having been a Boeing contractor for over 30 years. Those trade secrets were reported to include information related to the space shuttle and other military airspace programs. That case grew out of an investigation into another Chinese-spying case, which was uncovered in 2006 and concerned espionage by Chinese agents of U.S. military technology related to U.S. Navy warships and submarines.

“Certain foreign governments are committed to obtaining the American trade secrets that can advance the development of their military capabilities,” the U.S. Attorneys’ office said in a statement laced with a cautionary principle for all companies engaged even remotely in defense contractor work. Indeed, the lesson for civilian companies, particularly those whose trade secrets portfolios include any sensitive or classified information, is that espionage is not limited to the corporate realm, and the ramifications of being involved in international espionage may have long-term damaging effects on national security, in addition to the negative impact on a company’s business and perception.