Ford Motor Co. is rallying its plumbers to plug a document leak.
The company says an unprecedented investigation is under way to ferret out whoever leaked reams of sensitive internal documents to an Internet publisher.
Ford's intellectual property management subsidiary, Ford Global Technologies Inc., is leading the investigation. Also involved are Ford's Office of the General Counsel and the company's internal security department.
Updates on the investigation are sent to Ford CEO Jac Nasser and the rest of the senior management team.
Ford's top lawyers have sent a memo to every Ford salaried employee worldwide updating them on the federal case Ford has brought against Robert Lane, operator of the Web site blueovalnews.com.
The memo also directs the employees to comply with Ford's existing confidentiality and security policies, said company spokesman Jim Cain. Employees who violate these policies can be fired, disciplined and prosecuted, he said.
Despite Ford's intense search, several industrial security experts said the vast majority of investigations into document theft turn up no clear perpetrator.
'As much as the top guy in the company wants to see someone hang for this, they need to be careful' not to implicate an innocent party, said Jim Anderson, an industrial security expert with SLR Consultants Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif.
Meanwhile, Lane, 32, a nursing student living in a modest home in Dearborn, Mich., casts himself as a defender of press freedom standing up to the corporate power of Ford.
The role is ironic, Lane said, because his forays onto the Web began as homage to Ford - with Ford's cooperation. He started the Web site last October by posting restoration tips for old Mustangs, along with press releases obtained from Ford's media Web site after the company gave him access. Ford also gave him press credentials for the Detroit auto show in January.
Lane said Henry Ford is his hero. A blown-up photo of Henry and Henry Ford II hangs over the computer scanner in his bedroom. A vintage Ford advertisement is propped on a shelf in the bathroom. He owns four Mustangs from the 1960s and a couple of F-150 pickups.
MORE IN THE BEDROOM
Lane posted notices about Ford's confidentiality policy on his site. But, he said, manila envelopes printed with Ford return addresses and containing blueprints, internal memos and future product plans began appearing last year in his mailbox.
Lane did nothing with those documents until July of this year, when documents arrived regarding complaints about low horsepower in the Mustang Cobra. He wrote an article about the problem and posted it on the Web.
Ford's legal department called, and a subsequent meeting attempted to find a way for the site to continue with Ford's involvement. However, talks broke down without a resolution.
A week later, Lane posted the first document discussing Ford's efforts to meet EPA emissions requirements.
Lane insisted he does not know who sent him the papers, but he added: 'Since March of 1998, I've been getting documents and throwing them in a box.'
In addition to the roughly 100 documents he posted on the Web, Lane said he has a couple of other boxes full.
One of those boxes had been shoved unceremoniously into a corner of his bedroom. The box, about the size of a milk crate, is full of loose papers and manila envelopes that Lane described as some of the confidential Ford documents he has received.
Some Internet corporate gadflies have had their Web sites bought by the companies they critique. But Lane said he is not in the Web publishing business for money.
'If they offered me two Aston Martin DB7 Vantages, I wouldn't stop,' he said.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds is expected on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction against Lane.
Ford's investigation likely will focus on computer databases, e-mail files and personnel files, security-expert Anderson said.
Documents such as the ones Lane posted last month on his Web site often are distributed on a need-to-know basis, Anderson said. Therefore, the investigation likely will focus on people who had contact with the documents.
After a document leak, companies often pull out all the stops in enforcing data security, said Patricia Fisher, president of Stamford, Conn., industrial security firm JANUS Associates Inc.
'When a company loses data, they are suddenly not budget conscious' about security issues, Fisher said, adding: 'They will look at computer fire wall parameters, make sure passwords are current and changed frequently and crack down on confidential documents that might be left lying around.'