Episode 178: Russell Atkinson – Trade Secret Theft, Silicon Valley

Retired agent Russell Atkinson served with the FBI for 25 years. He specialized in investigating high-technology and intellectual property crimes in Silicon Valley and served as a legal adviser. In this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, Russell Atkinson reviews the first trade secret theft prosecution in California under the federal Economic Espionage Act of 1996. The case centered on the theft of radiological device technology and encrypted materials by David Kerns, the former employee of a Silicon Valley tech firm.  On January 13, 2000 David Kern pleaded guilty to one count of trade secret theft. He was sentenced on April 4, 2000 to a year and a day in federal prison.

After retiring from the FBI, Russ Atkinson, with degrees in mathematics and law, practiced law and also worked for many high-tech firms in the computer industry including IBM, Fairchild Semiconductor, and AOL. Now retired, he spends time writing crime fiction and is the author of eight mystery novels. His book, Fatal Dose is a fictionalized account of the theft and misuse of X-ray technology inspired by this case. He warns that after reading Fatal Dose you’ll never look at an X-ray machine the same way. You can learn more about Russell Atkinson and his books at his website Cliff Knowles Mysteries.

Special Agent (Retired)

Russell Atkinson

11/19/1973 – 4/30/1999






“Aware that technology was the key to who was going to have economic and political power and that trade secret theft was weakening America’s position, Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.” —Retired Agent Russell Atkinson

The following are links to articles about the first trade secret theft case prosecuted in California and an FBI checklist if you or your company become a victim of trade secret theft:

Silicon Valley Business Journal – 10/10/1999: Reversal of fortune – Employee sues over firing, finds himself indicted

David Brian Kern – Theft of Trade Secrets by Russell Atkinson

FBI WebsiteEconomic Espionage: Protecting America’s Trade Secrets

FBI WebsiteChecklist for Reporting an Economic Espionage or Theft of Trade Secrets Offense

Russ Atkinson’s high-tech legal thriller Fatal Dose was inspired by his trade secret theft case of David Kern. It can be purchased here.













Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, attempts to relive her glory days by writing crime fiction and hosting FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast available for free subscription on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, and other popular podcast apps. Her nonfiction book FBI Myths and Misconceptions: A Manual for Armchair Detectives and her FBI corruption squad police procedural series featuring Special Agent Kari Wheeler are available wherever books are sold.

1 Comment

  1. Tony RichardsonAugust 8, 2019

    Hi Jerri; you may not remember me, we chatted last year re the AASA Centennial in November. I’m on the committee re planning the event. From what I understand, you wont be able to set up shop at FBIHQ but at the event. I know your platform is for major cases worked by former SA’s. I have a different twist, re a human interest peace. I have been in contact with the family of the first two AASA, ok, Black Agents who graduated from the FBI Academy in QT, this occurred in 1962. I had the opportunity to meet Aubrey Lewis and worked a brief undercover as a FOA with Jim Barrow in KX. Aubrey’s family are still in and around Montclair, NJ, Jim’s family, I daughter is in San Diego, the other is in the Poconos! I actually had lunch a coupla months ago with 1 daughter, Joycelyn and John Lewis. John is a SA DEA, NY, Joycelyn is retired from United AL, Valerie is an Attorney!.
    If there is any interest, pls advise.
    OBTW, at some point and time, if you need a victim, maybe we can discuss “Greylord” Take care!

    Be Safe, Be Well
    Tony Richardson,
    NJ State Director-2007-2019
    LL International Director-2014-2018
    FBI 1972-1999


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