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Was the alleged Cardinals hacking a form of corporate espionage?

Suppose you really dislike one of your coworkers, although you acknowledge he brings interesting and useful new ideas. He announces he's leaving for another organization and taking some of your coworkers with him. You might be happy personally, but you recognize things will be harder without those innovative ideas. Then, just before he leaves, you come across a list of the passwords he and the other departing coworkers used while with your organization, and you suspect they'll probably use the same passwords at their new jobs.

If you're right, you could now have access to a competitor's secret database. Would you look?

On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt revealed that someone in the St. Louis Cardinals' front office may have done just that, and the FBI is on the case.

The allegations are that unknown members of the Cardinals' staff obtained unauthorized access to the Houston Astros' proprietary database, Ground Control. According to Sports Illustrated, that database contains everything anyone could ever want to know about any player on the Astros' professional radar. Each and every scouting prospect the Astros are considering -- and every professional player they'd like to recruit. Moreover, it contains strategic secrets about how those players and prospects could be used.

That sounds like a tempting target for corporate espionage. However, the FBI reportedly believes the motivation may have been personal, at least in part. The target is assumed to be Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who headed up scouting and player development for the Cardinals until leaving for Houston in 2011 -- taking several key Cardinals staffers with him. According to the Times, the FBI suspects the database breach was intended to disrupt Luhnow's work. Ludlow hasn't publicly commented.

The agency suspects the alleged perpetrators also wanted to know whether Luhnow's had taken any Cardinals proprietary information with him, which presumably would violate any confidentiality agreement he has with the Cardinals.

Yesterday the Cardinals announced that a law firm has been internally reviewing the allegations since February, and that the review exonerates all of the team's top officials. In other words, any wrongdoing must have been perpetrated by people at lower levels in the organization.

The internal review might represent an attempt to scapegoat low-level employees, but as yet no one has been fingered. It's also unclear as yet what charges they might face.

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