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James Bond Goes…Corporate?

This article is a book review of Eamon Javers’ book Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy.

While the directors of intelligence agencies for Western governments top out at well under $200K annually, spies who move from the public sector to the private world can earn more than double their former bosses’ salaries. This is an example of just one of the many revelations this book provides, in addition to highlighting the growing expansion and sophistication of intelligence-gathering services in the private sector. The author, Eamon Javers, has been a business reporter in Washington for BusinessWeek as well as an on-air correspondent for CNBC, winning an investigative reporting award from the Medill School of Journalism in 2006. Javers takes his knowledge of business and investigative reporting into a murky underground industry filled with characters that would rather their identities and profession remain invisible to the public, as they frequently are using the hidden power of attorney-client privilege.

Javers’ investigations revealed that many companies use espionage tactics frequently against real or potential (imagined?) adversaries in business. Typically, a firm will hire a public relations firm, which will hire a legal practice, which in turn hires spies to do dirty work. This work often consists of such methods as going through a company’s trash, even to the point of bribing janitorial staff at hotels to bring them the trash of certain rooms belonging to executives attending a conference. This is entirely hidden and covered under plausible deniability by the corporation that indirectly hires the spies while due to attorney-client privilege, attorneys are rarely required by law to reveal their contracted spies’ identities, what intelligence was gathered or how they gathered intelligence against another company.

For those espionage aficionados, the book includes a treasure trove of information on how spies go about their business from day to day, as well as secret strategies describing how to avoid being spied on yourself such as tactics one could employ to “lose a tail”. As the CIA and its employees or former spooks are a large element of the book, Javers also extensively covers “Tactical Behavior Assessment”, or a method designed to allow observation of a person’s verbal cues and physical characteristics to determine if they are lying.

If you’re an armchair investment guru, you may be interested to learn that hedge funds often use former CIA spies in order to determine if company executives are lying or not. This gives them valuable information that they can use to trade ahead of the market. One example given in the book is a Southwest Airlines executive who is reporting very strong earnings on the back of a successful hedging strategy in oil but may have an issue with achieving their goal for the next quarter (Javers, 2010, pp. 188-191). Using Tactical Behavior Assessment, the former government spooks are able to inform their client that the executive is less than confident that they will meet their target for the following quarter. The client trades on this information and a few months later, the stock drops upon revelation that they will indeed miss their performance target. Additionally, these same private lie detectors are employed by firms, such as venture capitalists who are considering the acquisition of another company. Did the company just lose a big client? Does that real estate development company actually have all the real estate they need to build the units they claim will be built, and does the company believe they will be built on time? While this may seem to be trivial information to the average Joe, this knowledge can mean millions gained or lost in the world of big business.

Even history buffs will be pleasantly surprised at the chronological inclusion of espionage going back to the man whom Javers credits as the founder of modern espionage, the legendary Allan Pinkerton. Allan’s company even had a code of conduct that prohibited what he believed to be immoral endeavors, such as “[the service]…will not shadow jurors or investigate public officials in the performance of their duties, or trade-union members in their lawful union activities; they will not accept employment from one political party against another; [and] will not work for vice crusaders…” among other restrictions (Javers, 2010, p. 39). This did not stop modern spies from breaking any of those rules, or even his sons. However, Pinkerton’s reputation was such that the company he founded back before the American Civil War existed under its own name nearly into the 21st century, when it was bought in 1999 by Securitas AB. Securitas is another security services company retaining over 250,000 employees (though the subsidiary still retains the name Pinkerton) (Javers, 2010, p. 59). Javers describes all the major players in intelligence, from Pinkerton to Kroll, who he says founded modern corporate espionage, to International Intelligence, commonly known in the business as Intertel, an outfit hiring staff from former federal employees in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

Javers’ primary weakness in this book is that his writing sometimes reads as if he became a bit too fond of his work. Segments of the book show an overly flattering assessment of the topic or subject at hand, potentially causing a dispassionate reader to find his objectivity questionable. Due to the clandestine nature of the business, Javers may have been required to submit his work to the client to gain approval prior to publishing as a condition of being granted an interview with a spy. As a result, he may have overly flattered the client in order to make sure his efforts were accepted. A darker possibility may be that he was contacted by one of them in order to publicize the underworld business, with hopes that increasing awareness will increase overall revenue in the industry or directly for one of the individual firms he covers in particular.

Despite the occasional wisp of bias, Javers’ book provides a wealth of information and opens doors that many readers will have never even heard of. Finding that former Central Intelligence Agency spies have left federal employment and then spied under contract for other governments could be shocking to some. On top of that, learning that intelligence agencies in the United States often use private satellites hired from private companies for their intelligence seems odd, or even potentially dangerous for national security (Javers, 2010, p. 214). Fans of James Bond will really enjoy the possibilities of a laser microphone that can listen to a conversation in a room over a kilometer away – simply by recreating voice patterns from the vibrations on the window glass. Is the information in the book accurate? Without finding your own sources in the business, as the author will admit, there’s no real way to tell. With an established career in reporting, one may be convinced simply because of the hit Javers’ reputation would take in the business if the information were found to be fabricated. Regardless, it is a surprisingly good read and worth the reader’s investment of time and money to learn more about the hidden world of corporate espionage.

References

Javers, E. (2010). Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage (First ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

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About Barry Saturday

The author is a Lexington, Ky-based financial advisor and formerly taught high school social studies for Fayette County Public Schools. Along with a M.A. in Education, his educational background consists of a B.A. in Foreign Languages and International Economics and an M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in Global Commerce. In 2012, he finished a two-month stint student teaching in Xi'an, China, and recently (2018) ran for City Council in Lexington, KY (District 4: Tates Creek / Nicholasville Rd area). Today's news outlets profit most from incendiary, surface-level appeals to emotion, which is poisoning much of our political discourse nationwide. Barry created this site in order to learn more about our world and share that knowledge with others. He hopes this site, aimed at an educated audience, will provide objective information for those seeking greater clarity and understanding than is often available in the current news environment. If you like what you see, feel free to comment and share with your network.

2 Responses to “James Bond Goes…Corporate?”

  1. great review – will look for this book!

  2. Pensiuni Montane

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed browsing
    your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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