Government's Role in Competitive Intelligence

By Jennings, Lane | The Futurist, July-August 1997 | Go to article overview
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Government's Role in Competitive Intelligence

Jennings, Lane, The Futurist

In the new world order, economic intelligence equals power.

In the Information Age, national security blends with economic security, and economic security increasingly depends on the "competitive intelligence" of business.

"The winners in tomorrow's world will not be those with the most information. They will be those with the most intelligence," writes Larry Kahaner, a journalist and licensed private investigator, in his book, Competifive Intelligence.

Kahaner urges companies to adopt the classic four-step intelligence cycle used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and other national security organizations throughout the world: Set goals, obtain data, compare information from different sources and estimate possible future developments, then make sure the results are used in a timely fashion.

While the CIA may not want to spy for businesses, the CIA's skills could be taught to U.S. business executives and in business schools, Kahaner suggests. But should the government be actively involved in competitive intelligence (CI) at all? Some governments routinely promote their nations' businesses, but others offer little support.

Competitive Intelligence Around the World

In the United States, a tradition of self-reliance keeps competitors from sharing information and discourages government involvement in commercial affairs. But in Sweden, both government and academia cooperate in competitive intelligence. Swedish embassies around the world regularly report to Swedish companies on economic trends abroad. Lund University in Stockholm boasts the world's first degree-granting graduate program in CI techniques.

The French government has been willing to collect competitive business information using methods considered unethical or downright illegal elsewhere. The CIA reports that French intelligence agents routinely travel around the United States, passing illegally obtained research and manufacturing data to scientists and engineers at home. Kahaner also notes an allegation that seats on Air France jets have been bugged by the French government.

In Russia, which is desperately trying to establish a viable free market economy, elements of the former KGB are now being used to gather economic information abroad. Former KGB agents are also reportedly available for hire to third countries for purposes of industrial espionage.

In the People's Republic of China, government-sponsored intelligence activities are aimed more and more at expanding Chinese companies' share of global markets. While China trails the United States, Great Britain, and Japan in using computers and electronic networks to find and distribute business information, Chinese CI operations have been very successful using seemingly non-Chinese joint ventures and holding companies to acquire high-tech equipment that could not be obtained legally.

Examples such as these convince Kahaner that the U.S. government should provide more competitive intelligence to business firms, train business people in how to collect and analyze CI material, and expand the role of civilian and military intelligence organizations to counter illegal spying by foreign governments and companies.

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