Magazine article Management Today

Cloak and Dagger Ltd

Magazine article Management Today

Cloak and Dagger Ltd

Article excerpt

Former spies who were set adrift with the end of the Cold War are infiltrating the business world, and top companies are avid buyers of their craft and secrecy

M fixed his eyes on Bond across the boardroom. 'So, you're finally hanging up your Walther PPK?' he asked, shifting his gaze out over the Thames from the MI6 headquarters on the south bank at 64 Vauxhall Cross. 'Does this mean you're retiring from the intelligence business?'

'Not at all, Sir,' said Bond, with a resourceful grin. 'You see, there are others who want my services. People who will pay me well. Now that the Soviet Union has disintegrated and there is no Enemy Number One, my job here is done. I thought I might try my hand in the City.'

M looked crestfallen. 'Well, I suppose I can't stop you,' he said. Then he added sharply: 'But remember our rule: if you work for someone else, there must be clear blue water between us and them.'

The names have been changed, as they say in films, but the story is true. Some of Britain's most effective spies are no longer working for the government. They have defected to the private sector, where they can earn twice or three times their Crown service salaries. MI6 has grudgingly given its blessing, on condition that the former spies do not use the government's network of contacts and informants.

When the Cold War ended, MI6 was forced to trim the size of its intelligence branch (IB) to about 150 working overseas and fewer still in Britain. It even gave early retirement pay-offs to some IB officers, unthinkable a few years ago when the policy was to provide spies with a job for life, and a generous pension, precisely to stop them selling their skills.

Simultaneously, there has been a rapid growth in demand for the sort of services trained intelligence officers can offer. Corporate expansion and international mergers and acquisitions, especially in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, have brought sharp reminders of the risks associated with emerging markets and offshore manufacturing. 'Chief executives discover that the contract they signed is not watertight, or their new partner is an embezzler, or the state privatisation they invested in goes belly up,' said a senior City analyst. 'The new wisdom in the City is first consult the bankers and the accountant call in the "spooks".'

Normal due diligence may not be enough, even in Britain. Witness the scandals associated with the collapse of Robert Maxwell's empire and Polly Peck, run by Asil Nadir, who remains a fugitive.

So who are the new intelligence firms? Finding out is not easy. They eschew publicity; discretion is their watchword.

Hakluyt, named for Richard Hakluyt, the 16th Century explorer and founder of the East India Company, has its headquarters behind an anonymous door in Queen Anne Street in London's West End. Its principal founders are Christopher James and Mike Reynolds. The company's literature lists them as former members of the 'foreign service', and the company politely declines to elaborate.

However, Foreign Office sources confirmed that both were senior intelligence officers with MI6. James was head of a section that liaised with British firms. Over a 20-year career, he got to know many of the heads of Britain's top companies. In return for a few helpful tips, which might give them an edge over foreign rivals, he persuaded them to pass on intelligence from their overseas operations, industry sources say. After the Cold War, James argued that MI6 should expand this role. Others in the organisation were reluctant to proceed down a path they feared could be mistaken for 'economic espionage'.

When he left MI6 in 1995, James took with him another rising star. Reynolds had founded MI6's counter-terrorism branch and later headed a joint section with MI5 on Middle East terrorism.

To give Hakluyt the kind of reputation they were aiming for, James and Reynolds formed a management board made up of the great and the good. …

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