WikiLeaks has begun time-releasing documents related to the global private intelligence industry. What exactly is this field, and what do you, as a citizen, need to know about it?
So far, the published open-source documents are limited to TECHINT, or technical intelligence, detailing equipment allegedly created by Western companies and used by governments around the world, including dictatorships, to monitor individuals or communities. A new twist on a concept as old as time. Yawn. Stay off Facebook.
But I have a feeling WikiLeaks is just warming up. There's a lot more to the industry than this. Anyone who has worked at the highest level of journalism, business or politics has likely come across at least one person in the private global intelligence field -- whether they're aware of it or not. Europe, where I spend a lot of time, is teeming with them. The problem is that most people have no idea what one of these creatures looks like or how he operates.
When, as a journalist, I call up a source and preface the conversation by saying that I'd like to talk to them on background about something I'm researching, this statement can be followed by a meandering hour-long conversation, at the end of which my interlocutor asks, "So what did you want to discuss exactly?" I respond: "It's all good. We've already discussed everything." The person hangs up without knowing exactly what information I was seeking. This is also how private spies -- usually government spy agency or diplomatic reconverts -- routinely operate.
They can hide their true intentions and their job or position. This modus operandi is what's called a "false flag" in the intelligence world, also known as "cover for action" or "cover for status." They may pose as a recruiter, a potential suitor or business contact, a new friend, or even a classmate in your continuing-education course at the local community center. They may not even use their real name. Don't think you're important enough to be targeted? If you're a CEO or a high-level official, you're too "hard" of a target -- the human equivalent of North Korea, Russia or China. Mid-level employees or officials are ideal. Or even the target's personal friends, who might be of much lower status than the mark.
Who do private spies work for? They're usually found in one of three roles: