INFORMATION REVOLUTION FEEDS ALTERNATIVE INTELLIGENCE
The information revolution has spawned a global industry of private
intelligence services. Some members of the U.S. Congress have recently asked
whether their activities should be regulated.
The rapidly growing private intelligence and security industry has become
a multibillion-dollar business. It can be roughly divided into two sectors:
those that deal with security threats and provide intelligence and security in
those that provide companies with vital intelligence needed to expand business
and avoid unnecessary pitfalls in an emerging marketplace. These companies also
collect data on private citizens, which is often sold to companies wishing to
market their products or those in the business of guarding airports and other
vital national infrastructure from terrorist attack.
Threat To Privacy
Some members of the U.S. Congress are worried that the unregulated spread
of private intelligence agencies could constitute a threat to privacy rights
enjoyed by U.S. citizens.
In a statement dated 22 February 2003 ( http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200502/022205.html
), U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) cautioned his colleagues that
the case of ChoicePoint Inc. -- a private U.S.-based company that inadvertently
sold 145,000 personal and financial records of Americans to conmen posing as
legitimate businessmen -- is an indication that "new technologies, new
private-public domestic security partnerships, and the rapid rise of giant
information brokers...have all combined to produce powerful new threats to
According to "The Washington Post" on 20 January, ChoicePoint has
contracts with the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
to provide public records online.
The paper reported that: "ChoicePoint and other private companies
increasingly occupy a special place in homeland security and crime-fighting
efforts, in part because they can compile information and use it in ways
government officials sometimes cannot because of privacy and information
Leahy has pointed out that databases of giant information companies
contain billions of records on individuals "that include sensitive information
such as financial, travel, medical, and insurance data."
"Very little is known about the integrity and handling of this
information, and there are insufficient rules and oversight to protect public
privacy," Leahy said.
Immune from parliamentary oversight committees and many restrictions
governing their activities, private security and intelligence services are being
hired by intelligence agencies for myriad tasks.
Often run by prominent former spies, these privately owned companies
present themselves as an alternative source of information gathering and offer
other special services.
The U.S. State Department lists 29 private companies doing business in
Iraq. Among them are such companies as:
AKE Limited is based out of the United Kingdom and is described on the State
Department's website ( http://travel.state.gov/travel/ci_pa_tw/cis/cis_1763.html)
as a company that offers "Hostile regions training, twice-weekly Iraq
Security Briefings, private intelligence, and security
Meyer & Associates from Texas offers "Security consulting and problem
resolution...intelligence, transportation...threat assessment, kidnap
negotiations, investigations, reporting, analysis, liaison with government,
diplomatic, military, local and guerilla leaders."
The Overseas Security & Strategic Information, Inc/Safenet, based in
Atlanta, Georgia, provides: "threat and intelligence reporting" and claims that
its approach "is responsive, personalized, and
These and other companies working in Iraq have government contracts to
provide intelligence reports, man security posts for government facilities in
the country, debrief prisoners, serve as translators in jails, and guard oil
pipelines from sabotage. Many employees of these companies have been killed by
Iraqi insurgent or terrorist attacks.
According to an article on the Corporate Watch website ( http://www.corpwatch.org ) on 7 March: "50
percent of the $40 billion given annually to the 15 intelligence agencies in the
United States is now spent on private contractors."
One such private intelligence company is Athena, a subsidiary of the
Israeli-based Merkhav Group. Athena, which has offices in the United States,
Greece, and Israel, is headed by ex-Mossad head Shabtai Shavit. His former
subordinate, Yossi Maiman, is the head of Merkhav and is considered by many to
be one of the most influential men in Israel -- and
Athena promotes its services in a brochure available on the Internet
titled "Intelligence From Open Sources" where it says that: "Intelligence is no
longer reserved solely for government and state organizations. Today's terror
attacks have brought about an awareness of the need for advanced information.
Public and private organizations can now perform a self-assessment of
their vulnerability and the security risks posed by
Athena is very clear in its understanding of the world of
"Intelligence, until the end of the 80s, was a subject dealt with by
governments and nations. It brought with it connotations of military and state
security issues. Companies and private people dealt with information -- not with
intelligence. During the 90s, more and more corporations developed the concept
of business and industrial intelligence as a competitive
While such companies as Athena claim to gather information only from open
sources, there is always the danger of companies straying beyond such
self-imposed restrictions and gaining access to nonpublic, confidential sources
in order to satisfy clients. How such sources are tapped can become a delicate
matter and in certain circumstances privacy laws could be
The question facing lawmakers is what to do if any of these private
intelligence services become "rogue elephants" and -- inadvertently or not --
sell their information to criminals or terrorists.
Roman Kupchinsky, is the editor
of "Crime, Corruption & Terrorism Watch" which
is published by Radio Free Europe (http://www.rferl.org/). His reports,
which are based on a variety of sources, pinpoint emerging trends and activities
related to networks of organized crime and terrorism. Copyright
(c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights
Reprinted herein with author's
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