Title: Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy
Author: Eamon Javers
Javers, Eamon (2010). Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: Inside The Secret World of Corporate Espionage. New York, NY: Harper
HD38.7 .J38 2010
- A shocking exposé of the sordid world of corporate espionage and its historic cast, including Allan Pinkerton, the nation’s first “private eye,” tycoons and playboys, presidents and FBI operatives, CEOs and accountants, Cold War veterans and military personnel, and Howard Hughes’ private CIA.
- Code name: Yucca — Part I: — From Bogus Island to Deep Chocolate — A high and honorable calling — For the money — The man is gone — Thug busters — The chocolate war — Part II: — Techniques, technologies, and talent — Tactical behavior assessment — The Eddie Murphy strategy — Nick no-name — They’re all kind of crazy — Is this a great country, or what? — In form the cold.
Date Posted: March 24, 2017
Reviewed by Devin Leonard
It’s easy to understand how Washington reporters can become jaded. They are constantly being spun by the same gang of politicians and lobbyists who dominate the nation’s capital.
So, by his own admission, Eamon Javers, a veteran Washington correspondent who now covers the White House for Politico, was thrilled when he stumbled on a new cast of characters in the area: former spies who peddle their services to large companies.
The result is Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage, Mr. Javers’s account of how he doggedly tracked down rent-a-spies in United States and Europe and tried to get them to divulge their mysteries.
The author obtained quite a few meetings with former C.I.A., MI5 and K.G.B. agents who comb through trash and snoop on people using satellite technology, on behalf of the private sector. He says their business is booming, although he isn’t sure if this is good for the world.
Mr. Javers warns, “In an increasingly fragmented geopolitical environment, the balance seems to be shifting away from governments and toward corporate and even private individuals, who have access to more intelligence and information-gathering abilities than many governments in history ever had.”
At the same time, it’s impossible for the reader not to notice how the author flatters his subjects. Mike Baker, a former C.I.A. man and one of the founders of Diligence LLC, reminds him of Kevin Bacon with his “spiky hair and boyish good looks.”
Mr. Javers has similar praise for Johann Benöhr, a German corporate investigator (whom the author includes even though he didn’t come from the world of government spying): “With his shaved head, two-day stubble and sleek suit, Benöhr could pass for a slimmer version of the actor Vin Diesel.”
If only the subjects reciprocated. For the most part, they say little that they wouldn’t publish in their marketing brochures. Mr. Javers lets them boast about their bankable skills. But they don’t identify their clients or the targets of their investigations—even when he grants several of them anonymity.
A former British special services officer regales Mr. Javers with stories about how he follows executives as they pick up transvestites, and uses laser microphones to eavesdrop on conversations. Is there any way for the reader to be sure that any of this actually happened? Alas, no. “That’s a frequent problem with asking questions in the world of global private intelligence,” Mr. Javers shrugs. “Sometimes, it’s impossible to know the truth.”
Nevertheless, he treats much of what his beloved spies say as gospel. In that sense, Mr. Javers is a useful tool for them. The spies have good reason to provide a peek into their world: if he extols them, they might win new business. But at the same time, they don’t want to say anything that might alienate their existing accounts.
Mr. Javers is not unsympathetic. “Corporate intelligence firms have to hustle for new clients,” he writes. “But this can be tricky when the work product, and the techniques that produce it, are confidential. Often the secret is to show prospective clients just a glimpse of what a firm can do—and dazzle them with behind-the-scenes tales of spycraft.”
This, of course, is exactly what the spies in the book are doing with its author; it’s not entirely clear that he understands.
There is another reason that former government agents prefer to keep their activities shrouded in darkness. The more they reveal about their tricks, the more they look like ordinary gumshoes rather than international men and women of mystery. That’s not a way for them to sell their services to clients.
Mr. Javers spends several pages talking about how Diligence’s co-founders—Nick Day, a former British military operative, and Mike Baker, the Baconesque ex-C.I.A. officer—were able to raise money and attract political luminaries to their board.
But the firm appears less impressive in the field. Mr. Javers gushes about Project Yucca, a caper in which he says Mr. Day pretended to be a guy named Nick Hamilton and persuaded an unsuspecting KPMG accountant, after drinks in a Bermuda restaurant, to slip him confidential documents about a Bermuda-based fund for one of Diligence’s corporate clients.
But, the book goes on to say, Project Yucca unraveled in 2005 when someone sent photocopies of the papers to KPMG’s office in Montvale, N.J. In the end, it sounds more like the handiwork of Austin Powers than of James Bond.
After all his ringing of alarms, you might expect Mr. Javers to come down hard on the rent-a-spy trade. But he just suggests that its members be required to register with the government, as lobbyists must do. “It’s time for the spy firms to come in from the cold,” he says.
It’s not clear how this would slow the shift of investigative power from the government to the private sector that Mr. Javers is so justifiably concerned about. But spies and journalists have often had a symbiotic relationship. Generally, it involves the former using the latter to advance their interests.
Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy seems to be only the latest example.
 Devin Leonard, “The Corporate Side of Snooping,” The New York Times (March 6, 2010), downloaded March 24, 2017. A version of this review appears in print on March 7, 2010, on Page BU9 of the New York edition with the headline: “The Corporate Side of Snooping”.