Monday, July 5, 2010

The business of spying and Business Intelligence

Last week the American news was all abuzz with the arrest of a ring of Russian Suspects' leading "Unremarkable Lives" among Americans in the suburbia. NYT article describes the arrest thus
"On June 27, 2010, 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia were arrested and accused of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American "policy making circles." The next day, an 11th accused member of the ring was arrested at an airport in Cyprus while trying to leave for Budapest. . . The arrests were the result of an F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago."

The media a field day, all the more since the story had all ingredients of a racy spy novel “A ring of 10 Russian moles right out of a Cold War spy novel was smashed yesterday - and among those busted was a flame-haired, 007- worthy beauty who flitted from high-profile parties to top-secret meetings around Manhattan.” Including an international ring to it (Russin spies using a British Passport in America!)

In an ironic twist, the American Central Intelligence Agency was celebrating 4th of July with a remembrance of Agency U-2 Pilots: Hervey Stockman “On July 4, 1956, Hervey Stockman piloted a U-2 through the skies over the Soviet Union (re: Front page of CIA website). I was intrigued by the existence of Foreign Agents Registration Act, "The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a United States law passed in 1938 requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers be properly identified to the American public." I wonder if Mr. Stockman, while spying over Russia had to register with the Russian government as a "Foreign Agent"

Growing up in India, I recall the Indian media having a field day over stories of Pakistani spy rings busted every so often. A saga that continues to this day: A few months ago, media was buzzing with sordid details of the arrest of an Indian diplomat, Madhuri Gupta, accused of spying for Pakistan while stationed in Pakistan. A real cloak-and-dagger if you will.

Switching gears, espionage is very much present in the business world, aided by sophisticated Information Technology and techniques, also called “Business Intelligence.” I remember being fascinated by the story of corporate espionage chronicled in novel The Informant that I read a few years ago. And then, there is the not-so-glamorous Intelligence gathering that we come across in the corporate world. Just a few examples in the software services sector that we regularly encounter:

· Who got the highest share of the bonus this quarter?
· Gathering information on a colleague who might be looking out for a new job . . . and passing on that ‘Intelligence” to your boss
· Getting access to the recommendations of the “Strategy Planning” exercise done by your competitor for the Director/VP that your firm works closely with
· Finding details – financials - of a proposal being submitted by a competing vendor
· The list could go on . . .