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Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage

Broker, Trader, Law­yer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage. By Eamon Javers. HarperCollins,; 320 pages; $26.99.

The chief contribution of this book to the body of literature on corporate espionage is a unique examination of individuals who straddle the public and private sectors in the practice of their tradecraft. Most of the practitioners of espionage covered in the book learned their techniques in government and turned later to the more lucrative business sphere, but there are some who bounced between both worlds.

The book is a fun read—highly entertaining and often thrilling. Security professionals will recognize a number of character types encountered in their careers and will read on to learn their respective fates. One stumbling block: There are so many diverse personal profiles and revealing historical accounts that the reader might occasionally lose sight of the main theme.

Javers seems to have had at least three objectives in writing his book: to explore conflict-of-interest concerns and other ethical issues arising from corporate spying, to illuminate growing capabilities for espionage brought on by technological advancement, and to entertain.

A prime, early example of these dimensions of corporate espionage is Hal Lipset, who learned his craft in the U.S. Army before marketing it in the private sector and becoming a legendary figure. Lipset’s road to fame included demonstrating before Congress a martini glass with a transmitter in an olive and a toothpick for an antenna. Lipset also served, Javers notes, as one inspiration for actor Gene Hackman’s character in the 1974 movie, "The Conversation.' Eventually, Lipset sold his expertise to, among others, Jim Jones of the People’s Temple—an action he does not regret, he says, because he’s “in it for the money.”

Javers is a good storyteller. We hear the tale of Alan Pinkerton, an immigrant who stumbled upon an opportunity to solve a local crime and went on to found the company that became, at the time, our nation’s chief intelligence resource, even protecting Abraham Lincoln. The reader is also drawn into the exploits of Howard Hughes, who hired a corporate spy who had learned his craft in the U.S. military and Justice Department and went on to protect Hughes in a complex spy versus spy operation.

Bringing these numerous and relevant anecdotes up to the present day, the author concludes that ethical lapses inherent in these endeavors call for legislation mandating that corporate spies register with the U.S. government the way American lobbyists must register with Congress, thereby bringing them “in from the cold.”

Ironically, however, the rich and extensive history of corporate spying Javers has compiled undermines his own prescription. It is difficult to imagine, and perhaps even naïve to believe, that the money, power, influence, excitement, intellectual satisfaction, and prestige that have driven spies throughout history would be effectively countered by legally requiring them to register their roles with an official authority.

Reviewer: James T. Dunne, CPP, is a senior analyst with the U.S. Department of States Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The views expressed in this review are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the State Department. Dunne is a member of ASIS International’s Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council.