Ran into a interesting story alleging that large corporations — in this instance Wal-Mart — are hiring former government intelligence types to work in their corporate security departments.

The story that I found in RINF.com, which states that they monitor the “surveillance society,” focused on Wal-Mart delving into the personal details of two of their former executives.

Apparently, the personal details of an affair became public, when one of the executives was being investigated for a conflict of interest with a advertising agency. The article also states that the executive being investigated got the other executive her job.

In all fairness — despite the article’s focus on privacy concerns — conflicts of interest and intellectual property crimes are becoming a growing problem for corporations. The fact that one person got another person a job based on a personal relationship might be a little questionable, also?

Here is what the article, written by Douglas Frantz, had to say about former goverments running this investigation:

Largely overlooked in the furor was the role that Wal-Mart’s internal security department had played in digging up the salacious details. This department, a global operation, was headed by a former senior security officer for the Central Intelligence Agency and staffed by former agents from the C.I.A., the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies. (See our Spy Slang guide) A person familiar with the episode said in an interview that an ex-C.I.A. computer specialist was involved in piecing together the email evidence—which included copies of Womack’s private Gmail messages, provided by his estranged wife—and that another former government agent had supervised the overall investigation.

Ex-government agents appear to be Wal-Mart’s investigators of choice. The retailer has emailed job listings to members of the Association for Intelligence Officers as well as posted ads on its site seeking to hire “global threat analysts” with backgrounds in intelligence. The job description for the analysts, who would have reported to a former Army intelligence officer, entailed collecting information from “professional contacts” to gauge threats from “suspect individuals and groups.” In practice, their responsibilities would have extended to gathering information about Wal-Mart employees, suppliers, and customers; Wal-Mart monitors shoppers for suspicious or potentially criminal activity. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company does not comment on security matters.

Ex-government agents appear to be Wal-Mart’s investigators of choice. The retailer has emailed job listings to members of the Association for Intelligence Officers as well as posted ads on its site seeking to hire “global threat analysts” with backgrounds in intelligence. The job description for the analysts, who would have reported to a former Army intelligence officer, entailed collecting information from “professional contacts” to gauge threats from “suspect individuals and groups.” In practice, their responsibilities would have extended to gathering information about Wal-Mart employees, suppliers, and customers; Wal-Mart monitors shoppers for suspicious or potentially criminal activity. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company does not comment on security matters.

While the article seems to target activity at Walmart, it alleges that their is a substantial market for this type of service:

The best estimate is that several hundred former intelligence agents now work in corporate espionage, including some who left the C.I.A. during the agency turmoil that followed 9/11. They quickly joined private-investigation firms whose U.S. corporate clients were planning to expand into Russia, China, and other countries with opaque business practices and few public records, and who needed the skinny on international partners or rivals.

With outsourcing becoming the norm for large corporations, I would imagine that experts in the espionage field might be a prudent investment for some of these corporations.

One reason might be counterfeiting, which the International Anticounterfeiting Association estimates to be a $600 billion dollar a year problem.

Intellectual property theft is being touted the crime of this century. While just about everything you can imagine is being counterfeited, technology seems to be targeted, most frequently.

In fact, IPhones, which were last years big tech item, were being cloned and sold on eBay by the time the product was rolled out in the United Kingdom.

There are constant reports of Chinese involvement in espionage from the corporate level to hackers breaking into government systems. Couple this with large corporations having their a lot of products manufactured in China and it’s no wonder the services of a few good former spies might be prudent.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that corporations are turning to espionage experts to protect their assets. In fact in the age of the global economy and outsourcing, we are going probably going to see a growing demand for this type of expertise in the private sector.

RINF.com article, here.

IAAC White Paper on intellectual property theft, here.

The FBI did an interesting (my opinion) press release showing a little corporate espionage with a Chinese connection in 2006, which can be seen by clicking here.

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