Corporate Spooks: Private Security Contractors Infiltrate Social Justice Organizations

Spies might miss the Cold War, but they’re getting plenty of work tracking activists

| January-February 2009

  • Corporate Spies

    Image by Francesco Bongiorni /

  • Corporate Spies

Cara Schaffer just wanted to improve the lives of vegetable pickers in the fields of south Florida. In March the idealistic college student signed up to volunteer for the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a group that works closely with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to fight for better wages.

Schaffer’s fellow activists, however, quickly became suspicious of the new recruit’s excessive enthusiasm, particularly her keen desire to take part in national conference calls that plotted strategy. So they punched her name into an Internet search engine and discovered that Schaffer wasn’t a college student at all. She was the owner of Diplomatic Tactical Services, a private security and espionage firm based in Jupiter, Florida.

Schaffer’s firm had been hired by Burger King, which was locked in a dispute with the coalition over tomato pickers’ wages. In the aftermath of her outing as a corporate mole, two of the burger empire’s executives were fired and the company agreed to meet the workers’ demands.

While activists easily sussed out Schaffer’s rather buffoonish infiltration attempt, highly professional corporate espionage has become a galling reality for many activist groups. In the wake of the Cold War, former spies from the CIA, FBI, Britain’s MI5 and MI6—even the KGB—are increasingly plying their dark arts for private firms with cinematically sinister names such as Diligence, Control Risks, and Kroll.

“The big change in recent years has been the huge growth in these companies,” Annie Machon, a former MI5 agent, told the London-based New Statesman (Aug. 11, 2008). “Where before it was a handful of private detective agencies, now there are hundreds of multinational security organizations, which operate with less regulation than the spooks themselves.”

Perhaps the most disturbing entry in the lucrative corporate espionage field is the private-military firm Blackwater Worldwide (best known for gunning down 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007). Led by J. Cofer Black, who spent 28 years working for the CIA, Blackwater launched the Orwellian-named Total Intelligence Solutions in February 2007. The firm is stacked with former high-ranking officials from the FBI and the U.S. State Department, promising clients around the globe, including foreign governments, unprecedented access to power brokers in Washington. “It is not difficult to imagine clients feeling as though they are essentially hiring the U.S. government to serve their own interests,” the Nation reports (June 23, 2008).

4/3/2009 9:48:34 AM

Thank you for this article. Please consider doing an article on what is known as "organized stalking." (Some refer to it as "gang stalking." It's pervasive, it's cruel, and it must be stopped. As the previous commenter noted, it's something that will one day "destroy our free society." Organized stalking is not "a delusion", as some would like people to believe. It continues, in part, because those who dare to speak about it are labelled "delusional" or "mentally ill." Some victims may already be mentally ill when the targeting begins, and some victims "break" under the pressure of constant surveillance, vandalism, surreptitions home entries, theft, and other sadistic practices. Others remain lucid and fairly functional, but "traumatic stress" is a problem. The police, in the absence of hard evidence, take a "blame the victim" approach. Again, thank you for this article and please keep an open mind about group/organized stalking. It's a well-kept secret and it's an outrage.

t in san fran_1
1/29/2009 1:22:36 AM

The gross abuse of anti-terrorist law and the use of GANG STALKING by these criminals will eventually destroy our free society.. Hope the law would eventually protect the ones not at the top of survival of the fittest.

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