You’re probably familiar with the case of Harvey Weinstein.
He’s the Hollywood movie mogul convicted of sexual assault who received a sentence of 23 years in a New York prison.
But what you might not be familiar with are the private spies Weinstein employed to try to win his court case.
He hired the private investigation firm Black Cube. The intelligence firm has a staff made up of former Israeli intelligence officers.
Weinstein used a high-priced New York lawyer to act as the go-between for he and Black Cube.
He wanted the company to stop a New York Times article that exposed his crimes.
The contract between the moviemaker and the spies wasn’t public information, but parts of the contract were leaked.
The contract said Black Cube was hired to “provide intelligence which will help the client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper”.
It included a bonus where Black Cube would receive $300,000 if they succeeded.
Black Cube deployed several investigators who used fake identities to befriend the accusers. Their goal was to extract information from the victims related to the case.
Specifically, the spies used “avatar operators.” These are experts in social media who create fake Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.
The thing is, private spies like this operate in complete secrecy. There is no one watching them to make sure they aren’t breaking any laws.
Whether it’s corporate spying, or trying to catch a cheating spouse, private spies are a booming business.
So, here are a few ways that private spies can affect the public.
No Spy Registry:
Most states have laws requiring private investigators to be licensed.
But operatives like Black Cube work on a much larger scale, and there is no federal database for these private spies to register.
And since private spies can operate unchecked, it can lead to shady dealings.
In 2018, the private investigative sector made about $2.5 billion. This doubled from the previous ten years.
With so much money to be made, more people are turning to the unregulated profession.
Journalists should have standards when reporting the news, but this isn’t always the case (obviously).
With media outlets eager to jump on a story, fake news is a breeding ground for private spies.
With the rise in technology, spying has become much easier. Whether it is hacking or surveillance, spies now have a tool chest to help them succeed.
And with the ease of gathering information comes an ease of sharing it with a media that run a story without checking all (if any) of the facts.
Some critics argue that private spies should disclose their clients, much like Congress requires lobbyists to do.
But the people who work in the private spy industry operate in the shadows. They don’t want to be seen or exposed.
So, the last thing they need for their business is for others to learn who their clients are.
When a spy was asked if some sort of disclosure needs to be filed, he said it would benefit the public…
But, that same spy refused to share his name.
Bottom line is this: Hiring private spies is a booming business, and it’s getting bigger.
From corporate espionage to information about personal associates it’s going to keep growing.
And while most of the time spying is done legally…
Espionage is a tricky business that can easily cross the line into criminality.
If you are thinking about hiring one for any reason, be sure you vet them thoroughly, and make sure everything is done “above board.”
And if you think you’re the target of a spy-for-hire, don’t share anything with anyone you don’t know or trust – especially some new friend or connection request online.
If you want to have a little fun with the situation, you could hire your own spy to run counter-espionage for you. A mini version of the cold war era spy vs. spy game.