The pigeon arrived this morning. By the tone of its cooing, I knew that Dr. Cam had completed the assignment I set him last week upon reading a sweet Sweet article. I used to wonder why ZOG insisted on the use of pigeon post for such communications, but upon securing the message from Cher Ami‘s spindly little leg and reading over its contents, I no longer question their wisdom. For those of you who dare, read on…
Medical journalist Melissa Sweet is obviously being paid far too much by the good folk at Crikey, if her recent rude rejection of a rather rustic recruitment request from the refined risk assessment/global strategic business intelligence firm Hakluyt is any indication.
Are journalists being paid to provide high-level political intelligence to companies and consultancies seeking to benefit from such information?
Judging by a series of emails that I’ve recently seen, it seems the answer might be “yes”.
Several weeks ago, I received an email which read as follows:
I work for Hakluyt which is a London-based but global strategic business intelligence/risk assessment firm. We have clients all round the world and certainly with interests all round the world. Although we never divulge who are [sic] clients are, they will typically be top-level executives in multinationals or private equity firms.
When they have a particular project in view — anything from a possible joint venture or market entry plan, and much in between — they will come to Hakluyt for us to provide them with greater visibility on what they have in mind. We work independently of any other advisers they may have.
We have a proprietary network of well-placed individuals around the world who are able to provide us, very discreetly, with intelligence on specific commercial or political issues that may arise. Typically, these individuals will be very well-connected, knowledgeable in a particular field or market and well placed discreetly to make inquiries.
I should add that we are only interested in “human source” information — ie information that is freely sought and freely given — and not documentary information at all. Also, just as we do not disclose the identify (sic) of our clients, we ask our network not to disclose the interest of Hakluyt.
Hence this email! With your healthcare expertise, I wondered if you might be able to help us on a new project on the new Australian government’s healthcare policy — how realistic their reform ambitions really are; the role of the private sector and whether its approach coincides with government; the profitability of various private sector area[s] (hospitals; radiology and pathology service providers); and why government raised the tax penalty threshold for not taking private health insurance as far as it did. Our client is already knowledgeable in the sector.
At first, I thought there had been a mistake. Perhaps the man at Hakluyt did not realise that I am a journalist. I emailed back pointing [out] that I am not a consultant but a journalist, and asked, “wearing my journalistic hat”, who his client was.
The reply was enlightening at a number of levels:
All I can say on that is that it is a financial institution interested in the sector, which I realise does not quite answer your question!
However, we have a very strong confidentiality code here operating at various levels: we never divulge the identity of our clients (whether to other clients, to our well-placed network of associates or at all). In the same way, we never reveal the identity of those associates (or, for that matter, of their own sources). Equally, those sources never get to hear about the involvement of Hakluyt. By these means the best interests of all players are best served.
Which brings me to your first point. The reason for writing to you was not because I was looking for consulting skills. Rather, as a journalist — and particularly one with your speciality and expertise — you will, I assume, know literally dozens of well-placed sources in the field. In other words, if you were willing to help us out on the odd project, we would obviously be interested in your own expert “take”; but it would also be of huge interest to us if you were prepared, with a brief in hand, to speak to several of those sources on our (or our client’s) behalf and let us know what they say.
It would always be — as I mentioned in my first email — human source information that we are after; nothing in documentary form. For what it is worth, we already have a number of quality, usually specialist journalists that we deal with on this basis. From our point of view, they are expertly placed to source information and invariably we are calling on fairly traditional journalistic skills — so it works well.
If a company that professes to value confidentiality and discretion is prepared to send such an indiscreet email to an unknown journalist, they must have some grounds for feeling confident that journalists are willing to play along with them. The statement that “quality” journalists are already in their employ is just as worrying.
To be honest, I’ve dithered about going public on these emails. It seemed a breach of trust to publish correspondence that was obviously intended to remain private. But it was the assumptions of the second email from Hakluyt — written after I’d expressly declared my journalistic hand — that persuaded me the correspondence should be put on the public record.
The public has a right to know: are journalists selling political intelligence to consultancies such as Hakluyt?
Incidentally, according to the Sourcewatch project Hakluyt & Company Limited is a British private intelligence agency, “…staffed almost entirely by ex-intelligence [services] staff”, according to a 2006 report in The Times. In 2001, The Sunday Times revealed that Hakluyt had been hired to spy on Greenpeace.
Turning journalists into spooks?, Melissa Sweet, Crikey!, 31/07/08
Spooky? Maybe a little. Definitely clumsy though. What’s with all the exclamation marks, dudes? Perhaps Hakluyt should look to the Israeli security services for some hot tips. They seem to have hit upon a much more reliable recruitment technique:
“You have cancer, and it will soon spread to your brain, as long as you don’t help us,” security agents told one man, according to testimony provided on condition of anonymity.
After about eight hours of interrogation the man was given permission to enter but by then had missed his appointment at an Israeli hospital. He had to reschedule and was not allowed to leave until two months later.
But anyway, enough about whinging Palestinians, back to Hakluyt.
Founded by Christopher James, a former MI6 agent, Hakluyt provides many invaluable services to its many esteemed clients. What and who those services and clients are is not entirely clear. Known clients – revealed by various fuck-ups – include Shell, BP and Enron.
The best resource available online is a rather wanky feature from the Financial Times, published in March 2000, in which James waxes lyrical about his business while sipping tea from a china cup. If I were running a secretive private intelligence agency, I probably wouldn’t talk to the press about it, but that’s just me. Most disturbingly, it is reported that while Hakluyt pays “good professional rates” some associates “prefer a case of claret.” In the British vernacular, claret is slang for blood. Just what sort of people work for Hakluyt? Are they even people at all?
The Financial Times is a bit dry though. One prefers the far more lurid article on the somewhat dodge conspiracy site Voltairenet which accuses former career diplomat and Hakluyt board member Frank Wisner Jr., of having orchestrated the downfall of Nicolas Sarkozy’s primary party rival in the 2007 French election, Dominique de Villepin, using documents forged at Hakluyt’s London office, amongst other things. Sarkozy’s father’s second wife’s second husband was Frank Wisner Jr. Have a think about it.
- An aside featuring fascinating local colour: In 2001, as mentioned in Sweet’s article, Hakluyt was busted by the Sunday Times infiltrating Greenpeace. Writ the Times:
The Sunday Times has seen documents which show that the spy, German-born Manfred Schlickenrieder, was hired by Hakluyt, an agency that operates from offices in London’s West End.
Schlickenrieder was known by the code name Camus and had worked for the German foreign intelligence service gathering information about terrorist groups, including the Red Army Faction.
This being the case, it is likely Camus had some dealings with Iago, aka John Friedrich, who claimed (in his posthumous autobiography Codename: Iago) to have performed similar activities for the C.I.A. prior to coming to Australia and joining the National [Safety] Council of Australia (Victorian Division). Under Friedrich’s steady hand, the Victorian division of the NSCA was transformed from an ineffective lobby group into Australia’s premier search-and-rescue (slash paramilitary training) outfit, with much of its equipment and pioneering techniques still in use today. Where were they based? At the S.E.C. power station in Yallourn. And who doesn’t like the Yallourn power station? Greenpeace. Join the dots.
(Friedrich was found dead on the 21st of July 1991 of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head a few days into his trial over the small matter of his defrauding various banks of around $293 million to fund NSCA initiatives. The Sunday Times expose came out on the 17th of June 2001 – almost ten years to the day. I advise you to also join those dots.)
(Further! Just after I wrote this, I opened the local paper and the first story I read was about the responsibilities of company directors, using Friedrich as a primary example of bad directoring.)
In conclusion, Melissa Sweet might be too principled to work for Hakluyt, but I’m not. Give me a call, Chris!
But in actual conclusion, Christopher James was an MI6 agent whose primary task while working for that agency was to liaise with business interests. He then left MI6 to form a private business with a number of other spooks – with the permission of his former masters – where he and his colleagues performed essentially the same role. It is not exactly secret knowledge that a career with an agency such as MI6 or similar is a career for life. If one were to apply Occam’s Razor to this scenario, one would come to the logical determination that Hakluyt is most likely an MI6 front. Whether the reasoning behind the creation of such a front group is to allow that agency to take part in activities which might cause embarrassment to MI6, in the event that they were uncovered, is entirely speculative. It wouldn’t be the first time.
See also also: Timothy Garton Ash, a British journalist who flirted with the idea of accepting an offer to join British intelligence in his youth. Ironically, despite choosing not to, he was investigated at length by the Stasi as a suspected spy, an experience he describes extensively in his book The File.
Hakluyt takes its name from the British explorer Richard Hakluyt who kicked about the place approx. 400 years ago. Strangely enough, he was also a spook. Sayeth Henry Porter in The Guardian:
Settling the land named after the Virgin Queen was not the obvious course of action that it appears today. The English could have chosen the east and left the Americas to the Spanish and, but for a little-known geographer named Richard Hakluyt, they might have. During his lifetime, Hakluyt, a cleric, academic and occasional spy, never travelled further than Paris. But as a new biography by Peter C Mancall explains, he ‘invented the grammar of colonisation’ and kept the idea alive so it would not ‘wax cold and fall to the ground’ during the period when England faced invasion by Spain. Like NASA scientists announcing the mission to the Moon without knowing exactly how it was going to be achieved, Hakluyt declared in 1586, 20 years before the Susan Constant sailed, that Chesapeake Bay was his preferred target.
His great work is The Principal Navigations of 1589, which assembled all that was known about the voyages to America, its people, their customs and the wealth locked up in the continent. Last week, I sat down with the London Library’s copy of the first edition and realised it is as much an achievement of the English renaissance as Shakespeare’s plays.
Hakluyt, Mancall writes, ‘believed in the power of words, written or spoken. He saw troubles and engineered solutions from the premise that it was the task … of the intellectual elite to diagnose problems and find answers’. One of the great problems of Elizabethan England was unemployment among the expanding population, which then stood at about 3.6 million. Colonies would provide labour for every possible trade, for clerics and for failed merchants ‘schooled in the house of adversity’.
Exactly three decades later, according to White Cargo, a new book by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, the authorities would solve the problem of London’s street children by rounding them up and dispatching them as slaves to the plantations of Virginia. Economic expediency runs through Hakluyt’s work. His brands of Protestantism and unabashed capitalism passed without dilution into the American bloodstream. Hakluyt, I am sure, would have been perfectly at home talking to Dick Cheney or any of his former colleagues in Halliburton.
Now, that’s spooky.