The Private Intelligence Agency

Although private sector intelligence organisations exist in most countries, the sector is by far the biggest in the USA. There are also several large intelligence firms that work internationally (listed below).


According to a New York Times article, 70% of the USA’s intelligence budget now goes to private sector intelligence companies—making it a $56 billion a year industry. 500,000 private contract workers currently have top-secret security clearance in the U.S. alone. This is a relatively new phenomenon and does not hold true in the UK to that degree. Most people spend many years working in intelligence in the public sector, including typical agencies such as the CIA or MI6 but also military or police operations, before transferring to the private sector. Many private firms were actually established by retirees from the public sector. It’s now common for public sector agencies to contract out of a lot of the work they used to accomplish in-house to private consultants. The private sector can also often offer higher compensation than government jobs on average, a heady temptation to successful public sector employees.


The private intelligence sector can be harder to break into than public intelligence. As mentioned above, most people break into the private sector first worked publicly, although there are entry-level jobs as well. Intelligence requires very specific personalities. Much, if not most, of the work is research based. These jobs will often involve some travel and an extensive amount of regional and country knowledge. For students who are interested in politics, current events, and security, private sector intelligence can provide a fascinating career choice.


Private agencies make their services available to governments, individual consumers and large corporations with an interest or investment in the category (e.g. crime, disease, corruption, etc.) or the region (e.g. Middle East, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, etc.) or to investigate perceived threats such as environmental groups or human rights groups

*Some private intelligence agencies use online perception management, social media influencing/manipulation campaigns, strategic disinformation (such as fake news production/propaganda production), opposition research and political campaigns using social media and artificial intelligence such as Psy-Group, Cambridge Analytica and Black Cube. The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab described the activity of Archimedes Group as practising "information warfare".  Firms such as Patrium Intelligence are now starting to emerge in the UK and parts of Europe.  The geographical advantages to US firm by oursourcing to smaller more specialist firms such as Patrium, allows for great efificiency and the cost saving associated with it.  Also, the political benefits and local knowledge provided by organisations such as these who as, if not more, discreet in their activities is appealing to. 


The variety of PIA's in the market place at the moment is by no means exhausted and it represents the diversity of the jobs required.  For example, some of the firms listed below will have a more military based bias and specialist expertise in those areas - others may be more focused on political manouvering and relationship development - others may be more desk bound and analytical focused purely on data and intelligence gathering.  Below is a list of some of the more well known Private Intelligence Agecies and their areas of focus.

Other PIA's also offer a number of services in the same arena with some focusing less on a 'one stop shop' approach in favour of specific areas of expertise such as perception management, PR, cyber security etc.

Growth in the Private Intelligence market

The growth in the number of PIA's has been rapid especially since the Snowden and Assange mass surveillance events and subsequent whistle-blowing in 2013.  The recent events concerning Cambridge Analytica and the US elections have also contributed to this growth - why is that? It is likely a combination of factors not least a more efficient use of resources to streamline government departments by tendering out many of the core duties of organisations such as the CIA, FBI, MI6, MI5 and now further afield across the rest of the world.  This growth has inevitably increased speculation that the reason is to somehow aide plausible deniability to some extent.  This may well have some truth behind it; however, it is unlikely to be on the scale or for the reasons many seem to think.  At least not in the US and UK that is.  For certain more sensitive tasks that may very well be the case, however utilising the highly trained talent in government organisations for more appropriate tasks other than the 'groundwork' is also a reason.

If the spike in PIA's is so that in the event of another "Snowden event" blame can be shifted to external parties, then it would be surprising given the responsibilities of both parties involved in contracts such as these.  So, growth is most probably simply demand induced and allows for more specialist and diverse expertise in areas that otherwise, government bodies do not have the resources or expertise to pursue.

Private Intelligence Agencies


  • Boeing Offices – Worldwide

  • Ake Intelligence – Worldwide



  • Archimedes – Israel

  • Black Cube – Israel

  • NSO Group – Israel



  • AEGIS – UK

  • Control Risks Group – UK

  • Frontier Horizons – UK (Political Risk Analysis)

  • Group GEOS – France

  • Hakluyt & Company – UK

  • Orbis Business Intelligence – UK

  • Oxford Analytica – UK

  • Patrium Intelligence – UK and Central Europe



  • Aggregate IQ – Canada

  • Booze Allen Hamilton – US

  • Fusion GPS – US

  • Kroll Inc – US

  • Pinkerton National Detective Agency – US

  • Smith Brandon International, Inc. – US

  • Stratfor – US

  • Northrop Grumman - US

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A Government Department of Virus Safety

A Government run, uniform and credible safety certificate to be used across the board, would benefit UK business greatly.

Wuhan conspiracy theories aside, diplomatic traction is the reward.


A week or two ago we wrote an article "Conspiracies & Ripples" which focused primarily on conspiracy theories and kicked off with the rather obvious statement that a conspiracy theory is simply a theory without the facts i.e. just a theory.  Within that we highlighted that ‘flavour of the month’ theorist’s delight, the origins of the Coronavirus and its links to Wuhan.  This echoed our views published in February which, as many did, ponder the chances of this remote coincidence maybe actually being true.  Since then there have been swathes of articles on the topic citing all sort of sources and from numerous ‘renowned’ scientists.  We have also recently had the opinions offered by those whose opinions really count, that this virus originating from the labs in Wuhan may not actually be so far-fetched after all.

We do tend to agree, or at least we did.  That was then and this is now and in the world of Politics things move quickly and one does have to look at the reality of the situation.  If there is enough fog between you and your destination, then sometimes the route you take can change, leaving you all sorts of options.  If the objective was originally to circumnavigate through uncertain waters to establish who, what, why and when the virus came about – then that is now lost in the fog.  It is arbitrary.  Now we have something that is far more concrete and tangible to use to our advantage – we have uncertainty.  We now have enough debate and conspiracy to render the findings of the scientists open to interpretation.  And that… is a diplomat’s dream come true.   This particular carcass will feed many and although the WHO will go in, on the ground, and no doubt find yet more uncertainty…it really is irrelevant.  You will certainly not find individual government’s chomping at the bit to send their representatives into Wuhan anytime soon, and even if they did, why?  Wuhan is not some sleepy suburb in leafy Northamptonshire… it is in China.  Whatever was there has long gone, if indeed it was ever even there.  So perhaps it would be wise to assume that at least for the next few decades this is a conspiracy that will never find out those salient facts. 

Now, listening to the scientists, there is an overwhelming urge to say, “shush now”.  Step back ladies and gentlemen and look at the bigger picture at play.  Nobody is actually interested whether or not the virus started in Wuhan, intentionally or not.  As long as it is open to debate, it is far more valuable.  The scientists have debated at length and argued, but there is still no unequivocal proof either way that satisfies all parties…and why could that be?  Scientific fact is not open to debate or questioning, that is a given.  However, to say Science is correct, is not true.  That is because Science has Scientists, and Scientists are human beings who in turn are fallible and motivated by many many other factors.  In China for example, one might say that scientific fact is exactly what they want it to be.  Indeed, who is to say it ends in China.


So why is uncertainty such a blessing in this case?  It provides an additional bargaining chip and a weapon in the armoury for all Governments to now use against the Chinese.  Maybe on the other side of the fence their own initial conspiracy theory that a foreign Government (the US) planted the virus in their midst, is being written about in their own press.  Or maybe not. The fact is it is a safe bet to assume that no body will ever know.  There will be no compensations or admissions of guilt in this case sadly…however the capillaceous network that is politics, diplomacy and economic negotiations will be the real beneficiaries.


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