Corporate espionage takes many forms and is known by a number of names. At its most benign, it’s “competitive-intelligence,” which is the kind of information gathering that George Chidi describes in Inc. On the other end of the spectrum is the far more exciting—and illicit—line of work seen in Richard Behar’s 1999 story about the pharmaceutical industry. Here are five stories that delve deep into the murky world of corporate information gathering.
1. “Drug Spies” (Richard Behar, Fortune, September 1999)
This story about corporate spies fighting pirated drugs in the high stakes pharmaceutical industry reads like a summer action movie, complete with former Scotland Yard detectives, solitary confinement in a Cyprus prison and multinational drug giants.
2. “Confessions of a Corporate Spy” (George Chidi, Inc., February 2013)
George Chidi’s work is more social engineering than cloak-and-dagger, but this first-person piece from a competitive intelligence consultant offers fascinating insight into the less legally shaky subset of the corporate intelligence world. Bonus: the last third of the article functions as a how-to for aspiring information gatherers.
3. “The Secret Keeper” (William Finnegan, New Yorker, October 2009)
If there is a gold standard in the corporate intelligence world, it’s Kroll Inc., Jules B. Kroll’s namesake consulting group. Here the New Yorker profiles Mr. Kroll, who is “widely credited with having created an industry where there was none.”
4. “A Spy in the Jungle” (Mary Cuddehe, The Atlantic, August 2010)
Cuddehe was a freelance reporter with a busted rental car in a Cancún parking lot when a friend called with a “research” job:
…an offer from Kroll, one of the world’s largest private investigation firms, to go undercover as a journalist-spy in the Ecuadorian Amazon. At first I thought I was underqualified for the job. But as it turned out I was exactly what they were looking for: a pawn.
Her recollections, and reflections on why she chose not to take the job, are an interesting counterpoint to the New Yorker article.
5. “The Pizza Plot” (Adam L. Penenberg and Marc Barry, New York Times Magazine, December 2000)
Schwan’s knew that Kraft was going to roll out a new kind of frozen pizza, and that if they wanted to compete they would have to find out all sorts of specifics before the launch. This article, which is adapted from Penenberg and Barry’s 2000 book Spooked: Espionage in Corporate America, is a dazzlingly fun look at just how Schwan pulled that off.