Intelligence Firm Profits from Overseas Contacts

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Intelligence Firm Profits from Overseas Contacts
Published By: Ottawa Business Journal
Julia Fields
August 1, 1999


Smith Brandon International has a new spy on its force and he's operating right in your backyard.

Barry Mitchell, formerly a director general with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), is the Washington-based company's Canadian representative.

His mission: to sell local corporations on the benefits of corporate spying or what industry members like to call business intelligence.

Traditionally, American firms have been known to use business intelligence and risk avoidance assistance far more than their Canadian counterparts.

Now that more businesses, and especially Ottawa's high-tech firms, have focused their corporate ambitions abroad, that reality may be about to change.

Canadian companies are dealing in countries they've never dealt with before. If you have someone who can tell you what kind of company, what kind of people, and what kind of political situation you're dealing with, it makes sense to do that, says a soft-spoken Mitchell.

Smith Brandon International, a team of about six in-house professionals with contacts on the ground in countries across the globe, has provided business intelligence services to between 200-250 companies worldwide during the last three years.

Mitchell was hired aboard after meeting with the company's founders Gene Smith and Harry (a.k.a Skip) Brandon. While providing information from his Canadian connections, Mitchell will essentially introduce Ottawa clients to Smith Brandon International's resources.

Smith was a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State and at one time a legal prosecutor, while Brandon was previously in charge of the FBI's worldwide counter-terrorism efforts.

With these kinds of connections, Smith and Brandon say they can offer Ottawa firms far more than the average intelligence company that relies just on public records and documents.

Smith says their contacts - heads of law enforcement agencies, political figures, people in legal and financial institutions and journalists can provide company background checks on things such as criminal records, bankruptcies, litigations and what financial position the company's coming from.

It's always been extremely difficult to get information overseas. A lot of records aren't publicly available and aren't as reliable. The standards are manipulated by political establishments or the money class, Smith explains.

With many deals, acquisitions or mergers, it may also be valuable to know if the foreign partner actually has the proper connections to get the job done, she adds.

There is so much government control over business in foreign countries. A company may not even be given the proper papers to complete, if it doesn't have the right contacts, she explains.

All this information, of course, comes with a price tag - one that Smith and Brandon say is impossible to name because every case is different. After much prodding, Brandon finally states that a more complicated operation that requires trips overseas could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

True to the nature of her business, the duo also refuses to give specifics on how the company comes by its data, except to name the Internet, public records and in-country contacts as sources.

Smith makes it clear, however, that everything is above board - no bribes are handed out and no laws are broken.

Mindful of their clients privacy, Brandon and Smith again refuse to divulge any identities or the details of its missions.

WebHancer Corp. president Bruce Linton, however, admits he's used Smith Brand International's services while at a previous company, where he was responsible for Asian-Pacific operations.

It's a very odd business they have, but it works very well, he reflects.

At the time, Linton was negotiating two bids in Asia and it appeared that the process had stalled. With Asia overcome with economic instability and enormous changes, Linton wanted to know what was going on with the bids and whether they were worth pursuing.

Linton admits that he was hesitant at first - a little overwhelmed by the cloak and dagger feel of business intelligence.

But he quickly overcame his reservations, when he saw the results.

These guys were very networked. As a result they could, through a couple of phone calls, get answers that would take me a year, if I could get them at all, says Linton.

It's not secret information. It's just knowing the right person that will give the most accurate information.

What Others Are Saying

“Excellent report as always. We truly found it extremely helpful.”

DirectorEuropean Hotel Group

“As always, perfect. The client on the project in Taiwan was most pleased.”

DirectorInvestigative Firm

“ definitely helped [our division] and the whole company improve ... so [we] can make better informed decisions regarding our strategy.”

Strategy DirectorMajor Infrastructure Firm

“The reporting you just furnished us has helped us avoid a major mistake in looking at the potential new partner ... we are very pleased.”

VP for ComplianceInternational Construction Company

“Many thanks for your reporting and willingness to talk with us about what it means. You are correct, we do have an issue and we will take corrective action immediately.”

Corporate CounselInternational Pharmaceutical Company
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