Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Would someone please tell me why a major news organization would link this story to CI?

In the Feb 11, 2011 edition of the NY Times, there is an article in the politics section (strangely enough) on "Hackers reveal offers to spy on corporate rivals" by E. Lipton and C. Savage. You can read the entire piece here at:

The article is about some unsavory activities, as they often are since they probably draw the reader's attention and sell more papers, but I am unclear why this is viewed to be part of the "competitive intelligence" industry. Here's the part of the article making that connection that I am referring to, most specifically:

Jonathan E. Turner, who runs a Tennessee-based business that gathers intelligence for corporate clients, said that companies nationwide relied on investigators to gather potentially damaging information on possible business partners or rivals. “Information is power,” said Mr. Turner, former chairman of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

He estimated that the “competitive intelligence” industry had 9,700 companies offering these services, with an annual market of more than $2 billion, but said there were limits to what tactics should be used.

Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce distanced themselves on Friday from any effort to embarrass or collect disparaging information about their critics. “We have not engaged in, nor do we have any plans to engage in, the practices discussed in this alleged presentation by HBGary,” said Lawrence DiRita, a Bank of America spokesman.

Do we actually have folks in our CI community out there who have the the goal of your intelligence research for your own company or others as being to “discredit, confuse, shame, combat, infiltrate, fracture” (using words found in one of the solicitation e-mails cited in the article) your rival organizations?

And how many of us wonder why competitive intelligence can't get beyond this reputation???

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Yes, August.  It is not last year's competitive intelligence environment.  I'm not even sure it's last month's.   

Following our conversation last weekend about the recent events in which HBGary Federal figured centrally, I've just posted a blog at


As the post concludes, "Optimistically, I view these events as an opportunity to remind ourselves, once again, of the ethical limits of competitive intelligence activities. Above all professions and industries, lawyers and law firms cannot be ignorant of or ignore these ethical limits."

some of the technical deet's on the 'response'

Yesterday I published a blog piece I had been working on for some time "Why Wikileaks Doesn't Matter." I include some background on the HBGary Federal case, which is a significant example of the lengths to which government and commercial organizations are going to bring down or discredit Wikileaks. My thesis is that Wikileaks is but an example of a broader trend towards greater transparency and disintermediation of the traditional media.


HBGary and their partners were willing to propose clearly unethical and illegal methods to bring Wikileaks down. Already splinter organizations are breaking away from Julian Assange to continue what they consider Wikileaks core missions of increasing transparency. Social media, improving search technology and data analysis are all playing their part to increase transparency. Individuals and groups with grievances can use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other media to disseminate messages without the involvement of the traditional media. All of these trends will continue regardless of what happens to Assange or Wikileaks.


Different functional roles can respond to address the fundamental issues that lead to leaks in the first place. HR needs to create true whistleblower protection and provide the anonymous means to reflect wrongdoing up existing management chains. PR needs to clarify the notion of public perception to break through senior leaders' cognitive bias in favor of their own infallibility. Information has to get serious about prioritizing truly sensitive information instead of putting everything behind the same firewall.


For CI professionals, Wikileaks is an opportunity for us to discuss the evolution of how we will deliver value and what our ethical standards will be. Once again those juicy tidbits that could only be gotten through extensive primary research or estimated through advanced analytical methods are being commoditized. In this world how will we add value? What are the ethics of using information leaked from a competitor and shared in a venue such as Wikileaks? If we do conclude as a profession that it is ethical to use such information, how do we go about qualifying said information?

I think whatever ethical scruples one might have about it will be trumped by the reality that the information is out there for the world to see, and that you cannot ignore it. 


You cannot be sure that another competitor will not use the information, and you cannot be sure that co-workers in other departments will not use the material.  As a result you could potentially cede a competitive edge to other market players, and undermine your standing with co-workers as an authoritative source of intelligence.


The CI practitioner will add value through analysis, dissemination, and counterintelligence.  A leaked document is raw intelligence that needs to be interpreted, and passed along to the right people in a timely manner.  The opportunity for deception and misinformation through “leaked” documents is a real possibility that the CI practitioner can look out for.

This week's Economist has a brilliant briefing entitled "The Leaky Corporation."

I'm pleased that some of the same issues I raised in my blog post are reflected in this briefing. The briefing has more detail and references specific security experts and studies, and is very authoritative.


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