After a former MI-6 intelligence officer who is now a corporate investigator in the United Kingdom exposed possible blackmail by the Russian government against President-elect Donald Trump, there has been increased focus on these types of firms and how they operate. The report, citing sources who claim the Russians have video of the next President of the United States engaged in sexual activity with prostitutes involving urine, has not surprisingly caused an uproar, with Trump and his supporters categorically dismissing the report as “fake news” and others pointing to Trump’s public praise of Vladimir Putin as evidence of its possible validity.
Stepping back from politics, a major factor in weighing the information in any investigative report is the credibility of the investigator who wrote it. Without knowing anything about the investigator who wrote this specific report, some have stepped back even further to examine the corporate intelligence community more generally. Could there be any information there that might shed light on the accuracy of the stinging accusations against Trump?
To help learn how corporate investigators operate, CNN recently interviewed our managing partner Philip Becnel, who described some of the niches in the private investigations industry, how they gather information, and how they’re paid. Philip could comment on this where other firms declined because we are strictly speaking not a corporate intelligence firm; we’re a litigation-focused private investigations firm that also does some corporate investigations. The main difference is that most of the facts we gather have to be admissible in court, whereas intelligence operatives often have to rely on inferences and some hearsay, which would generally be inadmissible in court.
Does this make intelligence generally less reliable than investigations? Perhaps. But arguably the standard of proof is far lower for publicly indicting a president versus deciding a court case. The stakes are also far higher. While we don’t purport to know Trump’s allegiances or whether he has in fact been compromised by a foreign intelligence service, the methods used to gather that information were likely very similar to the ones we use routinely and reliably to gather facts in our cases; the conclusion in the report concerning Trump just relies on a lower standard of proof.
Without further revelations, it will ultimately be up to Americans, just like a jury, to decide if the information in the report is accurate or not.