For decades, private eyes from Allan Pinkerton, who formed the first detective agency in the U.S., to Jules Kroll, who transformed the investigations business by giving it a corporate veneer, private spies were content to stand in the shadows. Now, that is all changing. High-profile stories grabbing recent headlines - the Steele Dossier, Black Cube, the Theranos scandal, Harvey Weinstein's attacks on his accusers - all share a common thread, the involvement of private spies. Today, operatives-for-hire are influencing presidential elections, the news media, government policies and the fortunes of companies.. They are also peering into our personal lives as never before, using off-the shelf technology to listen to our phone calls, monitor our emails, and decide what we see on social media. Private spying has never been cheaper and the business has never been more lucrative--just as its power has never been more pervasive. Spooked is a fast-paced tour through the shadowlands of private spying and its inhabitants, a grab-bag collection of ex-intelligence operatives, former journalists and lost souls.
Meier’s book compiles and synthesizes several stories about recent private intelligence misadventures. While a fair amount is aggregation—readers of Ronan Farrow’s groundbreaking reporting on Black Cube’s work for Harvey Weinstein, for example, may find portions of that part of the book to be familiar territory—Meier’s research and original interviews flesh out the stories and characters involved. Through his eyes, they are often unsavory people. The best part of his book, upstaging the other sagas, covers the Steele dossier ... The tragic arc of WikiLeaks is a warning that the lines between traditional journalists, private detectives, very-online activist-investigators, and nation-state intelligence operatives constantly threaten to blur. That inherent instability provides a backdrop to Meier’s fundamental point that people outside government performing intelligence-style work seem to be having a rising impact.
In Spooked, the former New York Times investigative reporter Barry Meier makes clear he has some big and important ambitions: to probe deeply into the murky world of private spies ... In what feels like a curt 278 pages of text — as an investigative reporter, I craved a deeper dive — Meier focuses much of his narrative on the now-notorious 'Steele dossier,' the elaborate handiwork of Christopher Steele, a former MI6 spy ... To paraphrase Anton Chekhov’s famous advice about storytelling: If you bring a gun to the first act, make sure it goes off by the last act ... With Spooked we are left, in the end, with a gun that doesn’t really go off.
He is right, and he deserves credit for documenting the duplicity of the people who gave us the Steele dossier. Mr. Meier neglects to mention that two columnists in these pages have chronicled the treachery of Fusion GPS and Steele in detail, but put that to one side. He has said what hardly anyone else in his circle of elite mainstream journalists has had the courage to say ... The problem is that Mr. Meier’s aptly profane phrase for the media’s handling of the dossier isn’t accompanied by any substantive criticisms of his industry. The few sentences of censure he does offer are so gentle as to be exculpatory, and they are immediately followed by formulaic harrumphs about Mr. Trump’s badness. It is precisely that need to signal opposition to the 45th president that keeps Mr. Meier from acknowledging the immense damage not only to journalism but to the country brought about by the dossier scam. Mr. Meier barely mentions the fact that the FBI used the dossier to justify surveillance warrants, fails to note that Mr. Steele’s source had once been investigated by the FBI as a suspected Russian agent, and seems to regret the whole collusion madness because it gave Mr. Trump a cudgel with which to beat his enemies.