Friday, October 15, 2004
Ex-DEA agents now private sleuths
They peddle cloak, dagger intelligence
By Thor ValdmanisUSA Today
NEW YORK -As a young Drug Enforcement Agency special agent in the 1980s, Ann Hayes scoured the badlands of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in search of heroin traffickers.
The undercover assignment came as something of a culture shock for Hayes, who began her career as a beat cop in Roanoke, Va., before entering the DEA academy and finishing first in her class.
"It was the first time I had ever seen anyone use mirrors to check for bombs under cars," Hayes says. "You could hear gunfire. Refugees were pouring over the border, and there was a tremendous amount of drug smuggling going on."
Two decades later, the drug economy still reigns in Afghanistan. But Hayes is still fighting the good fight.
As president of Investigative Management Group, a recently opened corporate security and investigative boutique, Hayes advises business leaders who are struggling to insulate themselves and their companies from threats posed by terrorism, money laundering and organized crime.
IMG is the second corporate security startup for Hayes and former DEA colleague Robert Strang, IMG's CEO. The pair started a similar firm in the 1990s before selling it at a tidy profit to a big conglomerate shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Strang and Hayes are known as creative and energetic players in the red-hot $100 billion corporate intelligence industry. "If you come to Bob and Ann with a job and they tell you they can do it, they will do it," says former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who knows them well. "And they'll do it with discretion, judgment and the highest integrity."
Dominated by entrepreneurial former agents of the DEA, CIA, FBI, Britain's MI5 and Israel's Mossad, corporate security firms charge $10,000 or more to test a company's anti-terrorism defenses or check out potential hires or business partners.
Demand for the industry's cloak-and-dagger services has been growing at a double-digit clip since Sept. 11 and the corporate scandal wave, leading to rapid consolidation. But while industry leaders such as Kroll and big accounting firms are bulking up through acquisitions, Strang and Hayes have decided to go back to their roots. While continuing to rely on a global network of contract employees, they believe smaller is better.
"The bigger you get, the slower you move," Strang says. "You call us with a problem in Japan, China or South America, and in an hour we can have a surveillance team in place. We can have security there and begin the investigation."
That hands-on approach has won supporters. "They've helped us on numerous occasions," says John Stark, managing director of investment bank Corporate Financial Advisors. "I remember one case several years ago when Bob and Ann were able to find that one of the principals in a transaction we were about to do was an unindicted co-conspirator in a drug-trafficking ring in college."
Strang and Hayes keep in close contact with federal, state and local law officers. "Bob was a luminary when he was employed at DEA, and he has continued in that same vein post-retirement," says DEA chief Karen Tandy, who recently worked with Strang on an initiative to increase drug education.
The Strang-Hayes partnership was forged while they worked out of DEA headquarters in Manhattan in the 1980s. Hayes was about to infiltrate a violent Staten Island cocaine gang when an informant warned she was in danger. The DEA reassigned her to a management role, where she met Strang.
"The contacts we made at DEA in those years had a tremendous impact on our business today," Strang says. "... We developed these relationships and later saw opportunities open up in the private sector."