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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Jack Devine

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-08-03

As head of global operations for the Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Devine chased America's enemies from the craggy mountains of Afghanistan to the lush valleys of Zimbabwe.

"It's a rough, nasty world out there," Mr. Devine said.

His allusion wasn't only to geopolitics. After retiring from the CIA, Mr. Devine is still targeting the bad guys. His efforts now are on behalf of American, European and other companies that want to expand overseas.

With emerging markets increasingly opening up to outside investment, these companies see enormous potential in being players in the global bazaar.

For such companies, Mr. Devine and his partner Stanley Arkin in the organization that he heads, Manhattan-based Arkin Group, offer strategic intelligence, including hard-to-get information about potential foreign partners. It's not unheard of for him to locate fraudulently diverted funds from company coffers.

He obtains intelligence from a vast network of former agents of the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and local intelligence operatives in scores of countries. Many of these sources are longstanding friends.

His associates also include former members of the Delta Force, who are occasionally brought in to work with recalcitrant foreign sources that might not have American wellbeing on their minds.

So why is Mr. Devine doing this? Weren't 32 years in the CIA enough?

"The intelligence business really gets into your blood," he said. "In this business, all of us have a real problem: When you give it up? And when something interesting absorbs you, it's hard to give it up. When I walked out of CIA headquarters for the last time, it was very difficult for me to physically take that last step out of the premises."

Because the product of those premises is intelligence, Mr. Devine found a niche in the world of multinational business, where information is similarly regarded as a commodity. American companies typically invest more than $300 billion annually in overseas operations, increasingly in the 135 countries of the third world.

With that kind of money flowing into territories where the rule of law is often suspect, and good governance exists more in rhetoric than reality, many American and European CEOs are turning to specialists such as Mr. Devine for information.

Mr. Devine has a loftier view of intelligence than just data gathering.
"I am intrigued by the artistry of intelligence," he said. "It takes a special kind of thinking to be in that world."

That thinking involves not only assembling facts but also organizing them in a manner that accurately assesses a locality when a CEO might be thinking of investing.

"Every CEO is in a battle - with competitors, foreign governments, sometimes even his own government," he said. "So what I provide is a combination of unvarnished intelligence, and a clear legal and business strategy. We not only collect intelligence but facilitate the solving of problems."

One problem occurred recently in a South American country. A small American business was unable to extricate itself through a thicket of local controls that had practically paralyzed its operations. Violence was in the air as private militias were summoned by the company's local partner. Mr. Devine arranged for a team of former Delta Force soldiers to discreetly enter that country, and resolve the problem.

Another problem that comes up increasingly concerns Russia. American investors want to know to what extent organized crime has an impact on the business scene, especially in heavy industry. Still another country of interest to Americans is India, where many businesses have moved their back-office operations. CEOs want to know about the record and trustworthiness of local entities.

Answers to such questions are typically provided by Mr. Devine in 30-page reports. He and his colleagues then make personal presentations before CEOs. Projects can last anywhere from a few months to two years.

Does he miss the cloak-and-dagger business in which he flourished?

Mr. Devine smiled.

"I have a hunger for finding the truth and then telling it," he said. "I still get to do that."

Then a skein of emotion washed across his face.

"My beloved agency is suffering - and to the detriment of the common good. We have a great work force, and I hope bright young people won't be turned off by the bureaucratic reshuffling. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people willing to use it could change our democratic way of life forever. That possibility is out there. The CIA is needed more than ever."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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