Not Your Father's Private Eye
by Tiffany Lance
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The image of the private eye is an indelible part of popular culture, often portrayed as a loner who operates outside the mainstream—and occasionally the law—willing to delve into the underbelly of society and uncover everyone's dirty business and secrets for a price.
While many of these old school private detectives still exist and continue to be romanticized (or reviled, depending on who you talk to), it's less well understood that many of these companies have morphed into slick, multi-national businesses with revenue into the hundreds of millions or more.
This is hardly a modern development. One of the earliest such detective agencies was the Pinkertons, founded in. Well known in its day and shrewd at self-promotion, the agency once fielded a force of agents greater in number than the standing army of the United States. At its height, the Pinkertons provided security for U.S. presidents and, like its modern-day forbears, had a lucrative contract with the U.S. government.
Since then, of course, numerous competitors have sprung up and, in recent years, as new challenges and opportunities like cyberhacking, international peacekeeping and industrial espionage have emerged worldwide, these companies have become more specialized and focused.
Nowadays, depending on their focus, these companies variously refer to themselves as private security experts; risk mitigation consultants; corporate investigators; and private military contractors. Some even still call themselves private investigation agencies. In most cases, these are just sophisticated euphemisms, intended to convey respectability to what are essentially private dicks, hackers, mercenaries, and corporate spies. But regardless of what they're called, they've become the go-to source for governments, companies and individuals who have the means—but not the expertise or the stomach—to get their hands dirty.
One of the leading agencies in this line of work is Justice International, known more simply as JI within the industry. Founded in 1954 by Major Medill Anderson, a former U.S. army intelligence officer who helped establish the OSS during World War II (which later evolved into the CIA), the company quickly gained a reputation for providing discreet and sophisticated security and private investigation services, primarily to large businesses in need of troubleshooting.
Many of the original founding agents at JI served under Anderson during World War II and the initial days of the Cold War. Anderson's contacts in both government and the private sector from his days as a high ranking military intelligence officer provided many of the contacts he needed to make the agency a success both in the public and private sectors. As the agency grew and diversified, it began providing more traditional forms of private investigations.
While its "International" moniker was initially more wishful thinking than reality, by the 1960s and '70s, the company truly became global, opening a variety of independently operated branch offices—and smaller field offices—around the world, often in the latest international hotspots. Since then, it has begun offering other boutique services, such as a licensed rent-a-cop JI Security firm and discreet security and intelligence services that border on straight espionage or military work.
For the purposes of this article, the agency provided Find Magazine unprecedented access to unclassified historical archives and accompanied one of its field agents (whose name has been changed for the purposes of this article) on a typical case.