Intelligence and the Private Sector – Demystifying the Landscape

APRIL 2024

In 2020, during my second consecutive year of living and working in Afghanistan, I made the decision to join the private sector. My role in Afghanistan was contracted, though fully embedded within a UK Government Department. Having worked exclusively in the public sector prior to this, largely with the Military, this had been my first ‘taste’ of the role played by private companies in the security sector. Little did I know the sheer size and breadth of the industry I was set to join.  

This article sets to demystify what can be a confusing job landscape. Many reading this will be fully aware of the contents, having worked in the sector for several years. However, judging by the volume of calls I receive from both graduates and experienced professionals looking to leave the public sector, many may benefit from what will be a very basic introduction. 

Photo taken at Vancouver downtown,Canada.
Stock image of a young woman, wearing glasses, surrounded by computer monitors in a dark office. In front of her there is a see-through displaying showing a map of the world with some data.


This term is used to reference security departments within what many would colloquially call ‘normal’ organisations. These could be in any sector; finance, energy, technology and IT, education, retail, hospitality all the way through to NGOs and non-profits. These teams are often seen as cost centres – by definition, if a security department succeeds, generally nothing should happen! As such, even global teams within large organisations can be small. However, over time, the value of a more robust security department, supported by an intelligence capability has become more apparent. The events of 9/11 catalysed this in the US, however the concertinaing effect of increasing global shocks since 2001 has slowly but surely proliferated this realisation globally.  

Given many centralised security teams remain relatively small, it is of no surprise that full time employed intelligence personnel within any given organisation can number very few, often only one. As such, individuals employed in this role normally have some experience in security and intelligence (though this is certainly not always the case). Many individuals I’ve come across in these jobs have had experience in government, the military or law enforcement though the academic sector is playing an increasingly large role. Indeed, my first job after leaving Afghanistan was that of the solo Intelligence Manager within a multi-national pharmaceutical company. On the relatively rare occasion when in-house security teams have the resource to employ a small team of individuals, junior roles can be available to those with less experience or indeed, graduates. 

These small teams or individuals can have global responsibilities; evacuating staff from Sub-Saharan Africa following a coup, being aware of executive travel to a potential trouble spot, briefing the board on the likelihood of a China – Taiwan conflict, ensuring the passage of goods through a war zone – the list is potentially endless. Teams can also be responsible for multiple disciplines such as protective intelligence, threat monitoring, operational support to regional security managers, strategic forecasting, brand protection, corporate investigations and many more. As such, where organisations have an intelligence capability or requirements, they often seek the support of service providers, or ‘vendors’… 

Service providers 

Very few in-house intelligence and security functions, especially those who have a large footprint, could adequately cover the breadth of their responsibilities without investing in at least one vendor. Vendors such as Sibylline offer a large variety of services which cover many of the potential workflows faced by in-house teams. However, to drastically oversimplify, we will look at two main services currently provided in the sector, and the differences between them. Intelligence delivered to your doorstep – Subscriptions and tailored projects 

Often, in-house teams will opt to invest in a subscription service, provided by a vendor, which will provide services such as regular intelligence reporting, in-person briefings, online webinars, access to technology platforms, country risk profiles and potentially, tailored project work.  In-house teams may also opt to commission larger tailored projects that can cover the breadth of potential intelligence support responsibilities described in the previous section.  

At Sibylline, we have our own centralised team of analysts, known as the Global Intelligence Team, which work to provide this service. The team comprises of regional desks supplemented with cyber, data and quality control capabilities. Our portfolio includes support from tactical alerting to strategic forecasting and our analysts divide their often extremely busy working days between research and report writing, online client briefings, webinars, podcast appearances and in-person client meetings. 

Analysts in the Global Intelligence Team have several redeeming qualities and are ultra-high performing individuals. However, given the nature of work undertaken by the team, the lion’s share of reporting will be written by individuals with specific regional interests, often accompanied by requisite languages and lived experience. The obvious exceptions are specialist desks such as cyber, editorial, data analysis, defence, or region agnostic capabilities such as protective intelligence. 

Cheerful business team having morning briefing in office, sharing creative ideas, close up

Augmenting an in-house team with contractors – the ‘Embed’ model 

When bidding for extra resources, it is sometimes easier for in-house teams to hire contractors over full time employees. In this sector, they are often referred to as ‘embeds’. Many will approach a vendor to help fill these roles.  At Sibylline we have embedded personnel across the globe in pretty much every sector you can think of performing a huge variety of tasks. 

Embedded personnel often cover an extremely wide scope of security and intelligence responsibilities both individually and as a cadre. These can range from strategic intelligence support, protective and threat intelligence, physical security monitoring, security management, security operation centre responsibilities or support to specific business functions.  The role can also be global in nature and on many occasions, not confined to a specific geographic region. 

As such, generalist intelligence personnel can often find a home within the embedded cadre. This could include individuals from a government/military background or those with less regionally focussed intelligence and security degrees. In some cases, former regional experts ‘cross over’ to work in the embedded space, leveraging their advanced research skills to operate in a less regionally focussed environment.  In essence, the embed is augmenting the in-house intelligence team – or may actually be the team – and as such, many of the same qualities apply as was discussed in that section. However, most of all, the embedded individual must prioritise the specific operational need of the organisation in which they are embedded. The embed is in effect a [insert organisation here] expert first and foremost who is applying their skills as an analyst/security manager etc to further the client’s specific needs.  

Close-up image of an Asian woman studying information on a computer screen.
She’s in a small office with the screen lighting up her face.

If you’ve got this far, you clearly have an interest in learning more about the sector. Indeed, the above serves as a very basic overview and there are a plethora of functions and nuances that could extend the article ad infinitum.  We have not discussed training and consulting or corporate investigations (both of which we provide at Sibylline) and the host of other niche responsibilities undertaken by in-house teams and provided by vendors.  We have not discussed private sector support to governments, neither have we gone into outsourced ‘HUMINT’ services, which often augment some of the responsibilities cited elsewhere in the article. 

If you want further reading on the subject, I’d wholeheartedly recommend ‘Corporate Security Intelligence and Strategic Decision Making’ written by Sibylline CEO, Justin Crump. Even in an increasingly diverse and important sector, there is still very little written about the topic and this book serves as the go-to resource. 

In addition, please feel free to reach out directly, I know many of you have.  Key to working in this sector is understanding it and whilst we’ve scratched the surface here, I’d be delighted to talk in more depth. 

Finally, if you haven’t already, do follow our company on LinkedIn, where you will often have the opportunity to access free reporting and briefings from our analysts. This will give a flavour of what we do and how we do it. You can also access our media output on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube and Instagram. 

Enjoy the rest of the newsletter and do reach out to us with any comments or questions. 

Gareth W

Gareth Westwood, Associate Director, Head of Global Intelligence 

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