PARIS — The story has the elements of a corporate thriller: a cast of characters that includes former French spies and military men, an American cycling champion, Greenpeace activists and a dogged judge whose investigation takes him from a sports doping laboratory outside Paris to a Moroccan jail and to some of the top corporations in France. Like installments in a serial novel, new revelations have been dripping out since March. And while the climax is still probably many months away, the story is providing a rare glimpse into the shadowy and potentially lucrative business of gathering what corporations refer to as “strategic intelligence.”
“For most companies, on a daily basis there are many more things going on than can possibly be handed off to the police,” said Christian Harbulot, director of the École de Guerre Économique, or School of Economic Warfare, in Paris. The companies they turn to for “extra help,” Mr. Harbulot said, include everything from corporate security giants like Kroll to what he terms “small operators,” ranging from ex-intelligence agents to computer hackers.