Friday, November 27, 2020

The spooky background of Boris Johnson's new chief of staff

The Guardian reports today:

Boris Johnson has appointed Dan Rosenfield, a relatively little-known former Treasury official and banker, to become his chief of staff, a key part of a reorganisation process following the departure of Dominic Cummings.

Rosenfield currently works for Hakluyt, an upmarket corporate advisory firm that has a number of former intelligence members among its staff.

I came across Hakluyt some years ago on sites like WikiSpooks, which tells us:

Hakluyt fills a niche in the spook sector by specializing in upmarket business, with which it has been very successful. In its brochure, Hakluyt promises to find information for its clients which they "will not receive by the usual government, media and commercial routes". The company tries to distinguish itself from other business intelligence consultants, spinmasters and clipping services. 

"We do not take anything off the shelf, nothing off the Net—we assume that any company worth its salt has done all of that," Hakluyt's Michael Maclay explained at a 1999 conference in the Netherlands. "We go with the judgement of people who know the countries, the √©lites, the industries, the local media, the local environmentalists, all the factors that will feed into big decisions being made."

WikiSpooks also says Hakkuyt was set up in 1995 by three "UK spooks" and by 2001 claimed a quarter of FTSE 100 companies as its clients.

That year it ran into controversy when the Sunday Times claimed that it had underhand tactics to gain information about Greenpeace and those dangerous radicals at Body Shop.

The most colour about Hakluyt I have found is in an article on the website of the wealth management firm Spears. It begins:

When Christopher James launched his business intelligence firm in 1994 - before anyone knew what business intelligence was - he named it after an international man of mystery.

Richard Hakluyt was an Elizabethan priest, diplomat, spy and travel writer who, while posted to Paris as secretary to the English ambassador, had kept Walsingham informed about French and Spanish activities there. 

That’s not a career so different from James’s own, which has taken in the SAS, MI6 and the FCO, the core of Britain’s secretive global influence.

It also tells us that "a friend from the Welsh Guards, Christopher Wilkins, chipped in with some money to rent an office" when the company began trading.

Why was I interested in Hakluyt?

I disappeared down this particular rabbit hole because Christopher Wilkins is the son of the once popular and now forgotten historical novelist Vaughan Wilkins, whom I have blogged about from time to time.

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise," as William Blake put it.

When I thought of writing this post I found I had quite forgotten how I knew Christopher Wilkins was Vaughan Wilkins' son. But I managed to prove it all over again via the University of Sheffield's catalogue of its holdings of the papers of an obscure Labour peer and a website about Suffolk artists.

Maybe someone in the intelligence field should offer me a job?

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