JANUARY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 1
IRIS: Global bankers, diplomats, spies and a computer launch a private CIA
by Philip Brooks in Paris
The specter of the Iranian revolution continues to haunt international financial circles. Western bankers and industrialists who had considerable investments in Iran still wonder how a regime such as Pahlavi's, described as an island of stability, collapsed after only a few months' popular pressure.
The lesson that financiers seem to have drawn from the Iranian "disaster" is that Western intelligence services such as the CIA cannot be relied on to provide adequate warning of an imminent crises.
To prevent another such lapse of intelligence gathering, consortium of European banks has created a private international intelligence company called IRIS - International Reporting Information System - based in Crystal City, Virginia, just a few mile from CIA headquarters. IRIS is incorporated in the Netherlands.
Consortium members, who have reportedly invested $10 million, are the Bank of Bilbao (Spain), the Bank of Liechtenstein, the Swedish insurance company Scandia, the British investment bank Henry Ansbacher, and two privately held companies, Seascope Group Corporation and the Washington D.C.-based Government Research Corporation.
A spokesperson for IRIS at the firm's Cyrstal City headquarters said the company currently has about 30 employees at work and expects to have 33 full-time analysts in house within six months. The collection and analysis of data - by about 100 correspondents worldwide - will be managed under contract by GRC International, a subsidiary of Government Research Corporation which publishes the government and politics periodical National Journal.
One reason the firm maybe operating out of the U.S. is to take advantage of First Amendment protection on information gathering in the U.S., and the absence of laws regulating computer intelligence systems.
IRIS's information will be entered into a computer which the company claims is modelled on the one used by the CIA, and subscribers to the service will be able to receive virtually instant printouts of information which will vary as to length and range according to the fees paid by the subscriber. A spokesperson for IRIS estimates charges will be between $20,000 and $300,000 a year.
IRIS has also established an "international advisory council" to lend prestige and to provide an undefined degree of judgement on the information. Members of the council include former British prime minister Edward Heath as chairman, former president of the World Bank Robert McNamara representing North America, former Colombian finance minister Rodrigo Botero representing South America, and former French minister of commerce Jean-Francois Deniau representing Europe. Heath, who says his IRIS activities will take him "only a few days' work a year," will receive $100,000 annually for his services. Heath has yet to select directors for the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Director of Information for IRIS is Paul Boaker, onetime assistant to former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissenger and former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia. The operation will be managed by Washington publisher Anthony Stout, chairman of Government Research Corporation.