Annals of the Covert World: the Secret Life of Shampoo

Veterans of the CIA’s Phoenix Program always seem to make soft landings with a golden parachute: a lifetime guarantee of gainful employment. CounterPunch reported on the ascent into the Congress of Robert Simmons, a Phoenix veteran and adept at torture. Then there’s the case of former senator Bob Kerrey, who commanded a Phoenix operation in the Mekong delta that featured throat-slitting and the assassination of elderly men and women and children. Now comes word that Phoenix veterans are also highly sought after by the upper echelons of the corporate world.

In early September, Procter and Gamble, the Cincinnati-based conglomerate, fessed up to hiring Phoenix operatives to infiltrate its chief rival Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch cosmetics giants. It was all about the secrets of shampoo, specifically the top-selling Salon Selectives and Finesse. It seems both of those Unilever brands had taken a big bite out of the market share once dominated by a shelf of P&G products, including Wash & Go, Head & Shoulders, Pantene and Vidal Sassoon. Also at stake was the planned sale of Clairol, which was on the auction block with both companies in an intense bidding struggle. One former P&G executive said that the companies were engaged in a decades-long dirty war, which had become “a death struggle to incrementally gain share”.

The operation was launched in June of 2000, when P&G contracted with the Phoenix Consulting Group of Huntsville, Alabama, a corporate espionage firm set up by Phoenix veteran John Nolan and fellow CIA officers. P&G also set up a secret wing inside its own security department. The operations were run out of a secret office known as The Ranch, and featured safe houses, off-shore bank accounts, dumpster diving and informants.

Nolan and his operatives were apparently able to secure more than 80 internal Unilever documents that detailed the company’s shampoo marketing strategy for the next two years. The documents were returned to the company after word of the operation leaked out to a reporter at Fortune magazine. P&G apologized for the operation, saying it had “violated our strict business guidelines regarding our business policies.” The company also fired two executives in the firm’s security sector.

But few take these actions as anything more than the defensive maneuvers of a company caught doing something shady and in full damage control mode. Indeed, P&G is well-known for its paranoia and obsessive concerns about corporate secrecy. Its security officers are known inside the company as “Proctoids”. In the past, P&G has shadowed employees on their business trips to see if they chatted to fellow travelers (and Unilever agents?) about company business, snooped in on company phone lines and tracked computer traffic. A few years ago P&G executives became enraged by a series of critical articles about the company by Wall Street Journal reporter Alecia Swasy and retaliated by hitting her with grand jury subpoenas and putting her under 24-hour surveillance.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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