Le Group: The Business Model
Throughout the 1983 book “Vengeance” written by George Jonas, I was absolutely fascinated by one aspect of the mission undertaken by Avner, the young Mossad agent tasked to eliminate the Black September terrorists who murdered 12 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympic Games.
The key to Avner’s success in eliminating his targets was the mysterious private intelligence support group “Le Group” (LG). Without this group, most if not all of the hits undertaken by Avner’s group could not have happened.
As a project manager, I recognized that Le Group’s logistical and intelligence support made the project feasible. Without LG, Avner and his team would not have been able to complete their missions without lots of their own work and time to rent cars, obtain weapons, find safe houses—and most of all, find out where their targets were located. Avner was the spear, but every army needs an even longer train of logistics and intelligence officers to make the spear work. LG provided that entire important project component–for a very, very hefty price.
After seeing the 2005 Spielberg movie “Munich” and subsequently reading the book “Vengeance,” upon which the movie was based, I left the theatre and finished the book thinking about LG. I’m also a business writer, so I view organizations from a cost-efficiency model, as well as program and project details. And I devour for relaxing reading any intelligence primers, stories about successful and unsuccessful spy operations, and declassified operations guides I can find.
Without a doubt: what an absolutely fascinating business! I couldn’t help but think about LG, what it was doing in the real world, and how it was doing it. The only details about LG I could find in my research for this analysis were found in Jonas’ 1983 book. A Google search only turned up one query about LG, and no information about any of its activities since the 1970s, over 40 years ago. I did not consult traditional library periodical indexes for the years 1970 to 2000, so I do not know if someone wrote about LG for a magazine or book during that period. Online, it’s either Jonas or Avner made the group up to cover their real intelligence activities or LG has been damned successful in covering their online tracks. My speculation it is the latter reason.
History and background
When Avner was using LG in 1973, the business had been supplying services since the Second World War, then about 29 years. According to the book, the business started as an offshoot of intelligence requirements from the French Resistance in the 1944-45 time frame. Papa, the leader of the group, recognized the need for these kinds of specialized services would continue after the war, so over the next 30 years he built up quite the successful family business.
The LG physical headquarters was a “large, rambling country house” in the rural French countryside, somewhere south of Paris, France. Ostensibly it was the house of Papa, but it could have been rented for the meeting with Avner, with the real headquarters somewhere else.
For Avner’s missions, LG provided these services:
- Rental of automobiles in various cities
- Undertaker services in several cities
- Safe houses in several cities
- Safe transportation of the agents, including smuggling their operational material across borders
- Supplies of food, clothing, and weapons/explosives
- Supplier of documents, both real and false
- Organizer of surveillance teams. According to Avner, in Paris LG had a dozen or more trained operatives at its disposal.
The teams of people needed for a client’s mission were organized on an ad-hoc basis, many times working clandestinely in their own occupations. And almost every time, they did not know why they were doing it. For them, they probably received a phone call from a source they trusted, did the work, and were then paid in association with the amount of risk. Participate in a surveillance, 10,000 francs; smuggle a Beretta pistol into West Germany, 500,000 francs. All of it was off-the-books, and most of it was legal, so if they were caught, they could deny anything. Ambrose Evans-Prichard wrote about a similar service in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s in his book “The Secret Life of Bill Clinton“, where Arab men would for a envelope of cash do unusual activities for unnamed intelligence services.
LG provided information and services only to their clients, according to Avner. They did not engage in the actual crimes, for there was no need to–they were making serious money acting as support units for the ones whose hands were getting dirty.
Jonas called LG “a brilliant terrorist-support organization.” As I see it, it was more than a support organization for those doing mayhem. It was a private intelligence action service, open to anyone who could supply the serious money asked by LG. Not only Mossad, but others such as the PLO and the German Red Army Faction, and most likely cut-outs for the CIA, KGB, MI6, and every other government intelligence service, regardless of LG’s disdain for government agencies. This bias may have changed since the 1970s with the change of LG leadership discussed below.
Avner also speculated that most of LG’s political clients were anti-Gaullist conspirators such as the OAS, or other right-wing terrorist groups. This may have also included the right-wing Gladio groups organized at the same time under the NATO security umbrella.
According to Avner, LG had information on the whereabouts of every agent, terrorist, recruiter, organizer or spy involved with 1960s and 1970s anarchist-terrorist networks in the world. Because of their involvement, LG had information on a substantial portion of these groups–and recognized that all sides would pay handsomely for this information.
Think of LG’s services as the world’s greatest TV booker’s Rolodex. In “Vengeance,” Avner described LG’s intelligence personnel being at key crossroads of travelers to cities:
- People in hotels
- People in banks
- People in restaurants
- People in rental agencies, both car and real estate
All kept on at modest retainer fees for nothing more than information. For example, a phone call about a non-traditional traveler they spot or help in their job as a hotel manager, and if useful they get cash in the mail as a reward. If they send bad leads, the money dries up. Multiply this by x hotels in a city + y major European cities and you have a decent amount of discreet eyes looking out for you. And multiply that by z banks, restaurants, pubs, and other public businesses and it rivals what the NSA can do today with ELINT.
Questions about veracity
“It was little wonder, that using such a top-notch support organization, the various terrorist groups of Europe had been performing so well in the past three or four years [1969-73].” -Vengeance, p. 237
Do intelligence agencies know about this group? Not only do they know about it, they use their services–and when necessary, they protect the group’s members. Clandestine services need these kind of shadowy groups at times, and the better they are at information gathering and being discreet, the more useful they would be.
It would not make sense for French authorities to shut it down for their activities in France; LG provided a valuable check on the operation of these kinds of groups in France. Papa, above all, was a French patriot who would not hesitate to turn his clients in if they were operating against the interests of France. And what LG did outside the borders of France is not the French government’s business or concern.
Could LG actually do all of this? Without a doubt. It’s nothing more than client service, something done by specialized businesses in almost every legitimate industry. I can think of businesses like this in the restaurant and oil services sectors. Client service costs money, but LG was making a friggin’ fortune. Each hit Avner did cost about $350,000 in 1974 dollars, about $1.7M in 2014 dollars. LG was probably hauling in each year from all its clients the equivalent of $8M and $12M (in 2014 dollars). Who knows for sure? But that is a good amount of tax-free money to live comfortably on and pay operational expenses.
The LG name itself assures anonymity. LG is a phrase, not a noun. How can you label something that never had a formal name? And with anonymity comes the ability to evade any problems. With a name, you can track them. If you don’t have a name, you can’t track a person—or an organization.
Are they still around?
Jonas’ book came out in 1983, and I’m sure LG obtained a copy of it and learned that the world now knew they existed. Avner last spoke to a LG representative—Papa’s son, Louis–in January 1975. And once the buzz over the book died out in the mid-1980s, very few ordinary people gave LG much thought for the next 20 years until “Munich” was released in the theatres in 2005. And now they’ve faded back to obscurity over the last nine years, with only Google searches to remind the public of their existence. But for those who needed these kinds of services over the decades, they already knew about LG and how to find them to utilize them for their cause. That discretion suits LG quite fine; they are not looking for business via traditional public means.
Is LG still around in 2014? I can’t see why not. The money they were making in the 1970s was incredible, most likely in the millions of US dollars. They must have done very well in the 1980s with the Cold War continuing. Perhaps the 1990s were a lean time for them, but since 2001 I can see groups within Europe–or perhaps they have expanded operations to other areas, the Middle East, Asia–needing their unique services.
I would think LG has gone on the Internet in some way, using hackers to gain even more information sources. (No, they don’t have a Webpage, at least one in English.) The second or third generation has probably taken over the business by now, perhaps even changing Papa’s aversion to working with governments. And the money must now be astronomical.
Since the 1970s, LG has only added to their Rolodex more names of hotel managers, passport officers, rental car agencies, undertakers, reporters, and others who can provide them information. They have now more subcontractors who can provide weapons, coffins, cars, food, safe houses, locksmith services, burner phones, encrypted computers, and the sundry other services these kinds of special political operations require. Think about it: they now have 70 years worth of intelligence sources at their fingertips. Only governments have an institutional knowledge base as long as that in this area—and they are not as good as what LG has amassed.
If Le Group ever existed at all.
Anyway, it’s all a fascinating private information / services business to read and think about. And I would not be surprised if there were a few other businesses like LG operating in competition, supplying specialized information and services for those making the news each day.
For the record, I’m happy just being a writer and reading about these kinds of unique businesses.