A few years ago, I was hired to investigate a group called FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), which had been quietly working for almost three decades to rescue the nation's cows, chickens, and pigs from slaughter. The group's protests had become so expertly organized and so well-funded that my client—one of the bigger names in the fast-food business—feared it might now be bankrolled by a competitor. Clearly, this wasn't an isolated case of paranoia. In a scene worthy of The Pink Panther, a handful of undercover detectives descended on a hotel ballroom in Tysons Corner, Virginia, to infiltrate one of the group's meetings, all trying a little too hard to learn everyone else's name. An agent from a hamburger joint was busy spinning tales for a spy from a Mexican chain. After the meeting broke up, five phony activists rushed off in identical rented white Ford Focuses.

As far as I know, the crew spying on Madoff found no secret money stash. In fact, Madoff reportedly led them to only one website during his months of house arrest: WebMD. I like to think that my colleagues and I help justice prevail every now and then. But, truth be told, money—and money alone—is the driving force in this business. I can name dozens of companies that bristle at the expense of research and development when they can hire someone, as Procter & Gamble once did, to rifle through their rivals' trash. A while back, an industrious group of Native Americans in search of land for a new casino tried to reclaim ancient tribal ground a short drive from a major tourist destination. Instead of relying on the investigative arm of a state gambling authority to keep them at bay, a certain well-known casino owner hired a team of detectives to discredit them. He didn't care how the issue got resolved. He simply wanted to know his cash flow was protected. In the end, we proved that the Native Americans were being fronted by overseas investors who planned to run the casino themselves. It took a few years and close to $2 million, but, for a short while at least, the client went to sleep knowing his billions were safe from harm.