GTInterviews: Tamara Makarenko

Tamara Makarenko, GTI Advisor, discusses her background in HUMINT, due diligence and more. Read the interview to hear how she sees the industry changing and why.

Image of Tamara Makarenko

GTInterviews is a series of conversations with our community of industry experts - from our network partners and clients through to our own team. We discuss what brings people to the world of due diligence and investigations and how they see the industry changing in the coming years. In our first interview, we chatted with Tamara Makarenko, Advisor to GTI and industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in governance and investigations.

What is your background in due diligence & investigations?

My background is in human intelligence - specifically in developing human source networks. In my early career, these networks were used to shed light on the operations and personalities behind various illicit networks (predominantly drug trafficking, but also arms trafficking and other criminal enterprises linked to terrorism).

After working with government clients, I spent several years developing analytical and human source capabilities within the private military sector; and in 2006 I started West Sands Advisory Ltd, a business intelligence and investigations provider.

What are the biggest challenges facing investigators/due diligence professionals at the moment?

The traditional ‘intelligence’ tradecraft is not really practised in the private sector, primarily for reasons of cost efficiencies and because developing trusted source networks is time consuming and a significant commitment. As a result, many investigators don’t have the training or mentorships needed to truly excel in intelligence (defined as investigations plus context plus analysis), so they either excel at being good at open source research, or good at ‘reaching out’ to individuals for commentary.

What is often missing in this space is the knowledge of how to weave together socio-economic, cultural and political knowledge of a market with open source and public record data, as well as human source input (insights and commentary). Knowing how to verify, measure, contextualise, and eek out false positives or false negatives is an art form that needs to be re-invigorated. Rant over ;)

How big a role did technology play in your previous experience?

Technology didn’t play a big role at all when I got started in intelligence. I eventually began to rely on the use of email ‘drop boxes’, but my focus was always on human relationships.

Your career has led you to work all round the world. What were the most challenging countries to gather information in?

This depends on what type of information one is trying to gather, and what lead in time one has to identify viable routes to that information (or who may hold insight relevant to gaining that information). If you don’t have the right background information and contacts, then any market can pose a challenge whether that is Germany or Afghanistan. However, if you know the proclivities of the country in which you are operating, and how to identify and navigate relationships within that jurisdiction, then isolating information becomes an ‘easier’ task.

What attracted you to join GTI?

In my opinion GTI is an innovator within the wider business intelligence and investigations industry; it is bringing in-country access straight to people’s computers without the need for contracting through an intermediary. This is particularly helpful for gaining access to language capabilities and public records, and for isolating access to specific types of human source networks within a market. Of equal importance, it can work as a potential force multiplier. If used in the right way, GTI can significantly support and enhance in-house compliance, analysis, and investigations operations.

How do you see the industry changing in the next 5 years?

I suspect there will be a lot of consolidation, as over the past decade a lot of small outfits have emerged thereby increasing the competitiveness of the industry. Depending on the trajectory of geopolitical developments, the industry may recognise the importance of (geo) political contextualisation of investigations and analysis of investigation findings. Perhaps this will bring the industry closer to practising ‘intelligence’.

What role will technology play in this?

The key will be to streamline workflows; providing a point of access to pre-verified resources that would take too much time to independently identify and corroborate.

What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in this space?

Some people have a natural gift of analysis - just like somebody ‘born’ to play the violin or tennis! In fact, a dedicated intelligence practitioner inevitably views their work as a calling, not just a job or profession. For this type of individual, I would simply recommend ‘learning’! Learn languages, discover cultures, develop the patience to understand legal and regulatory technicalities, learn logic, and always find ways to question what you know and how you draw conclusions. Combined with a grounding in psychology, sociology, criminology, international security and relations, philosophy, and perhaps even anthropology, anything is possible!

Failing that - lots of good luck, perseverance, being in the right place at the right time, learning from failure, and constantly pushing out of the boundaries of your comfort zone.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have several things on the go at the moment -  I’m dipping in and out of “The Handbook of Corporate Governance” (Richard LeBlanc), ‘The History of the Bible’ (John Barton), and my fiction read at the moment is John Le Carre’s Silverview.

What is your favourite food and why?

It depends on my mood and who I’m eating with! A good steak with a healthy portion of vegetables is an all rounder, whereas a hearty bolognese provides a well needed food ‘hug’ at the end of a long day. With time on my hands, and some good company, an apricot and lamb tagine.

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