Is there a term to describe a company that specializes in damaging the reputation of individual(s) or organization(s) on behalf of a client?

Some things that such companies may do include smear campaigns, defamation, discrediting, etc. However, what would be ideal is if there is some term that captures the nature of the company rather than just the nature of the activities in which the company engages. "Private investigator" is too vague and doesn't capture the specificity of the company's focus on reputation.

"PR agency" is the ideal term for a company that does the opposite, i.e. enhances or maintains the reputation of an individual(s) or organization(s).

  • Some terms to research: smear artist, smear campaign, private investigator. Please edit your question to describe the research you've already done and what you found. – MetaEd Nov 22 '17 at 19:51

In the US, the modus operandi for a candidate determined to win an election is to dig up dirt on one or more of their opponents. In order to help them achieve this end, candidates will resort to hiring private investigators or seeking assistance from their campaign managers, who will perform in-depth opposition research

Opposition research (also called oppo) is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent or other adversaries that can be used to discredit or otherwise weaken them. The information can include biographical, legal or criminal, medical, educational, or financial history or activities, as well as prior media coverage, or the voting record of a politician. Opposition research can also entail using "trackers" to follow an individual and record their activities or political speeches.


Until recently, I had never read of a company who explicitly advertised itself for this type of role, it would be rather counterproductive as the need for secrecy is of the utmost importance, and naturally, their employers would be anxious to avoid lawsuits at all costs.

However, with the recent sexual misconduct scandals that have afflicted the world of Hollywood and Washington, it appears there are secret organisations that offer their services to dig up dirt on individuals who are completely disconnected from the world of politics and espionage.

From The New Yorker, in an article written by Ronan Farrow, in November 6, 2017

Harvey Weinstein’s Army of Spies
…Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its literature.


Perhaps black ops would work?

Quoting The Guardian

Exxon’s funding of the climate misinformation campaign may even have extended further, as a former company executive told the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),

A former highly placed ExxonMobil executive who requested anonymity told UCS that the company paid out as much as $10 million annually on what insiders called “black ops” from 1998 through 2005, significantly more than what UCS was able to pin down in its 2007 report from company tax records.

From Wikipedia:

A black operation (or black ops) is a covert operation by a government, a government agency, or a military organization. This can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of a black operation are that it is secret and it is not attributable to the organization carrying it out. The main difference between a black operation and one that is merely secret is that a black operation involves a significant degree of deception, to conceal who is behind it or to make it appear that some other entity is responsible ("false flag" operations).


You could describe them as mudslingers:

one that makes malicious attacks especially against a political opponent
from m-w.com

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