Inside, they hit pay dirt: The BearingPoint executives, perhaps distracted by the financial calamity facing their firm, had left behind notes and documents that the Deloitte operatives viewed as the key to unlocking the mystery of the value of the federal practice. "They left revenue projections, source intelligence," said a person who participated in the operation. "It was like the holy grail of the BearingPoint business."
The second person who participated in the operation said that the ground team also obtained breakdowns of the revenues generated by specific accounts.
The Deloitte collectors scooped up everything they could find, and headed out to a nearby Kinko's to fax it directly to the analysts in Virginia, who could begin teasing out the full implications.
People involved in the operation say the intelligence gathered in Orlando gave Deloitte a leg up in understanding just how valuable BearingPoint's federal business could be, despite the financial difficulty facing the overall firm.
A former partner who was not involved in the Orlando operation described the potential acquisition this way: "They had accounts that would have taken years for Deloitte to develop. Relationships at the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and other institutions. It was a huge opportunity."
It wasn't until March 2009 that Deloitte was able to take advantage of that opportunity. That month, Deloitte announced it would buy BearingPoint's North American public services unit for $350 million in cash as BearingPoint worked through a bankruptcy.
Jonathan Gandal, a spokesman for Deloitte, said the intelligence operation was not the deciding factor in the purchase of the BearingPoint unit. "Deloitte and other potential bidders received open access and comprehensive information from the court in the BearingPoint bankruptcy proceedings," Gandal told CNBC. "And that was the basis for our decision-making."
Despite the success of the operation in Orlando, people familiar with Deloitte's intelligence team say the unit was wound down over the following years, its employees leaving for other firms and other careers. Only a small number are still employed at Deloitte.
One person who participated in the operation said there was a reason why the odd mixture of accountants and CIA veterans worked for as long as it did inside Deloitte: excitement and money.
"Every accountant I met wished he was a CIA guy," the person said. "And every CIA guy I met wanted to make what an accountant makes."
At least for awhile, they both got what they wanted.