The Privatization of Intelligence: The Black Cube Case
Intelligence has been framed in many different ways over the years. In the popular imagination, such as we see with American films such as ‘Men in Black’, intelligence officers are often presented as men in suits who are always watching, listening and recording everything we say and hear. On a technical level, intelligence can be described as the process of gaining information through multiple channels to for strategic purposes, foresee security and terrorism issues, maneuver accordingly, and gain an upper-hand over the adversary. Within intelligence literature, debates are ongoing as to whether intelligence is an art or science (Marrin, 2012: 530-536). It consists of multiple levels, and is a very rigorous process.
In the last ten years, intelligence has become steadily more privatized as governments have increasingly contracted third parties to perform intelligence analysis and all-source fusion – gaining intelligence from multiple channels and bringing them together, analyzing them and forming an intelligence product accordingly. Furthermore, former intelligence analysts and spies have progressively come together to form their own firms and companies. These companies, similar to that of private investigators and military contractors like the American private military contractor Black Water gain work from clients for meddling and observing competition present to plan necessary strategy accordingly. Honey traps and string operations are generally used for this purpose.
Intelligence in its most basic terms is the collection, analysis and dissemination of products through different channels. Aimed at projecting future events, conducting strategy, producing strategy for operational and tactical use, and affecting political decision making both on domestic and international levels. It embodies multiple layers, tools and strategies, aimed at guiding decision makers.
Intelligence products aim to confer actual or potential advantages to decision makers. Intelligence in this respect can be broadly divided into three groups: 1) Strategic 2) Tactical and 3) Operational. Strategic intelligence is the broadest type of intelligence, aiming at the adversary’s ‘grand strategy’, ultimate goals, capabilities and modus operandi. The collection of strategic intelligence is slow and deliberate. It provides the basis for strategic policy decisions.
Operational intelligence is linked to theatre-level operations. It links the adversary’s strategy and tactics in order to determine their moves, capabilities and support plans. Tactical intelligence, on the other hand, is related to current operations. It involves immediate courses of action, tracking the adversary’s movements and order of battle (United States Army, 2013: 1-24).
Intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination consists of various stages and involves various procedures. The general intelligence cycle (this is subject to change according to organizational culture and structure) consists of eight different steps: 1) Planning 2) Direction and prioritization 3) Collection 4) Processing 5) Analysis 6) Production 7) Dissemination and 8) Review. This cycle is dynamic, and may go back and forth between steps for further review with additions made as new intelligence flows in.
The Privatization of Intelligence
The outsourcing and privatization of intelligence (and the intelligence cycle) has been debated frequently among national security professionals, academics and analysts. Privatization has expanded rapidly after the September 11 terrorist attacks reaching new levels. Intelligence work, both covert, overt and analysis activities are delegated to contractors who generally performs surveillance, interrogation, analysis or rendition. According to Shorrock (2007), the United States Defense Intelligence Agency spends 70 percent of its classified budget on private contractors performing the agency’s work.
Privatization of intelligence increased by 38 percent from the 1990s to 2005 and the value of private intelligence contracts have more than doubled, from $18 billion in 1995 to $42 billion in 2005 (Shorrock, 2007). According to Keefe (2007), ‘less than half of the staff at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington are actual government employees’ and ‘at the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, contractors sometimes outnumber employees by three to one’ (Keefe, 2017).
The engagement of the private sector and outsourcing of intelligence bring about various problems and issues.
A few reasons have been put forth by government officials regarding the utilization of private sector companies by governmental departments. Firstly, in the immediate post-Cold War period, the intelligence community was downsized while simultaneously facing new and increasingly diverse threats and challenges. As enough man power was not present, intelligence was outsourced to contractors to provide the means necessary to address these new challenges., Outsourced private contracts were cheaper for intelligence agencies, and also aided in dividing the responsibilities present. Thirdly, the process of recruitment was very lengthy and time consuming for governments.
As new threats emerged, governments needed quick fixes to cover their lack of qualified personnel. Private intelligence contractors provided this quick fix (Van Puyvelde, 2014: 5-8). According to Palmer (2013), the fact that the private intelligence sector is profit driven makes them more likely to be highly motivated to focus on security outcomes that will be achieved by utilizing intelligence products, and minimize the processes that impede the sharing of intelligence (p.5). Palmer also states that within the day to day operating environments of private intelligence companies:
"There are clear pressures for any intelligence product to be valuable to the respective company in terms of its reputations, its profits, protection from industrial/economic espionage, and the potential to expand its business into new areas. These corporate priorities create an ongoing business demand for targeted intelligence products that are integrated into strategic and operational decision making. (p. 5)"
Furthermore, the engagement of the private sector and outsourcing of intelligence bring about various problems and issues. Firstly, the private sector possesses a scope of conduct that would normally be unlawful with ‘express or implied immunity’ from legal processes to avoid government scrutiny. Private intelligence firms cannot be supervised and audited like governmental agencies, raising the issue of accountability and transparency. Secondly, problems also emerge when conducting analysis as intelligence analysis is utilized to form strategic decisions and policy. Such designation private firms inhibits oversight and accountability on both judiciary and parliamentary levels, and thus may influence executive decisions without a healthy ‘check’ system of analysis in place (Chesterman, 2008: 1057).
According to Krishnan (2011), the ‘main problems associated with intelligence outsourcing are secrecy, control, oversight and accountability, which can result in, or encourage politicization, corruption, waste and abuse of government powers’ (Krishnan, 2011: 177). The author continues bringing about five points whereby intelligence outsourcing is concerning. Firstly Intelligence outsourcing breeds corruption and gross inefficiency, Secondly, outsourcing brings about abuses of civil liberties and human rights. Thirdly, Intelligence products are weakened as private interest bring about biased reporting and thus affect national security. Fourthly, difficulties of control and oversight of intelligence activities is present as private contractors have less of an obligation to give information to congressional oversight bodies. Finally, a loss of core competencies and expertise will be present in the private sector (Krishnan, 2011: 179).
Case Study: Black Cube
Black Cube, long mentioned within American and Israeli media has most recently came into the spotlight with reports of American film director Harvey Weinstein using its services. Black Cube describe itself as ‘a select group of veterans from the elite Israeli intelligence units that specialize in tailored solutions to complex business and litigation challenges (Black Cube, 2018).
The company’s board officially consists of eight members, these being honoree member Meir Dagan (deceased in 2012), Yohanan Danino, Giora Eiland, Asher Tishler, Paul Reyniers, E.J, Golan Malka, Itiel Maayan, and Mati Leshem. All of whom have backgrounds in elite Israeli intelligence units. The company mentions itself as specializing in ‘creative intelligence’ whereby ‘tailor-made solutions based on high-quality intelligence, cutting-edge technology, unique expertise and out-of-the-box thinking’ are produced.
The New Yorker reported that Harvey Weinstein used private firm Black Cube to gather info on his sexual assault accusers
The Black Cube organization has reportedly, conducted illegal and illicit activity internationally. Some of these include the suppression and silencing of critics on behalf of clients, meddling with elections and conducting other forms of espionage activities. As most Black Cube board members from Israeli intelligence agencies, it can be inferred that Black Cube will be using both classical and modern intelligence gathering techniques as a result of the nature of Israeli intelligence.. It can be seen through media reports that the organization relies heavily on human intelligence, particularly building relationships to exploit and gain information from the other side to use against them.
The firm has become publicly known as a result of the Harvey Weinstein case. Weinstein, a well-known Hollywood film director is reported to have sexually assaulted numerous women. According to Farrow (2017), Weinstein hired two private Israeli firms, these being Kroll and Black Cube to silence these allegations.
Various activities of Black Cube can be found within media reports, these most prominently being: To shape foreign policy and trade according to their own needs, silencing critics of its clients and, meddling with elections. A lot of insight can be gained to the methodology of the Black Cube through its own website and media reports present as shown below.
Black Cube describes itself as being ‘unique’ based upon five principles: Cutting-edge analytical skills, harvesting in the cyber-world, languages and cultures, extensive database access and a pro-active approach. Content on Black Cube’s website demonstrates they are deeply connected to Israeli intelligence. The organization boasts of itself having ‘access to 240 financial, commercial, regulatory, technical and legal databases based upon the clients needs’. Furthermore, it mentions the organization possesses ‘30 native speakers of different languages’ and operates in ‘over 70 countries’ in Europe, the Middle East, the Former Soviet Union and Latin America.
The firm has become publicly known as a result of the Harvey Weinstein case. Weinstein, a well-known Hollywood film director is reported to have sexually assaulted numerous women. According to Farrow (2017), Weinstein hired two private Israeli firms, these being Kroll and Black Cube to silence these allegations. Black Cube, by applying the above intelligence cycle, undertook an operation in which human-intelligence was used for the collection of information against Rose McGowan, who had publically accused Weinstein of rape. Black Cube officials under false identities met with McGowan to extract information from her. One of the two private investigators, a blonde woman in her early thirties, contacted Mcgowan acting as a human-rights advocate stating she suffered from the same situation as Mcgowan and would like to meet with her. Four meetings between her and McGowan took place, with the meetings being secretly recorded. Furthermore, meetings between the so-called human rights advocate and journalists also took place in order elicit names of those who were talking to the press about Weinstein’s activities (Farrow, 2017). An investigation done by Pileggi (2017) shows that the so called-human rights advocate contacting McGowan and other journalists was Stella Penn Pechanac from the Black Cube organization (Pileggi, 2017). Rose McGowan also states she is still ‘being tracked by Weinstein’s people’, referring to possible surveillance being conducted by Black Cube (Menta, 2018).
Black Cube has been performing clandestine operations in order to meddle with elections and influence public policy. It has been reported that the organization has targeted opposition camps, collected information about political figures, infiltrated family circles, and used the information gained to perform white/grey propaganda influence public opinion. Two particular cases can be seen in this regard. The targeting of Obama’s political aides and meddling in the Hungarian elections.
According to reports, the Psy-Group supported the Donald Trump presidential campaign, conducting a social media operation for manipulation of voters. The Black Cube organization on the other hand sent in several of its employees to dig out damaging information regarding two Obama political aids, Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, who were negotiating the Iran deal (Gannon & Hirschauge, 2018).
There was an attempt by Black Cube operative Adriana Gavrilo to befriend Kahl’s wife Rebecca, having claimed to work for a London based equity firm. Gavrilo wanted to meet with Rebecca Kahl ‘to provide assistance to the Washington school attended by Rebecca’s daughter’ where she was part of the fundraising committee. Kahl liaised with the Washington primary school to familiarize with the situation as Gavrilo only wanted to meet with Rebecca Kahl alone. The school’s response indicate they were unaware of donors wanting to provide assistance described by Kahl. As the situation was deemed suspicious, communication was cut between the Kahl family and Gavrilo. Internal documents later obtained by NBC suggested Gavrilo was in fact a Black Cube operative, disguising herself to befriend Rebecca Kahl in order to “obtain evidence of nefarious behavior, such as financial or sexual impropriety, by the (Iran) deals architects, including Colin Kahl”(Engel, Petropoulos & Warner, 2018). Pileggi (2018) has stated Israel most likely knew of Black Cube’s efforts to discredit the Iran deal, and the exploitation of Obama’s aides (Pileggi, 2018). Ben Rhodes has also stated “he would be surprised that a private intelligence agency made up of former Mossad agents were somehow operating without the knowledge of the Israeli government” (Haaretz, 2018).
Black Cube’s operations do not end with influencing domestic and foreign policy alone. The organization has also been reported to meddle with elections, with the latest being in Hungary. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) close to the Hungarian opposition have stated individuals with Arab and European names contacted them for meetings, with one individual being Anne Bauer who posed as the director general of Taurus Capital, a cover used by Black Cube. Bauer and various other individuals met with the Hungarian NGO officials in hotels and high-end restaurants in Budapest, Vienna, London and New York. The aim of these meetings were to extract sensitive information from the NGO officials in order to slander the Hungarian opposition, and in turn meddle with the Hungarian elections.
Telephone conversations and meetings taking place between Black Cube operatives and NGO officials were recorded by Black Cube to use against businessman connected to the opposition and other NGOs. These recordings were then posted on the Hungarian government-controlled Daily Magyar Idok news website. One former Black Cube employee stated the firm was involved in a campaign to discredit the stated NGOs in Hungary’s April elections (Bayer, 2008). LinkedIn accounts and company websites were deleted shortly after the Black Cube operation took place (Ynet, 2018).
Black Cube and Psy-Group firms have also come into the spotlight for their purported meddling with business and trade. The Toronto based West Face Capital Inc. alleges that rival company Catalyst Capital Group Inc. hired both companies to sway a dispute over a 2014 bid for a telecommunications company. Ganon & Hirschauge (2018) state the contact between Catalyst Capital Group Inc. and the companies was formed by Yossi Tanuri, the director of the Jewish Federations of Canada. Tanuri on his biography states he too was also a ‘commander in an elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces’.
According to 2017 court documents, both private intelligence firms are accused of sending in spies and utilizing social media experts to defame West Face Capital with sting operations and online disinformation campaigns. Catalyst Capital Group Inc is being sued for $550 million with interest for hiring Black Cube to meddle with West Faces Capitals business and defame the company. The operation revolved around influencing Judge Frank Newbould who was looking after the case between West Face Capital and Catalyst Capital Group Inc. Black Cube had sent in an operative to exploit the judge and persuade him make anti-Semitic comments. As a result of Catalyst’s CEO, Newton Glassman being Jewish, Newbould was intended to being labelled as an anti-Semite to influence the case. Transcripts of the secret recordings between Newbould and the Black Cube operative were then handed over to Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, and the National Post (Ganon & Hirschauge, 2018).
Using aliases such as Samantha Beth, Alex Walker, Jordan Brown, West Face claims a campaign was initiated by Black Cube composing of defamatory press releases, online blog posts, tweets and videos against West Face and its executives. Stella Penn Pechanac from the Weinstein case has also been identified by West Face as one of the Black Cube operatives who approached them with fake identities.
The Black Cube case is one of many cases demonstrating the effects of ‘paying for spying’ and private intelligence companies. Media reports show private intelligence companies may take up the ‘dirty work’ of intelligence agencies to avoid responsibilities for clandestine operations to influence public policy and trade, and thus concentrate more on data collection and analysis for strategic intelligence purposes.
New legislation will need to be considered regarding the accountability and transparency of private intelligence to properly frame the roles of governmental intelligence agencies and private intelligence firms . This should involve both national intelligence agencies who are contracting out the intelligence work, and also the company who has gained the contract. If the outsourcing of intelligence increases, governments will be dealing with corruption as government officials may create their own private intelligence companies to gain governmental contracts.
Private intelligence companies and contractors aid in taking the burden for national intelligence agencies, but the lack of oversight of these agencies will most likely create greater issues for their host countries. Diplomatic crises may come about between the country utilizing private intelligence agencies and those whereby operations are being conducted for legal reasons. As the Edward Snowden case has demonstrated, private intelligence contractors can also lead to governmental secrets being leaked, and thus come into the hands of the adversary.
Activities performed by private intelligence companies such as collection, including electronic interceptions, rendition and interrogation as well as analysis have been put under scrutiny by government officials and scholars. These reasons include a lack of secrecy as a results of contracts given to contractors, private intelligence firms taking primary governmental function. Solutions suggested by intelligence scholars is to limit the amount and type of contracts given to private intelligence companies, and instead keep analysis and collection activities within governmental intelligence agencies(Chesterman, 2008: 1069).
New legislation will need to be considered regarding the accountability and transparency of private intelligence to properly frame the roles of governmental intelligence agencies and private intelligence firms . This should involve both national intelligence agencies who are contracting out the intelligence work, and also the company who has gained the contract. If the outsourcing of intelligence increases, governments will be dealing with corruption as government officials may create their own private intelligence companies to gain governmental contracts. All in all, if the man power of intelligence agencies is not met, a heightening trend of private intelligence contractors and agencies will most likely be seen in the near future. Influencing domestic and foreign policy, as well as the implementation of covert operations.
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