Israel Hired Black Cube, Allowing Spy Firm to Operate Out of Military Intel Base

Defense Ministry admits to hiring spy firm between 2012 and 2014 ■ Around the time, it offered other customers that it spy on former ministers and government officials

The entrance to the skyscraper housing Black Cube's London office, March 5, 2019.
Raphael Satter/AP

Corporate espionage company Black Cube was hired by Israel’s Defense Ministry in order to work on intelligence projects, the IDF spokesman and the Defense Ministry spokesman have acknowledged.

The company, which has been at the center of several international scandals, has in the past spied on Israel’s government on behalf of other private customers, according to various news reports.

The ministry worked with the company between 2012 and 2014, it acknowledged. During that period, Black Cube employees were placed full-time on an IDF intelligence base.

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Black Cube’s founder and CEO, Dan Zorella, is a veteran of a secret IDF special operations unit.

The Defense Ministry refused to say whether the Black Cube employees were engaged in actual espionage operations on behalf of Israel, or whether they aided the IDF’s intelligence in other ways.

This is not the first time that the state has hired private businesses to aid it in defense and intelligence tasks. According to foreign publications, businessmen including Yaakov Nimrodi, Arnon Milchan, and the brothers Sami and Yuli Ofer helped the Israeli government carry out intelligence missions in foreign nations, via their private businesses. Yet this is different from outsourcing intelligence work, as was done with Black Cube.

The Defense Ministry stated, “There was a short-term contract with Black Cube from 2012-2014. The relationship was conducted in keeping with obligatory regulations.” It refused to say how much Black Cube was paid, or whether it was hired through a tender.

Internationally, the company is best known for spying on behalf of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who now stands accused of serial sexual assaults and rapes. Weinstein hired Black Cube to collect information on his accusers, including actress Rose McGowan. According to an expose in the New Yorker, a Black Cube agent met four times with McGowan, while another agent met with a journalist in an attempt to ascertain which accusers were talking to the press.

Black Cube was founded in 2010 by Zorella and Avi Yanus, who met during studies at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv and London, advertises itself as employing former agents from the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence; making use of their work methods; and employing them on behalf of private customers. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan was at one point the company’s president.

When Black Cube started working for the IDF, it was still relatively unknown. It had a mere 10-20 employees, versus the more than 100 it has now. Its quick growth actually came in the wake of its multiple scandals, which gained it global news coverage. These included the arrest of employees, leaked internal documents, exposed agents, famous espionage targets and ethical questions regarding the company’s operations. Much of the media coverage was negative, but it boosted the company nonetheless, bringing in customers from around the world, according to sources familiar with the company’s operations.

Black Cube’s representatives have repeated over the years that it does not take on missions that involve governments and it does not represent political players, but rather focuses on civil disputes.

The Defense Ministry’s acknowledgment that it worked with Black Cube is not the first hint that this may not be true.

In 2014, TheMarker revealed that Black Cube had offered its services to the Argentine government. The mission had involved collecting information on the U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management, which took Argentina to court in New York to force it to pay up on bonds that the country had restructured.

Another expose on the TV show Uvda revealed that around 2015, the company had worked for the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, who had refused to hold elections on schedule. The expose said that the company was hired to investigate regime dissidents. Black Cube denied the allegations and sued Uvda in a British court, where proceedings are more complicated and more expensive than in Israel.

In 2016, two Black Cube investigators were arrested in Romania on suspicions of spying. They were allegedly targeting the head of the country’s anti-corruption authority. They were ultimately convicted of harassment and computer hacking.

Thus, it emerges that for Black Cube, the Israeli government was both a customer and a target of investigations. Around the time Black Cube was working with the Defense Ministry, it offered other customers that it spy on former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former Finance Ministry Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu, and deputy Attorney General Avi Licht, as Uvda revealed in June. The customer was ICL, controlled by Idan Ofer, which was at odds with the government over how much it should pay for its mining operations.

When the story broke, Black Cube denied being hired by Ofer, but Ofer acknowledged hiring the company. Sources close to Black Cube stated that it had drafted a proposal for him that was never carried out.

Uvda also revealed that the company had been hired by Bezeq Telecommunications to undermine the Communications Ministry’s landline reform, led by then-ministry director general Avi Berger.

Black Cube said in response that it "has never planned, followed, spied on, or even watched on TV any government officials in Israel. Any other assertion is fake news. Black Cube is suing Uvda in the U.K. for this".