In the tracking and supervision of his daughter, Britney Spears’ father found a company that would help tighten the reins on the celebrity – an Israeli firm, boasting alumni from the IDF elite, which closely monitored Spears, including recording her private conversations, reported a former senior employee.
The employee, Alex Vlasov, of Black Box Security (not to be confused with the private intelligence firm Black Cube), spoke to the New York Times for its new documentary, “Controlling Britney Spears,” which was released last week. He sent the newspaper screenshots of emails, text messages and surreptitiously recorded audio clips from the nine years in which he worked as an operations and security manager for the company to back up his claims.
Vlasov said that the nonstop surveillance of the singer helped a number of people involved in her conservatorship, and particularly her father. “It really reminded me of somebody that was in prison,” he told the Times. “And security was put in a position to be the prison guards, essentially.”
Vlasov said that Spears’ bedroom was bugged with a listening device, and that Black Box logged into Spears’ iCloud account via an iPad to access her text messages, FaceTime conversations phone calls, pictures, search history and more. Edan Yemini, founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Black Box, asked Vlasov to send the recorded content to Spears’s father, James P “Jamie” Spears, and to Robin Greenhill of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group, which used to be business manager for Britney’s estate. They sometimes used this information to control her, Vlasov said. The attorneys of Greenhill, who was the one who made the payments to Black Box, deny the claims and said that she was only involved to the degree that Britney requested.
Yemini did not respond to the Times’ request for comment. Instead, his lawyers stated that he and his company have always operated “professionally, ethically and legally” and that they are proud of their years-long work in protecting Ms. Spears.
It is still unclear whether the surveillance of the singer was known to – or approved by – her conservatorship. Spears was placed under the conservatorship of her father in 2008 after a tumultuous period in her mental health. This gave him far-reaching control over her life as well as her finances; she is estimated to be worth about $60 million. With the conservatorship in place, Jamie could book Britney’s concerts, as well as manage a 24-hour surveillance system around her.
Even so, recording conversations in private spaces and monitoring text messages can be illegal. Vlasov said that his superiors had often told him that such supervision was needed to protect Britney, and that she herself wanted to remain in the conservatorship.
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The revelation of Black Box’s role in Spears’ surveillance joins reports in recent years of dubious – if not illegal – actions by Israeli monitoring and intelligence firms. Among them is the Pegasus Project, which investigates the use of Israeli cyber firm NSO’s Pegasus spying software on journalists, as well as the investigations into Black Cube, which was reportedly hired by Harvey Weinstein to disparage his accusers in his sexual assault cases. The latter was also involved in an infamous 2016 spying case in Romania.
In addition to surveillance, the company says on its website that it also offers self-defense and shooting courses, as well as executive protection courses, cyber security and risk assessment. Its surveillance agents and teams, the site says, “have worked directly with US Governmental and Federal Agents to resolve high profile cases and disputes.” Its staff counts U.S. and Israeli military special forces veterans, as well as former Shin Bet personnel.
The Israeli-born Yemini boasts 20 years of experience in the field, and is described on the company’s website as an alum of the IDF’s Special Forces. The company’s website names another Israeli, Raz Friedman, as Black Box’s lead instructor. It says that he is a veteran of the Lotar counter-terror unit with experience in Krav Maga training and advanced shooting. His Facebook page shows him practicing the martial art on an American beach, alongside shared posts from right-wing Israeli politicians.
Trailing Britney Spears allowed Black Box to expand from a small company to a leading global name in securing celebrities. According to the Times, they are contracted by the Kardashian family, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Ray. According to reports, the company is no longer monitoring Spears.
Vlasov joined Black Box in 2012, as a 21-year-old recent graduate. He started out as Yemini’s assistant, and climbed the company ladder. Due to his close work with Yemini, he said, “I was the only person at Black Box that knew everything, really.”
The stated purpose for surveilling the singer, Vlasov said, was to protect her from negative influences. But Jamie also monitored Britney’s conversations with her mother and with her boyfriends, as well as her close friends and even her lawyer, according to screenshots seen by the Times. Vlasov’s claims were corroborated by other associates who wished to remain anonymous, but are very familiar with the surveillance. They added that the singer could not leave her home without being accompanied by security guards, who would immediately pass along information to her father, Yemini and Greenhill via a groupchat.
According to Vlasov, Yemini and another employee requested that he wipe the data from a USB drive for unspecified reasons – likely to erase any trace of evidence. Vlasov sensed that something wasn’t right, and saved a copy of the data from the drive. When he checked it, he found over 180 hours of surreptitious audio recordings from Spears’ bedroom. He also said that Britney was committed against her will to a psychiatric institution, from which she could not leave due to the security guards. He presented evidence to the Times to back up that claim.
He also told of the surveillance of Britney’s boyfriends by the company, and specifically of David Lucado in 2014, at the price of $100,000. Lucado confirmed that he knew he was being monitored, and even called the police twice about the issue. He became a target, Lucado said, because he warned the singer about her conservatorship.
The company also tracked the “Free Britney” movement, which is fighting to end the conservatorship arrangement, and funding for that monitoring came out of Britney’s own pocket, which was being controlled by her father.
The singer’s lawyer, Matthew Rosengart, released a statement quoted by the Times: “Any unauthorized intercepting or monitoring of Britney’s communications – especially attorney-client communications, which are a sacrosanct part of the legal system – would represent a shameful violation of her privacy rights and a striking example of the deprivation of her civil liberties.”
He added, “Placing a listening device in Britney’s bedroom would be particularly inexcusable and disgraceful, and corroborates so much of her compelling, poignant testimony,” Rosengart said. “These actions must be fully and aggressively investigated.”
James Spears’ lawyer said in response that his actions “were well within the parameters of the authority conferred upon him by the court,” and that Britney had known and consented to the measures, as did “her court-appointed attorney and/or the court.” He added, “Jamie’s record as conservator — and the court’s approval of his actions — speak for themselves.”
It wasn’t until Britney appeared in court in June, Vlasov said, that he felt he needed to speak out. Spears, who is fighting her conservatorship, called the arrangement abusive during the hearing, and lashed out against it, its managers and the judicial system. Vlasov left the company in April.