April 7, 2018
Cambridge Analytica, the data firm which was hired by the Trump campaign, has drawn fire for its murky tactics in engaging voters during the U.S. presidential election and the Brexit referendum. including illegally harvesting information from 87 million Facebook profiles. But an even shadier story is brewing. In his testimony last month to the U.K. Parliament, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie threw an Israeli private intelligence firm known as Black Cube under the bus.
“Black Cube on the Nigeria project was engaged to hack the now-president Buhari to get access to his medical records and private emails,” said Wylie before a committee of British MPs.
In May, Black Cube resurfaced in the news, when it was revealed it was used to get information on two Americans who supported the Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump has since pulled out of.
According to the New York Times, Black Cube assembled a file on Ben Rhodes, a former national security adviser to President Obama that contained “pictures of his apartment in Washington, telephone numbers and email addresses of members of his family, as well as unsubstantiated allegations of personal and ethical transgressions.”
Additionally, Black Cube collected information on Colin Kahl, a national security adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden.
The Times reports the files were possibly requested by someone who opposed the deal, and the reports were aimed at collecting information that could casting doubts on the two men, who were both involved in the deal, and who have publicly supported it.
In Nigeria, the Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica was paid £2 million pounds by a Nigerian billionaire to organize an opposition campaign against Buhari on behalf of his opponent, Goodluck Jonathan. According to reports, Cambridge Analytica was given Buhari’s medical records and private emails by Israeli hackers. Still, it is unclear whether the hackers are associated with Black Cube.
Following Wylie’s damning testimony, Black Cube denied any ties to the embattled data firm as well as engaging in any work in Nigeria. The Israeli firm said it plans on investigating why Wylie made the claim and will then proceed to sue any entity involved in its defamation.
“Additionally, we will file a massive defamation claim against any entity whom we find has defamed Black Cube, including Christopher Wylie, SCL, and Cambridge Analytica, and pursue them for every penny,” said the statement from Black Cube.
What is Black Cube?
A look at Black Cube’s website currently reveals that Nigeria is not highlighted on a world map that indicates countries in which the firm has clients. But a simple glance at the Wayback Machine shows that Nigeria was once very clearly highlighted.
Here’s a screenshot of Black Cube’s current website:
And here’s a screenshot of Black Cube’s website from December 2016, during which Nigeria is very clearly shaded:
But what exactly is Black Cube? Black Cube was founded in 2010 by two former Israeli intelligence officers; Dan Zorella, who currently serves as CEO of the company and Dr. Avi Yanus, who currently serves as director and CFO. Its staff was estimated by Forbes to number 100. This includes prominent former members of Israeli intelligence, attorneys, academics, and psychologists. Meir Dagan, the former director of Mossad, served at the helm of Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016.
“Meir was not involved in Black Cube’s day-to-day operations, but when you say ‘The president of my company is Meir Dagan,’ there is no better entrance card to any club you choose,” a former Israeli intelligence officer told Forbes Israel.
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What does Black Cube do?
According to its website, Black Cube’s primary function is litigation and conflict support. In short, it helps companies involved in legal disputes find evidence to strengthen their cases in court. Black Cube’s clients are more often than not multi-billion dollar, multinational companies involved in tricky, foreign legal battles.
A former British army officer who worked in the Israeli private sector praised the quality of Black Cube’s work in an interview with the Independent in 2013: “Black Cube is at the high end of the market. From what we know they are into analysis and security systems rather than heavy, muscle stuff. They appear to have good connections within the IDF, [but] we don’t know the level of [any] work they carry out for the Israeli state,” said the officer.
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Who are Black Cube’s clients?
One of Black Cube’s clients was Vincent Tchenguiz, a British real estate tycoon whose businesses took a hit during the 2008 financial crisis. After the British Office of Serious Fraud (SFO) opened an investigation into the collapse of a bank Tchenguiz owned, he tapped Black Cube to help build his defense. Black Cube did such a good job that not only were the charges against Tchenguiz dropped, but SFO was ordered by the court to pay £3 million in damages and issue a formal apology to Tchenguiz.
Ironically enough, Black Cube and Tchenguiz are now involved in a legal battle together, with the real estate tycoon accusing the firm of defrauding him and Black Cube suing him for breach of contract.
Black Cube was also hired by Harvey Weinstein in order to investigate the women that accused the Hollywood film producer of sexual abuse. The Israeli firm compiled extensive psychological profiles of dozens of women, including sexual and personal histories in an effort to intimidate the victims from going public.
Asher Tishler, a member of Black Cube’s advisory board, apologized for taking on the Weinstein job in an interview on Israeli television.
“Of course we apologize to whoever was hurt by this,” said Tishler during a TV interview on Israel’s The News. “In retrospect, it’s a shame we took the job.”
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she’s currently a master’s candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.
There has been a lot of pushback against Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.
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Menwith Hill eavesdropping base undergoes massive expansion
March 1, 2012
Study says controversial North Yorkshire base is becoming increasingly important for US intelligence and military operations
America’s largest eavesdropping centre in Britain, Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, is being expanded in a multimillion-pound programme as it becomes increasingly vital to US intelligence and military operations, according to a study of the controversial base released on Thursday.
The base, which plays a key role in the global network of the National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ’s American partner, now includes 33 radomes – commonly called “golf balls” after the white sheeting protecting the satellite receiving and transmission stations – and is undergoing a big construction programme.
The study describes the programme, called Project Phoenix, as “one of the largest and most sophisticated high technology programmes carried out anywhere in the UK over the last 10 years”. Work on it has been reserved for US-based arms corporations including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, and their personnel with high-level security clearance, it notes.
BT and Vodafone among telecoms companies passing details to GCHQ
Fears of customer backlash over breach of privacy as firms give GCHQ unlimited access to their undersea cables
August 2, 2013
Some of the world’s leading telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, are secretly collaborating with Britain’s spy agency GCHQ, and are passing on details of their customers’ phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries, documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show.
BT, Vodafone Cable, and the American firm Verizon Business – together with four other smaller providers – have given GCHQ secret unlimited access to their network of undersea cables. The cables carry much of the world’s phone calls and internet traffic.
In June the Guardian revealed details of GCHQ’s ambitious data-hoovering programmes, Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. It emerged GCHQ was able to tap into fibre-optic cables and store huge volumes of data for up to 30 days. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for 20 months.
Exclusive: NSA pays £100m in secret funding for GCHQ
August 1, 2013
• Secret payments revealed in leaks by Edward Snowden
• GCHQ expected to ‘pull its weight’ for Americans
• Weaker regulation of British spies ‘a selling point’ for NSA
The NSA paid £15.5m towards redevelopments at GCHQ’s site in Bude, north Cornwall, which intercepts communications from the transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic. Photograph: Kieran Doherty/Reuters
The US government has paid at least £100m to the UK spy agency GCHQ over the last three years to secure access to and influence over Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.
The top secret payments are set out in documents which make clear that the Americans expect a return on the investment, and that GCHQ has to work hard to meet their demands. “GCHQ must pull its weight and be seen to pull its weight,” a GCHQ strategy briefing said.
The funding underlines the closeness of the relationship between GCHQ and its US equivalent, the National Security Agency. But it will raise fears about the hold Washington has over the UK’s biggest and most important intelligence agency, and whether Britain’s dependency on the NSA has become too great.
In one revealing document from 2010, GCHQ acknowledged that the US had “raised a number of issues with regards to meeting NSA’s minimum expectations”. It said GCHQ “still remains short of the full NSA ask”.
Ministers have denied that GCHQ does the NSA’s “dirty work”, but in the documents GCHQ describes Britain’s surveillance laws and regulatory regime as a “selling point” for the Americans.
The papers are the latest to emerge from the cache leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has railed at the reach of the US and UK intelligence agencies.
Snowden warned about the relationship between the NSA and GCHQ, saying the organisations have been jointly responsible for developing techniques that allow the mass harvesting and analysis of internet traffic. “It’s not just a US problem,” he said. “They are worse than the US.”
As well as the payments, the documents seen by the Guardian reveal:
• GCHQ is pouring money into efforts to gather personal information from mobile phones and apps, and has said it wants to be able to “exploit any phone, anywhere, any time”.
• Some GCHQ staff working on one sensitive programme expressed concern about “the morality and ethics of their operational work, particularly given the level of deception involved”.
• The amount of personal data available to GCHQ from internet and mobile traffic has increased by 7,000% in the past five years – but 60% of all Britain’s refined intelligence still appears to come from the NSA.
• GCHQ blames China and Russia for the vast majority of cyber-attacks against the UK and is now working with the NSA to provide the British and US militaries with a cyberwarfare capability.
The details of the NSA payments, and the influence the US has over Britain, are set out in GCHQ’s annual “investment portfolios”. The papers show that the NSA gave GCHQ £22.9m in 2009. The following year the NSA’s contribution increased to £39.9m, which included £4m to support GCHQ’s work for Nato forces in Afghanistan, and £17.2m for the agency’s Mastering the Internet project, which gathers and stores vast amounts of “raw” information ready for analysis.
The NSA also paid £15.5m towards redevelopments at GCHQ’s sister site in Bude, north Cornwall, which intercepts communications from the transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic. “Securing external NSA funding for Bude has protected (GCHQ’s core) budget,” the paper said.
In 2011/12 the NSA paid another £34.7m to GCHQ.
The papers show the NSA pays half the costs of one of the UK’s main eavesdropping capabilities in Cyprus. In turn, GCHQ has to take the American view into account when deciding what to prioritise.
A document setting out GCHQ’s spending plans for 2010/11 stated: “The portfolio will spend money supplied by the NSA and UK government departments against agreed requirements.”
Other documents say the agency must ensure there has been “an appropriate level of contribution … from the NSA perspective”.
The leaked papers reveal that the UK’s biggest fear is that “US perceptions of the … partnership diminish, leading to loss of access, and/or reduction in investment … to the UK”.
When GCHQ does supply the US with valuable intelligence, the agency boasts about it. In one review, GCHQ boasted that it had supplied “unique contributions” to the NSA during its investigation of the American citizen responsible for an attempted car bomb attack in Times Square, New York City, in 2010.
No other detail is provided – but it raises the possibility that GCHQ might have been spying on an American living in the US. The NSA is prohibited from doing this by US law.
Asked about the payments, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: “In a 60-year alliance it is entirely unsurprising that there are joint projects in which resources and expertise are pooled, but the benefits flow in both directions.”
A senior security source in Whitehall added: “The fact is there is a close intelligence relationship between the UK and US and a number of other countries including Australia and Canada. There’s no automaticity, not everything is shared. A sentient human being takes decisions.”
GCHQ seems desperate to please its American benefactor and the NSA does not hold back when it fails to get what it wants. On one project, GCHQ feared if it failed to deliver it would “diminish NSA’s confidence in GCHQ’s ability to meet minimum NSA requirements”. Another document warned: “The NSA ask is not static and retaining ‘equability’ will remain a challenge for the near future.”
In November 2011, a senior GCHQ manager working in Cyprus bemoaned the lack of staff devoted to one eavesdropping programme, saying: “This is not sustainable if numbers reduce further and reflects badly on our commitments to the NSA.”
The overriding necessity to keep on the right side of the US was revealed in a UK government paper that set out the views of GCHQ in the wake of the 2010 strategic defence and security review. The document was called: “GCHQ’s international alliances and partnerships: helping to maintain Britain’s standing and influence in the world.” It said: “Our key partnership is with the US. We need to keep this relationship healthy. The relationship remains strong but is not sentimental. GCHQ must pull its weight and be seen to pull its weight.”
Astonishingly, the document admitted that 60% of the UK’s high-value intelligence “is based on either NSA end-product or derived from NSA collection”. End product means official reports that are distillations of the best raw intelligence.
Another pitch to keep the US happy involves reminding Washington that the UK is less regulated than the US. The British agency described this as one of its key “selling points”. This was made explicit two years ago when GCHQ set out its priorities for the coming years.
“We both accept and accommodate NSA’s different way of working,” the document said. “We are less constrained by NSA’s concerns about compliance.”
GCHQ said that by 2013 it hoped to have “exploited to the full our unique selling points of geography, partnerships [and] the UK’s legal regime”.
However, there are indications from within GCHQ that senior staff are not at ease with the rate and pace of change. The head of one of its programmes warned the agency was now receiving so much new intelligence that its “mission management … is no longer fit for purpose”.
In June, the government announced that the “single intelligence account” fund that pays for GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 would be increased by 3.4% in 2015/16. This comes after three years in which the SIA has been cut from £1.92bn to £1.88bn. The agencies have also been told to make £220m savings on existing programmes.
The Snowden documents show GCHQ has become increasingly reliant on money from “external” sources. In 2006 it received the vast majority of its funding directly from Whitehall, with only £14m from “external” funding. In 2010 that rose to £118m and by 2011/12 it had reached £151m. Most of this comes from the Home Office.
Edward Snowden aka Ed Greenburg didn’t give us the full story
In order to skirt the law, the NSA is using the British to further spy on all Americans. Every electronic transmission, phone call, voice or text, every email, every financial transaction, everything you say on social media, everything you purchase – all of it, ends up in the NSA’s massive database and then is sent on to Israel through the Talpiot Program. Welcome to the New World Order.