The New Abwehr Hypothesis of The Operation Trump: A Study In Political Psychology, Political Criminology, and Psychohistory, and as the aid for the General, Criminal and the Counterintelligence Investigations of Donald Trump - by Michael Novakhov, M.D. (Mike Nova): Web Research, Analysis, Hypotheses, and Opinions | Current News | Reviews of media reports | Selected reading lists | Site: http://trumpinvestigations.org/
Buyer beware: The Israeli company helping governments spy on their own citizens
By enabling governments to hack their citizens' phones, an Israeli cyber security firm has arguably made the world more dangerous for human rights activists fighting against corporate and state impunity
As smartphones have proliferated over the past few years and become indispensable communication tools for all of us, startups dedicated to hacking these phones on behalf of governments – including military, intelligence and police departments – have also multiplied.
Clients of these startups use the new technology to surveil criminals and terrorists in order to detect and disrupt their plans. That’s a legitimate use. But there are others that are much more lucrative for the companies – and much less palatable for open societies.
Take the example Emirati human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor. In August 2016, he received a phishing message appearing to originate from a legitimate source. But he was suspicious and immediately sent his phone to the University of Toronto’s Citizen’s Lab for forensic analysis.
According to that analysis, it appeared that the Emirati authoritieshad purchased Pegasus, the most powerful commercially available malware programmes ever created and sold by Israeli company NSO Group.
If Mansoor had opened the link, it would have taken over his phone and given police access not only to everything on his phone (e-mails, contacts and text messages, for example) but also to the camera, video and audio capabilities. Police would have heard and seen everything he did and be able to anticipate his every action.
In a related 2016 case, UAE authorities also employed Pegasus in a phishing attempt targeting MEE journalist Rory Donaghy, who reported critically about the abuses of the country’s autocratic regime. In the midst of an investigation of this attack, Citizen Lab discovered that 1,100 activists and journalists in the kingdom had been similarly targeted and that the government paid NSO Group $600,000 in these attempts.
While a commercial product, Pegasus – like several other similar spyware products now on the market – is clearly also a political tool enabling autocratic regimes to spy on their own citizens.
In fact, I’d go even further and say that Pegasus is often used as an offensive cyber-weapon used by the world’s elite to protect their interests and hinder the legitimate oversight of NGOs and other activist communities.
“The government buys [the technology] and can use it however they want,” Bill Marczak, a researcher with Citizen Lab, which has analysed several surveillance campaigns that it says were conducted with Pegasus, told HuffPost.
“They’re basically digital arms merchants.”
In recent weeks, the private equity group that owns NSO Group, which is now valued at $1bn, has been shopping the company around, raising major questions among digital rights activists about whether a new investor will curb the alleged use of the company’s spyware by governments against political dissidents and activists.
This is mainly a result of the Israeli Army’s SIGINT Unit 8200, the largest unit in the Israeli army, which monitors, intercepts and spies on Israel’s enemies in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Its officers receive the most sophisticated training in signals intelligence and use, and create the most advanced technology to do so. When they leave active duty, they find the tech world open to them. They can land lucrative jobs with major companies or use the expertise they acquire in the army to found their own startups.
Some of the most successful include Waze, Wix, Taboola, NICE Systems, Amdocs, Onavo (purchased by Facebook for $150m), Checkpoint, Mirabilis and Verint.
The phones of Mexican political, human rights and anti-corruption activists who were investigating possible crimes committed by the government and its agents were infected with Pegasus
Many of the projects involve cyber security, since that is what Unit 8200 is set up to defeat in its efforts to intercept the communications of Israeli enemy forces. Some ventures focus on protecting cyber security. Those are the good guys, or white hats in hacker terminology.
But others continue along the lines that Unit 8200 hackers pursued during service: they are designed to defeat the security features of various systems.
Perhaps the most successful of these companies is Herziliya-based NSO Group, whose corporate motto is “make the world a safer place”. But the company has arguably made the world much more dangerous for a wide range of human rights and political activists fighting against corporate and government impunity.
NSO was founded in 2010 by two IDF veterans, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, who themselves were not Unit 8200 veterans (despite reports suggesting otherwise). According to the Israeli publication Globes, Lavie served in the artillery corps and Hulio in the search and rescue service.
In high school, neither Hulio nor Lavie were especially good students and, according to the Globes report, they spent lots of time together on the beach. After leaving the IDF, they decided to become internet entrepreneurs.
NSO is their third, and by far most successful venture. Its genesis came about through sheer happenstance, according to the founders. They had been asked by various clients whether there was a way to take control of a cell phone without having physical access to the actual handset.
Though they felt certain there was, they could find no tech engineer who had any idea how to do it, until one day while sitting in a cafe, the two overheard Unit 8200 veterans talking about just such a possibility. So in 2010, just as smartphones were being transformed from single-use objects into powerful, multi-use, indispensable daily devices, they founded NSO.
They began to cultivate clients in the ranks of police forces in various countries, offering the ability to spy on criminal suspects in ways no one had ever contemplated. They established a US sales subsidiary, WestBridge Technologies, to improve business penetration in one of its largest potential markets.
Through the Francisco Partners, the venture capital company which bought NSO in 2015, NSO came under the umbrella of a company which owned a number of other telecom companies which offered critical inside information to advance its hacking capabilities. For example, Intelligence Online reports that Boaz Goldman is the board chair of Inno Networks, which installs mobile communications networks (3G and 4G). He had just joined the board of a Luxembourg-based holding company which includes NSO Group in a complicated financial relationship. This business arrangement gives the cyberarms firm direct access to the very networks (SS7-Signal System 7) used to transmit text, email, phone calls, geolocation data and encryption keys.
NSO also began to cultivate sources who gave them access to cell phone prototype models before they came on the market, which permitted them to do forensic analyses so that NSO engineers could search for zero-day vulnerabilities which could grant them full-access to the phones their clients sought to target.
You would think that mobile phone makers would guard their products like Fort Knox and deny them from the praying eyes of hackers like NSO. But the company operates in a gray zone and manages to secure what it needs from various sources both inside and outside the manufacturing companies.
Before mobile phones, criminals communicated the way everyone else did: by landline, mail or in person. The technology to intercept or monitor such interactions was simple and primitive: for phones, it was a physical wiretap on a telephone line.
The wiretap would presumably have to have been approved by a judge and then implemented with the help of the phone company. There was an oversight process and it was generally respected, at least in democratic societies.
In the Mansoor case, the hack was directed at a citizen viewed by the state as a criminal. But he isn’t a criminal in any sense that a democratic society would recognise
Electronic communication changed all the rules, opening up new modes of spying on individuals. You could externally intercept the communications signals between callers. NSO took advantage of this, developing a programme that, once downloaded, would take over the user’s mobile phone.
So there was no longer a need to intercept calls because NSO’s client was in effect inside the phone itself. Police forces and governments could disrupt plots to commit crimes or terror attacks before they happened and preserve public order.
But there was a wrinkle in this otherwise beneficial technology: NSO Group only controlled those who bought the technology, but not its ultimate user. The original client could offer it to other individuals or agencies in its governments, or create a fictitious commercial identity to conceal its ultimate use of Pegasus.
NSO claims it follows all Israeli regulations governing the export of its products and only sells to Israeli allies and never to Israeli enemies. It also claims that it only sells to governments and never to individuals or unauthorised users. It claims Pegasus is only intended to fight criminals and terrorists, and never to be used for political purposes.
In the Mansoor case, the hack was directed at a citizen viewed by the state as a criminal. But he isn’t a criminal in any sense that a democratic society would recognise. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, robbing anyone or planting a bomb. In 2011, he was sentenced to three years on charges of insulting the state (he was later pardoned and released) – and that was apparently sufficient in an autocratic regime like the UAE to put him under suspicion.
NSO’s technology has also fallen into the wrong hands in Mexico. As the New York Times has reported, the phones of Mexican political, human rights and anti-corruption activists who were investigating possible crimes committed by the government and its agents were infected with Pegasus. The Times says the victims first noticed the intrusions in the summer of 2016.
One was a lawyer representing the parents of 43 college students murdered by Mexican police in a case which has never been prosecuted. Others were investigating corruption by high-level corporate executives in collusion with elected officials.
According to internal NSO emails dated from 2013 seen by the New York Times, the Mexican government paid NSO more than $15m for three projects. Mexican officials have denied that they were involved in the spying and have opened an investigation.
Such uses violate the provisions of the Israeli export license under which NSO sold its product. But there is little possibility Israeli officials will intercede in this case. They are interested in promoting Israeli exports, not stifling them. Nor do they see their role as serving as an ethics monitor regarding the behaviour of Israeli companies.
Middle East Eye contacted the Defence Export Control Agency of the Israeli Ministry of Defence for comment on its relationship with NSO. It had not responded by the time this article was published. We also posed questions to the press office of the Ministry of Defence, which also had not been answered by time of publication.
As an example, many Israeli arms exporters are suspected of engaging in bribery and other corrupt practices in order to gain weapons contracts with foreign militaries. Few of these companies have been investigated by Israeli authorities, though several have been barred from doing business in various countries.
Citizen Lab told Forbes that NSO had registered domains in Israel, Kenya, Mozambique, Yemen, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Morocco, Hungary, Nigeria and Bahrain, suggesting that Pegasus could have been used in these countries, although there was no clear evidence
According to internal NSO emails, contracts and proposals seen by the New York Times, NSO charged clients $650,000 to spy on 10 iPhone owners, plus a $500,000 setup fee.
It’s clear what a gold mine this business could be - and also why NSO could be tempted to relax ethical considerations to maximise its profit potential. Middle East Eye reached out to an NSO co-founder and the company’s publicist for comment. Neither responded.
Being the clever entrepreneurs that they are, Lavie and Hulio decided they should play both sides of the street. That’s how in 2013 they started Kaymera, another Herzilya-based tech startup designed to protect clients against unwanted cyber-intrusions.
In most other business ventures, such boundary crossing would raise red flags. There could be benefits to sharing knowledge: as soon as an NSO engineer learned of a company’s vulnerability, it could share that with Kaymera in order to patch it.
But the opposite could happen just as easily: Kaymera could notify NSO about a vulnerability it discovered in a client’s communications or computing systems. This knowledge could, in effect, be monetised on behalf of the two companies. Middle East Eye contacted Kaymera for comment and the company did not reply.
The problem is that in a national security state like Israel, ethical considerations like these take a back seat to both security and financial gain.
Unicorns and golden geese
NSO’s growing client base and the revenue it generated came to the attention of venture capital firms looking for lucrative investment opportunities. One of these was US-based private equity firm Francisco Partners.
In 2014, the firm bought a controlling interest in NSO for $120m. The best VCs invest for the long-term in a company offering, not just capital investment, but strategic and governance advice. But others invest for the short term. Francisco was one of these.
Interestingly, Francisco Partners and an NSO offshoot have a history of involvement with former Trump administration national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who resigned in February after speculation over his links to Russia.
A month before Michael Flynn joined OSY’s board, the NSO Group opened a new DC-area arm called WestBridge Technologies which, according to Huffington Post, is 'vying for federal government contracts for NSO Group’s products'
A month before Flynn joined OSY’s board, the NSO Group opened a new DC-area arm called WestBridge Technologies which, according to Huffington Post, is “vying for federal government contracts for NSO Group’s products. Hiring Flynn would provide NSO Group with a well-connected figure in Washington, to help get its foot in the door of the notoriously insular world of secret intelligence budgeting”.
Francisco Partners held NSO for only a year before it began shopping it with a $1bn valuation. In recent weeks, Blackstone Group, one of Wall Street’s biggest investment houses, reportedly agreed to purchase a 40 percent stake in NSO.
Blackstone’s $400m investment would have made NSO a “unicorn” (a startup achieving a $1bn valuation or more) and offered its founders – and Francisco Partners - a huge payday.
Given the increased penetration of the world market that the Blackstone investment would have given NSO, the reports alarmed internet freedom activists.
Access Now, a US-based NGO advocating a free and open internet, created an online petition and campaign seeking to educate the public about the NSO’s business model. Citizen Lab joined the project writing an open letter to Blackstone’s board of directors urging them to “carefully consider the human rights and ethical implications” of their potential investment.
Blackstone pulls out
This week, reports emerged that Blackstone had pulled out of discussions with NSO without finalising a deal. Responding to a request from comment from Middle East Eye on the day the end of talks was announced, a Blackstone representative declined to comment on the deal. Another venture capital firm, ClearSky Technologies, had been reported to have agreed to purchase a 10 percent stake in NSO. But it too confirmed to Middle East Eye it would not be investing in the company.
An NSO spokesperson declined to discuss the talks or why they fell apart with Reuters.
'This dead deal should show other private equity firms, including NSO’s current owners Francisco Partners, that there’s nothing to be gained - and a whole lot to lose - by investing in human rights abuse'
- Peter Michek, Access Now
But it seems likely that the controversy generated by Access Now and questions raised by journalists made the firm wary of the liability it would be taking on.
“Until Blackstone speaks up,” Peter Micek, Access Now general counsel said, “we won’t know whether they heard the voices of human rights defenders, journalists, and crime victims whose lives were upended by NSO Group’s tools.
“But this dead deal should show other private equity firms, including NSO’s current owners Francisco Partners, that there’s nothing to be gained - and a whole lot to lose - by investing in human rights abuse.”
All this highlights renewed questions about how NSO does business and the weaknesses of its ethical model. Why, for example, does Pegasus leave NSO’s sight and control once it licenses it to a client? Why can’t the company place explicit provisions into its contracts directing who and how it will be used?
It seems ludicrous that a company whose technology is designed to infiltrate and monitor the activities of targeted individuals would not be able to monitor the uses to which its products are put.
It is imperative that a future buyer be aware of, and respond to these concerns, in a constructive way.Also, the states which are already clients of NSO need to do a much better job of monitoring how the surveillance technology is used in their jurisdictions.
Countries which are considering becoming NSO clients must also create safeguards to ensure Pegasus is only used against the real bad guys, but not against civilians, public health advocates, lawyers, journalists or political activists.
- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, on 28 August, 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv (AFP)
Gutiérrez, a political-science major, was a leader of the Young Democrats ... Psy-Group was part of a new wave of private intelligence firms that recruited ... sites to mount a “negative campaign” targeting“the opposition candidate. ..... While active Israeli intelligence operatives aren't supposed to spy on the ...
Private Israeli companies, the investigation discovered, have sold espionage and ... someone else shared a hashtag identified with the opposition – and in an ... Some of them control the databases of internet providers and cellular ... database of LGBT rights activists who had been targeted for surveillance.
The billionaire's target is Rep. ... If you chart their respective political trajectories,” Ames continued, “you'll see that Tulsi ... same techniques and engages in the same destructive behaviors found in the most dysfunctional of ... Omidyar (upper right-hand corner) is seen with his personal security detail in 2012 ...
“They go after everyone who is opposition, everyone who is with them – Muslim ... head of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Money in Politics Project, and Jim ... given the Qatari government's funding of terrorist adversaries of Israel. ... the latest chapter in Doha's long history of alleged illegal online behavior.
Under Italian law, companies are responsible for the actions of their managers ... Garden waitress posted about their distressing behavior on Facebook. ... her criticism of pro-Israel groups and politicians, which some have deemed anti-semitic. ... “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target ...
Two private intelligence companies hack political enemies in Africa, Europe, ... and plan covert operations like targeted killings or arrests of security suspects. ... Veterans of these spy shops have transferred their knowledge into the ... to be exploited twice over—first by his sexually predatory behavior, and ...
Israel is a world leader in private cybertechnology, with at least 300 firms covering ... But while most of these firms aim to protect companies from ... Up to 175 people have been targeted by the NSO Group's spyware since 2016, ... The problem is that the internet, which came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, ...
The internet watchdog Citizen Lab says it has used an internet survey technique to identify suspected spyware infections linked to the private Israeli company NSO Group in ... indications of possible political themes within targeting materials in ... Israeli companies have been criticized in the past for selling ...
He alleges that the Israeli firm NSO Group's spyware was used to track ... they were targeted by authorities in Bahrain with spyware known as FinFisher, ... information out of communications and communications' behavior," ... Turkmen Internet users employ virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers.
And local Soviet spies, just like many other denizens of the Bay Area, ... of the Soviet spy boss meant that the FBI's target had reported the meeting to his ... Dianne Feinstein, and the source reported back to China about local politics. ..... it has gathered locally to cajole or incentivize private Israeli firms to ...
How the President, Israel, and the Gulf states plan to fight Iran—and leave the ... gave him the politicalcapacity to open the door to diplomatic relations with China. .... Israeli spy agencies had picked up on discussions about possible .... Obama had not been at all naïve about Iran's behavior, but he felt that ...
In September, an Israeli cybersecurity firm announced that it had uncovered three Iran-run fake Hebrew and Arabic news sites targeting Israelis, as well as a ... Karine Nahon, president of the Israel Internet Association and an .... spyware in offices of the opposition, digitally listened in on politicalfigures, ...
Advertising giant tells Israeli ad companies no tailored messaging will .... He called on parents to talk to their children about the consequences of such behavior. .... also show mass-arrests of minorities and opponents of the regime, the ... political debates using the targeted advertising tools of major online ...
The researchers who reported that Israeli software was used to spy on ... of the Citizen Lab internetwatchdog group to meetings at luxury hotels to quiz ... used by governments to target journalists in Mexico , opposition figures in .... Black Cube, an Israeli private investigation firm apologized after The New ...
Australia's spy agency said to warn embassy move may spark Palestinian violence ... as the capital of Israel and move his nation's embassy there, a sharp break with the ... Any political gain could come at the cost of strained ties with ... After Morrison's announcement, opposition lawmakers accused him of ...
Company used by Trump campaign to mine Facebook user data said ... from Israeli hackers who had accessed the private emails of two politicians who are now heads of state. ... opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari, The Guardian reported. .... Wylie told “Today” that while political ads are also targeted at ...
Jan 26, 2019 - NSO has long denied that its software was used to target Khashoggi, although it has ... Spy. Scott-Railton had spent the night before trying to secret a ... African politicians, and a detour through Scott-Railton's family background. ... Black Cube, an Israeli private investigation firmapologized after The New ...
Feb 11, 2019 - Khashoggi's friend sues Israel's NSO: Spyware that hacked my phone had major role in murder ... researchers who work at Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group .... a report on Saturday claiming that an Israeli private investigation firm, ..... Israeli politics, Jerusalem affairs, international relations, Iran, Iraq, ...
Feb 18, 2019 - Gutiérrez, a political-science major, was a leader of the Young Democrats ... Psy-Group was part of a new wave of private intelligence firms that recruited ... sites to mount a “negative campaign” targeting “the opposition candidate. ..... While active Israeli intelligence operatives aren't supposed to spy on the ...
Feb 13, 2019 - Israeli spy firm reportedly targeted researchers probing hacks of dissidents ... governments to spy on dissidents, lawyers, journalists, and other opponents. ... NSO, which is largely owned by American private equity firm Francisco ... Scott-Railton works at internet watchdog Citizen Lab, a group based at the ...
Aug 22, 2017 - By enabling governments to hack their citizens' phones, an Israeli cyber ... employed Pegasus in a phishing attempt targeting MEE journalist Rory ... In recent weeks, the private equity group that owns NSO Group, which is ... of the company's spyware by governments against politicaldissidents and activists.
During the summer of 2016, Santiago Aguirre divided his time between part-time university lecturing and working for an organization that helps locate missing people. Mexico was then in the news internationally...
Erik Prince, the billionaire head of mercenary firm Blackwater, admitted on Friday to attending a Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during the presidential campaign.
Prince, the Republican donor and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, publicly acknowledged taking part in the meeting for the first time even though he told Congress in 2017 that he had no 'official' or 'unofficial' role with the Trump campaign.
The meeting was significant since it represents the first time that a country other than Russia had been suspected of offering assistance to the Trump campaign in the months leading up to the 2016 election.
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Erik Prince, the CEO of private security contractor Blackwater, acknowledged in an interview which aired on Al Jazeera on Friday that he took part in a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with top Trump campaign officials and representatives of Saudi Arabia and UAE
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Prince did not disclose the meeting to Congress during his testimony in November 2017. The meeting included Donald Trump Jr (left) and George Nader (right). Nader is a Lebanese-American businessman who was acting as an emissary for Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Prince said he had no ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ role in the campaign except for putting up a ‘yard sign’ and writing ‘papers.’
But he was forced to admit in an interview with Al Jazeera that he did indeed attend a meeting at Trump Tower on August 3, 2016.
During the interview on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head program, Prince admitted: ‘We were there … to talk about Iran policy.’
The presenter, Mehdi Hasan, then noted that Prince’s statement contradicted what he told Congress during his testimony on November 30, 2017.
Prince responded that the discrepancy was likely to due to problem with Congress’ transcription.
Hasan then noted that Prince could be legally exposed to criminal charges from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has indicted a number of Trump associates for making false statements to investigators and to Congress.
Prince was asked why he didn’t disclose the meeting to Congress.
Initially, he said he ‘disclosed any meetings, the very, very few.’
When pressed further, Prince said: ‘I don’t believe I was asked that question.’
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been gathering evidence related to possible attempts by foreign countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, to assist the Trump campaign. Trump Tower, where the meeting took place, is seen in the stock image above
Prince then contradicted himself again, saying he did inform Congress of the meeting.
‘I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong,’ he said.
Lying to Congress leaves one vulnerable to charges of perjury, which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison if convicted.
Prince added that he believed ‘not all of the discussion that day was transcribed’ and that he ‘remembers’ talking about the meeting with ‘investigators.’
It included George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who was acting as an emissary to both the Saudis and the UAE.
Nader reportedly told Don Jr that the ruling royals in those countries were eager to see his father win the election, according to The New York Times.
Nader was reportedly interested in using private military contractors to destabilize Iran.
The meeting also included Stephen Miller, who was an advisor to the campaign and is now a top White House aide, and Joel Zamel, an Israeli social media expert.
Zamel’s company, Psy-Group, employs former Israeli intelligence operatives, whose specialty is to manipulate social media.
Nader reportedly paid Zamel upwards of $2million for his services after Trump won the election, according to the Times.
Cyprus-based Psy-Group reportedly worked on a proposal for a 'covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign' to help Trump, utilizing thousands of fake social media accounts, the Times report said.
Rick Gates, a Trump campaign official, reportedly contacted Psy-Group to seek the company’s help.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Donald Trump Jr, said last May: 'Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel.
'They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy.
'He was not interested and that was the end of it.'
An attorney for Zamel, Marc L. Mukasey, told the Times: 'Neither Joel Zamel, nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the U.S. election campaign.
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Project Rome was presented to the Trump campaign team
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In the above document created by Psy-Group, Trump was code-named 'Lion' and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was 'Forest'. One goal of the firm was to gather information about Clinton and her '10 closest associates'.
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Cyprus-based Psy-Group reportedly worked on a proposal for a 'covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign' to help Trump, utilizing thousands of fake social media accounts, The New York Times reported
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Michael Cohen says Trump okayed Tower meeting with Russians
'The D.O.J. clarified from Day 1 that Joel and his companies have never been a target of the investigation.
'My client provided full cooperation to the government to assist with their investigation.'
Nader's attorney, Kathryn Ruemmler, told the Times: 'Mr. Nader has fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so.'
Saudi Arabia denied that Nader was authorized to speak for the kingdom.
This is not the first time that Prince has reportedly been caught making inaccurate statements to authorities linked to Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Last April, a witness who was interviewed Mueller's investigators told a different account of a mysterious Seychelles meeting in January 2017 involving Prince than the one Prince testified about to a committee.
The meeting had already drawn attention from investigators because of the way it brought together Prince, representatives of the UAE, and a Russian oligarch just days before Donald Trump took office.
A top Democrat has said Prince may have been trying to establish a back channel to Russia, which he denies.
Among the claims Prince made when he testified under oath before the House Intelligence Committee is that he met coincidentally with the oligarch, Kirill Dmitriev, 'over a beer.'
That encounter followed his meeting with United Arab Emirates officials, who arranged the meeting with Prince, who said he was there for business reasons.
'So, as I recall, I met him, this same guy I talked about, Kirill Dmitriev. Met him down in the bar after dinner, and we talked for 30 minutes over a beer, and that was it,' he said.
But Nader, who has been interviewed by Mueller's team several times, said the Emiratis wanted to introduce a Russian close to the Kremlin to someone who was close to the incoming administration, according to ABC News.
Sources told the network Nader met with Prince at the Pierre hotel in New York in advance of the Seychelles get-together, which took place Jan. 11 in the Pacific nation.
He also sent biographical information to Prince about the meeting – which might suggest something other than a chance encounter.
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Prince (seen above before Congress in October 2007) is also drawing scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller over a mysterious January 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian oligarch. The meeting was held days before Trump took office
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FANCY MEETING YOU HERE: The meetings occurred in the Seychelles before Trump took office
That information 'noted that Dmitriev had been appointed by Putin to oversee the state-run sovereign wealth fund,' the report said, citing sources.
Nader also says he attended the meetings, although Prince didn't mention him when asked about other people who were there.
A Prince spokesman told ABC: 'Erik has said all there is to say to the committee and has nothing further to add.'
Prince also testified that his purpose wasn't to represent the Trump campaign in any way.
Nader was convicted of possession of child pornography, in a case that was unsealed just last month. He got arrested after getting caught with videos of minors engaged in explicit conduct. His lawyers have accused rivals of trying to discredit the Mueller probe.
He is a Lebanese-American businessman who has advised successive administrations and found himself negotiating arms deals, hostage situations, and Middle East allies and adversaries of the U.S.
He has appeared before a federal grand jury in addition to sitting for interviews with Mueller's team.
Prince told Fox News: 'I never ever have represented as anyone from the Trump transition, and the only reason I went to the Seychelles' was to see UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
'No one from the Trump transition team knew I was going,' he said.
The list includes his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, his son-in-law ... founder of private security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince—who is also the brother ... While critical of Israeli state policy toward Palestinians, Omar has ...
The controversial security contractor Blackwater is back in the headlines now that its founder – billionaire and former Navy SEAL Erik Prince – has made the case that the United States should replace its small footprint of 2,000 troops in Syria with mercenaries.
Prince’s pitch on Fox Business comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise pullout announcement in December left Washington’s allies – the Syrian Kurdish forces that fought ISIS – fearing for their security in the face of threats from Turkey.
Omars comments not from anti-Semitic attitude: Pelosi
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Blackwater, which was renamed, sold and began operating in 2011 as Virginia-based Academi, was mired in controversy after it was banned from Iraq after some of its people opened fire on civilians at a busy traffic circle.
Prince, however, is eyeing a major comeback by offering Trump a way to both safeguard U.S. allies in Syria while pulling out U.S. troops – a promise from his 2016 presidential campaign made all the more relevant by U.S. soldiers being killed by an ISIS bomb in Syria this week.
“If there is not some kind of robust capability to defend from a ground invasion from the very conventional power that the Iranians and the Syrians have, our allies there will be smashed,” Prince told Fox Business this week.
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Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, previously pushed for the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan, which is currently in its 18th year. In a May 2017 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Prince pitched for replacing troops in Afghanistan with private military contractors that would report to a special “viceroy” for the war who would report directly to the president.
Last month, Trump also vowed to draw down the 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“American history is filled with public and private partnerships, of places that the private sector can fill those gaps, where a very expensive military probably shouldn’t be,” Prince added on Fox.
Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained in Forbes in August the logic behind Prince’s original Afghanistan pitch: “Prince proposes a way for the U.S. to achieve its goals, by reducing the conflict’s visibility and allowing the long-term commitment that might be needed to strengthen the Afghan forces and wear down the Taliban.”
As Cancian put it, “This was the U.S. strategy in Colombia, long-term support for the local forces conducted almost entirely through contractors.”
Putin’s private army
During his annual news conference last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Russian private military contractors from the company the Wagner Group had the right to work and pursue their interests anywhere in the world as long as they did not break Russian law.
The Kremlin had long denied suggestions that Russian contractors were operating clandestinely in Syria – going to great lengths to conceal their activity and hiding official death tolls coming out of the war-torn country.
Officially, private military companies are illegal in Russia. However, Putin himself voiced support for them before; in April 2012, he suggested the need for “an instrument in the pursuit of national interests without the direct participation of the state.” As he put it, “I believe that it should be considered, thought over.”
The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner Group have fought in Syria since 2015 – around the time Russia intervened on behalf of the Assad regime, a move that helped turn the war’s tide in Assad’s favor.
It’s worth remembering that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation heard evidence that Prince traveled to the remote Seychelles to try to establish a back channel between Trump and Russia. In June, Prince said he cooperated with Mueller’s probe, but claimed that communication with a Putin-linked official was just an “incidental”’ meeting – denying any attempt to backchannel between Trump and the Kremlin.
‘We are coming’
Blackwater USA published a full-page ad in the recent print issue of Recoil Magazine – a “firearms lifestyle magazine” – with three very clear words: “We are coming.”
According to The Military Times, which was denied further comment by Prince’s PR team, “The Recoil ad suggests Blackwater is making a resurgence on its own, but it was not clear in what form.”
Many observers also noted that the ad follows the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the planned replacement of Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both voiced opposition to privatizing the war in Afghanistan.
Around the same time, Blackwater was back in the headlines for other reasons as well. Last month in Washington, a 35-year-old former Blackwater security guard was found guilty of first-degree murder for shooting a civilian at a crowded traffic circle in Baghdad in 2007, an incident that drew worldwide condemnation.
Nicholas Slatten was convicted of killing Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, one of 14 civilians slain when Blackwater guards opened fire in Nisur Square on September 16, 2007, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement.
Iraq banned Blackwater from operating in the country in 2009 as a result of the incident, which also sparked debate over the role of private security contractors working for the U.S. government in war zones.
The original push for privatizing the U.S. military came from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Guardian noted in 2004 that “a 2002 memo from the secretary of the army, Thomas White, suggests that as much as a third of its budget is going on private contractors, while army numbers are falling – the rationale is to save money on permanent soldiers by using temporary ones.”
With the resurgence of Bush-era officials to the fore in the United States – from the award winning Dick Cheney bio-pic “Vice” to a reassessment of George W. Bush’s legacy – Prince and Blackwater are joining in.
As Noah Kirsch wrote in April in Forbes, referring to Prince’s imminent return, the Blackwater founder “had already laid out his grand strategy and provided a window into his temperament, one that mixes a belief in destiny, rooted in religion.”
As Kirsch quoted Prince, “‘My favorite miracle in the Bible is when Christ is on the Sea of Galilee and there’s an enormous storm,’ Prince says, ‘and they’re in the boat and they’re at risk of being drowned.’ He pauses. ‘He says, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the sea calms. Fantastic.’”
U.S. businessman Erik Prince – who has just been accused of trying to set up a back-channel for communications between the Trump administration and Russia – has deep Israeli connections as well, including business dealings with Ari Harow, the disgraced former bureau chief to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The founder of the military contracting firm Blackwater is worth a reported $2.4 billion and is at the center of a ruckus over U.S. President Donald Trump’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Haaretz has learned that Prince used to do business in Israel with Harow, the former chief of staff to Netanyahu. Harow turned state’s evidence in August after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust, and is collaborating with the police on two investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs.
Prince also has long-standing ties with the Israeli financier Dorian Barak, formerly Harow’s business partner.
A former Navy Seal, Prince is reportedly close to Trump – so much so that, according to U.S. media reports, he was present at the Trump election party in New York’s Trump Tower in November 2016. He also advises Trump and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on topics related to American foreign policy – from refugees to U.S. policy on Afghanistan. Prince reportedly has opinions on everything and isn’t shy about sharing them. His sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
His involvement in foreign policy raises eyebrows because of his involvement in Blackwater (now known as Academi), the multinational security firm that operates around the world. Though he sold the company in 2010, Prince has made a fortune from wars – from Iraq to Afghanistan. He has also attracted bad press: In September 2007, Blackwater employees escorting a convoy killed 17 Iraqis. They claimed it was an ambush, but Iraq claimed the killings were unprovoked. The Iraqi government refused to renew Blackwater’s license in 2009.
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Five years ago, well before anybody predicted Trump’s election, Prince visited Israel and was hosted by Harow. At the time, Harow was a businessman with a private investment fund as well as being chief of Netanyahu’s bureau. Harow tried to interest Prince in investing in Indigo Strategic Capital, a venture capital fund that Harow was co-managing with Dorian Barak.
How much Prince invested in Indigo remains unknown, but it is known that through Indigo he invested in the Israeli companies NowForce (security) and Agent Vi (real-time video analytics).
Beyond Israel, Barak also tried to interest Prince in investing in an African rail project – with the Spanish infrastructure company Eurofinsa – and in a joint investment with the Tehran-born, British-Jewish billionaire Vincent Tchenguiz. Prince and Barak were also involved in a mining company called Alufer.
In late 2013, Harow signed a conflict of interest agreement, undertaking to sever ties with his private company 3H and vowing not to be involved in its management. It would be run by partners and his two brothers, he said, and Harow returned to serve as chief of staff for Netanyahu.
Harow is not known to have had ties with Prince over the last five years. But Indigo Strategic Holdings, a Cayman Islands-listed company that Barak set up to handle his joint activity with Harow, only closed in August.
Beyond Prince’s investments in Israel, the deeper significance of Harrow’s relationship with Prince may have been in introducing him to Barak. Previously, Barak worked as head of the mergers, acquisitions and business development division at Bank Hapoalim’s international division. He also prays at the same synagogue as Naftali Bennett, to whom he donated 1,800 shekels ($510) when the latter was successfully running for the leadership of Habayit Hayehudi in 2012.
Barak became an adviser to Prince on investments and finance, and served on the boards of Agent Vi, Indigo and other companies worldwide in which Prince had stakes – from Austria to Gibraltar. They include the British hydrocarbons and mineral exploration company Bridgeporth; another U.K. company called Airborne Technologies, which makes aviation systems (some refer to it as Prince’s private air force); and Alufer.
Barak and Prince are also involved in a holding company called Frontier Capital.
Barak also has ties in China, and launched an innovation center in Israel with KuangChi Science last year. The fund is supposed to invest $250 million, half in Israel. Its portfolio shows that it invested in companies in which Barak had previously invested money himself, partly through Prince.
With various people now touting Prince for a Senate run (including Steve Bannon), his Israeli ties could prove significant.
Harow’s representative said that in connection with a private company he had founded, he had been in touch with various business and philanthropic entities in Israel and elsewhere. During that time, he had not held any public office, and the ties described in this article ended in 2012, years before the U.S. presidential election, the statement said. “Any attempt to connect Harow with Prince and his activity in recent years is a cynical distortion of reality,” it added.
The Israeli security firm Black Cube has become infamous for its alleged “dirty ops” campaigns, which involve getting “dirt” on their clients’ adversaries.
Past campaigns have reportedly involved tracking Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, secretly recordingopponents of Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban, and spying on former Obama administration officials who negotiated the Iran deal.
However, the company makes no reference to any of this in pitch documents for prospective clients seen by Quartz.
In a pitch email, advisory board member Kirill Parinov says the company uses “proven ‘battle hard’ methods” and “utilizes” its board, which, he notes, has included former Mossad spy chief Efraim Halevy as a member and his late Mossad predecessor Meir Dagan as president. The only two news stories cited in a three-page attachment to the email are from 2013 and 2015—before Black Cube was implicated in a spate of controversial dealings.
The company’s operatives—who include former Mossad agents—allegedly use false identities to get close to their targets and create fake companies to provide cover as they seek out evidence of financial or sexual impropriety and other embarrassing information. Black Cube and its clients can then decide how best to use the information, some of which ends up in the press. In the case of Weinstein, Black Cube reportedly also surveilled journalists, in an apparent attempt to stop them from publishing stories about his alleged sexual misconduct.
There is no mention of such methods in Parinov’s email or the pitch document. Instead, the document makes vague references to services including “identifying your opponents’ vulnerabilities, interests, priorities and strategy,” and having a “proactive approach” involving “several unique methods, especially in the social engineering field.” One subhead, ominously titled “Identifying Misconduct & Developing Leverage,” discusses finding evidence of criminality and using it “to maximum effect” through courts or authorities.
Black Cube declined to comment to Quartz for this story, via a letter from its lawyer.
Black Cube’s clients
Parinov says white-shoe US law firm Quinn Emanuel is one of “a number of elite law firms” with which Black Cube has “long-standing working relationships.” Parinov is a former managing partner of the Moscow office of Los Angeles-headquartered Quinn Emanuel, currently ranked as the 12th most prestigious US law firm by <a href="http://Vault.com" rel="nofollow">Vault.com</a>.
A spokesman for Quinn Emanuel declined to comment on whether the firm had ever hired Black Cube, saying only, “Parinov left Quinn Emanuel in October 2017, having been ‘managing partner’ of a one-lawyer office.”
The document also cites two case studies of work it has done for clients. One details how it helped a multibillion-dollar American firm resolve a dispute with an Italian partner by finding evidence the Italian company had bribed the chief arbitrator. The description of the case closely matches one involving US insurance firm AmTrust, which has acknowledged hiring Black Cube for that dispute.
The Wall Street Journal reported that AmTrust later hired intelligence operatives to spy on its critics in the US, apparently causing the firm great embarrassment. AmTrust denied hiring investigators to pursue its critics, but declined to tell the WSJ whether its lawyers or others hired by the firm had done so.
AmTrust didn’t reply to an emailed request for comment from Quartz.
The other case study details an asset-recovery case in Brazil, Central America, and the EU.
“Elite intelligence community veterans”
The document touts the firm’s employees as a “selected group of elite intelligence community veterans” who are “able to work in any environment,” and have a “unique mastery of cultures and languages.” Parinov’s email talks of their “proven ‘battle hard’ methods.” However, this group of intelligence veterans have also shown a propensity to be exposed in embarrassing ways.
When confronted by Associated Press journalists who had been tipped off about the meeting, Aharon Almog-Assoulin “bumped into chairs and circled the room while trying to flee,” the Times reported. Black Cube denied any involvement in the incident and, the Times said, “did not directly answer multiple questions on Mr. Almog-Assoulin’s role.”
“Legal and admissible” information
“Black Cube is the only company in the world to practice human intelligence gathering on a major scale, which means we believe that the real information exists within people, and we have the methodology and experience to extract it in legal and admissible ways,” Parinov claims.
Black Cube operatives have admitted to acting illegally in the past, however. When two of its agents were arrested for hacking and spying on Romania’s anti-corruption tsar, the firm initially denied any wrongdoing. Later the agents admitted to the hacking in a deal with authorities that saw them go free, according to The New Yorker.
In response to Quartz’s request for comment on this story, a lawyer representing Black Cube strenuously denied that the firm engages in illegal activity.
A British parliamentary committee alleged in a report last year that Cambridge Analytica “engaged” Black Cube to hack Nigeria’s now-president Muhammadu Buhari, based on testimony from whistleblower Christopher Wylie and another unnamed source. Wylie seemed to at least partially walk this back in later US Senate testimony, saying, “When I was there we did not have a contract with Black Cube.” Asked if he had since learned of Cambridge Analytica hiring Black Cube, he gave a slightly cryptic response: “I’ve become aware of relationships that the company had with former members of Israeli security services.”
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who had earlier been taped telling an undercover reporter that he hired Black Cube, recanted this in testimony to the UK Parliament, saying: “I was totally mistaken. We have never worked with Black Cube.” Black Cube has denied ever working for Cambridge Analytica or its parent company and affiliates, and says it has never had a Nigeria-related project.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Robert Mueller brought an enviable reputation as the architect of the modern FBI and a force behind major criminal prosecutions to his job as special counsel investigating Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election but has encountered a relentless campaign by President Donald Trump to discredit the probe.
Mueller, a longtime Republican, received bipartisan praise when he was named as special counsel in May 2017 to take over the Russia investigation after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, whose agency had led the probe.
Trump and allies in the Republican Party and conservative media have sought to disparage Mueller, a 74-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps officer, and paint the entire Russia investigation as illegitimate and politically motivated.
Mueller, known for a tough, no-nonsense managerial style, has remained silent throughout the investigation that threatens Trump's presidency, letting his team's court filings and indictments do the talking. Several Trump aides and advisers already have been convicted or pleaded guilty as a result of the investigation.
The big question is whether Mueller will present evidence of criminal conduct by the president himself. Such findings could prompt the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to begin the impeachment process laid out in the Constitution for removing a president from office for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Mueller was appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001 and, after unanimous Senate confirmation, started the job a week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants using hijacked airliners that killed about 3,000 people.
Democratic President Barack Obama extended Mueller's service. By the time Mueller left the position in 2013, his tenure was exceeded in length only by J. Edgar Hoover's 48-year stint.
Mueller was credited with transforming the premier U.S. law enforcement agency after Congress and an independent government commission found that the FBI and CIA had failed to share information before the Sept. 11 attacks that could have helped prevent them. Mueller revamped the FBI into an agency centered on protecting national security in addition to law enforcement, putting more resources into counterterrorism investigations and improving cooperation with other U.S. agencies.
He put his career on the line in 2004 when he and Comey, then the deputy attorney general, threatened to resign when White House officials sought to reauthorize a domestic eavesdropping program that the Justice Department had deemed unconstitutional.
The two rushed to a Washington hospital room and prevented top Bush aides from persuading an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft, recovering from gall bladder surgery, to reauthorize the surveillance program.
Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director in 2013.
In nominating Mueller in 2001, Bush said, "As a lawyer, prosecutor and government official, he has shown high ideals, a clear sense of purpose and a tested devotion to his country."
When Mueller stepped down as FBI chief, Obama called him "one of the most admired public servants of our time," adding, "I know very few people in public life who have shown more integrity more consistently under more pressure than Bob Mueller."
Trump has given a darker assessment, accusing Mueller of pursuing a "rigged witch hunt" while declining to sit for an interview with the special counsel's team.
The president in November 2018 wrote on Twitter: "Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue. The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. ... Heroes will come of this, and it won't be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats."
He also has faulted Mueller for not investigating Hillary Clinton, the defeated 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
Trump's attacks on Mueller appeal to his conservative political base as shown when he won cheers denigrating the special counsel during a March 2 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
After graduating from Princeton University, Mueller served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, leading a rifle platoon and receiving commendations including the Bronze Star.
He became a U.S. assistant attorney general in 1991 and was a key player on high-profile federal prosecutions such as the 1992 convictions of former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega and organized crime boss John Gotti and the investigation into the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Mueller's investigation has resulted in charges against 34 people and three Russian entities. Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on a series of charges and pleaded guilty to others. Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have entered guilty pleads. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges.
After months of negotiations about a presidential interview with the special counsel's team, Mueller let Trump give written responses to questions about whether his campaign conspired with what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as Russian hacking and propaganda aimed at causing division in the United States and boosting Trump's candidacy. Trump provided the written answers in November 2018.
During his career Mueller had stints in private law practice but preferred government work. In the 1990s, he left a major law firm to take a low-level job in the U.S. Attorney's office in the District of Columbia, specializing in homicide cases at a time when the capital city had a high murder rate.
"I've always loved investigations," Mueller told Washingtonian magazine in 2008.
Post LinkC-SPAN has launched a new web page, c-span.org/impeachment, devoted to Congress' impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.The goal is to provide one-stop shopping for all of C-SPAN's coverage of the inquiry, including the latest Hill tweets, various news conferences and hearings, and the Trump Administration's response.