Black Cube, the Israeli intelligence company linked to efforts to gather dirt on Harvey Weinstein’s victims and former officials of the Obama administration, has a reputation for poor tradecraft and a willingness to push the bounds of legality, according to executives of its competitors.
In an industry where firms typically shun the spotlight, and nondisclosure agreements are common, Black Cube has found its actions under uncommon public scrutiny in recent months — first, as the firm Weinstein’s lawyer hired to investigate victims and journalists probing allegations of sexual misconduct, and then, this week, as the firm that allegedly attempted to collect damaging information on former Obama officials who’d worked on the Iranian nuclear deal.
An earlier bust of its operatives in Romania in 2015 adds to a series of public screwups that are rare in so secretive an industry.
Black Cube’s reputation already was questionable, according to the executives. They note that Black Cube committed obvious errors in tradecraft by using the same fake company names in approaching the families of the former Obama officials that it had used in its investigation on behalf of Weinstein, the disgraced former Miramax executive.
The use of the same front companies in both operations left an easy breadcrumb trail for opposing lawyers, investigators, and journalists to follow.
“It’s a typical move for these guys,” said the CEO of one private security and investigation firm based in the Middle East and London that frequently comes across Black Cube and its subcontractors. Due to the nature of the industry and threat of litigation, none of the four industry executives interviewed for this story would allow their name to be attached to comments about Black Cube.
“They were lazy and sloppy in setting up fake companies they planned to use for wildly irresponsible approaches of targets, who if they didn’t already know any better than the approach seemed weird, certainly have access to Google to check,” the CEO said. “Let alone the wives and family of national security professionals.”
Another CEO of a business intelligence firm based in Dubai said that the link to Israel’s intelligence services helps Black Cube persuade clients that their operatives are more capable of aggressive action, particularly on litigation support, than other firms.
“I’ve employed people who have been part of their pitch to clients and frankly it’s unsettling,” the Dubai CEO said. “It’s all this bullshit that North American clients always fall for, like, ‘our guys are Israeli superspies and can’t be beat!’ But then they go out and conduct these wild and elaborate operations that usually don’t work and can really get you sued.”
The director of an Israeli private security firm agreed with that assessment.
“We recruit from the same talent pool as they do and would not be comfortable with the ethics or qualifications of many of their people,” he said in a brief statement to BuzzFeed News. “Everyone trades off the relationship to the security services here, and why not? Israel intelligence produces excellent specialists. But these guys don’t attract the best and some of their practices could certainly be described as questionable in terms of professionalism and effectiveness.”
In 2015, three Israeli citizens believed to be working for Black Cube were investigated for hacking and espionage in Romania. Two of those, Ron Weiner and David Geclowicz, pleaded guilty to the charge of “high espionage” and were each sentenced to nearly three years of supervised probation for hacking and harassing a top anti-corruption prosecutor on behalf of a corporate client. The third escaped and was not tried.
“These guys sure get caught fast,” said the Dubai CEO about the case.
This reputation, said a number of Black Cube’s peers, somewhat limits the clients Black Cube can attract because of corporate compliance and ethical requirements for most publicly traded companies.
“Explaining to shareholders why the guys you hired ended up arrested in Romania, or getting caught in the New Yorker pulling dirty tricks on rape victims isn’t exactly the conversation most publicly traded company executives want to have with their board,” said a security firm CEO. “That limits your client base to nasty rich men who think money can fix anything.”
In an email, Black Cube rejected the idea that it had been hired by the Trump administration or people close to the administration to collect intelligence on former Obama administration officials. "Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran Nuclear deal," the email said. "Anyone who claims otherwise is misleading their readers and viewers.""It is important to note that Black Cube always operates in full compliance of the law in every jurisdiction in which it conducts its work, following legal advice from the world’s leading law firms,” the email concluded.