Black Cube, the “Mossad” of Commercial Spying
IN the murky world of corporate espionage there is no murkier bunch than Black Cube, the private spy company founded and run by ex-members of Mossad and other parts of the octopus that is the Israeli intelligence community. The Black Cube “advisory board” claims no less than two former Mossad heads – Mossad being Israel’s foreign intelligence and assassination bureau.
Guess where Black Cube has its main centre of operations? Answer: Ropemaker Street in the City of London, just around the corner from Moorgate Tube.
Black Cube has its official HQ in Tel Aviv, of course. But according to its snazzy website, the company’s operations cover over 60 countries. London is the best location – in terms of global anonymity, never mind ease of travel and communications – to operate an international network of James Bonds. Forbes magazine estimates that a quarter of Black Cube’s 100 fulltime staff are based at Ropemaker Street.
Black Cube was founded in 2010 by CEO Dan Zorella, an ex-member of the Israeli Defence Force intelligence, and Avi Yanus, a former IDF strategic planning officer (i.e. he prepared war plans against Hezbollah and Iran). Black Cube describes its main business mission as providing “litigation services”. In other words, it is not spying for technical secrets but rather providing clients with evidence to use in open court when suing business rivals, or defending themselves against litigation by regulatory agencies, ex-employees or aggrieved commercial partners.
Black Cube denies it uses illegal methods of hacking phones or computers. It argues that information must be obtained legally or else it can’t be used in court. But that still leaves Black Cube operatives a lot of latitude. In classic Mossad fashion, Black Cube uses impersonation, deception and false cover stories to elicit information from the unwary. Disgruntled former employees, secretaries and mistresses are weak points that can be exploited.
WHO USES BLACK CUBE?
Among those who have used Black Cube’s services include disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, to collect personal information about women accusing him of sexual harassment; Taiwanese shipping mogul Nobu Su in his ongoing billion dollar law suit against RBS (so assume Black Cube operatives have been active in Scotland); and the London-based, Jewish-Iranian Tchenguiz brothers, who enormous property empire was felled in the 2008 financial crisis when bank creditors called in loans.
In 2011, Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz were arrested and prosecuted by the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO), who claimed they were involved in skulduggery with the Icelandic Koupthing Bank. Koupthing had funded the brother’s property investments before the bank collapsed. They immediately hired Black Cube who found evidence that the lawyers appointed to liquidate Koupthing had lined their own pockets – as well as being linked to other of the bank’s creditors.
Whatever their actual culpability in the cesspit of Icelandic banking, the Tchenguiz brothers were able to use the Black Cube information to claim they were being made scapegoats. The SFO case collapsed – partly due to its legendary incompetence – and the agency was forced to pay the brothers £4.5m in damages plus costs. These presumably included Black Cube’s fees.
The litigation of Nobu Su against RBS is still ongoing, with Black Cube help. The background: as in other industries, the banks have turned the prosaic bulk shipping sector into a vast, unstable derivatives market, trading instruments based on putative freight rates. This market was sucked into the maelstrom of the 2008 global financial crisis.
As a result, Nobu Su’s TMT shipping line – one of the world’s biggest – was bankrupted. Su claims his banker, RBS, was responsible. He says RBS falsified documents, manipulated company valuations in its favour, and misused his accounts. Whether true or false, these claims sound familiar to anyone versed in the proven scandal of the RBS Global Restructuring Group, which did over thousands of small business customers. Nobu is suing RBS for £3b. If I were RBS boss Ross McEwan, or Fred “the Shred” Goodwin, I might not sleep well at night knowing Black Cube was out there.
DOES BLACK CUBE INTERFERE IN POLITICS?
An obvious question: does Black Cube, given its links to Israeli intelligence, ever act for governments? Are they spies for hire?
Last year, an investigation by the highly-regarded US news network NBC discovered evidence that Black Cube had been hired to covertly investigate senior staffers in the Former Obama administration who had been responsible for the negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal. The NBC investigation was unable to unearth who was the client who hired Black Cube to do this work. But it does not require a lot of imagination to work out who is opposed to the Iran deal: Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime minister, and Donald Trump.
In another case, in early 2016 two Israeli Black Cube employees, Ron Weiner and David Geclowicz, were arrested by Romanian police on suspicion of carrying out a series of cyber-attacks on Romania’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi. Weiner and Geclowicz were tried and received suspended sentences – but allowed to return to Israel. Black Cube founder and chief executive, Dan Zorella gave a deposition to the court saying the company had been commissioned by a certain Daniel Dragomir, a former officer in Romania’s intelligence agency! The supposition is that Black Cube was hired by corrupt elements in the Romanian government fearful they would be exposed by Kovesi.
Black Cube has also developed strong links with the UK intelligence community. According to the Financial Times, Black Cube has used a certain Michael Drury as a legal advisor in London. Drury is in fact the former chief legal advisor for GCHQ, the British signals intelligence agency. In other words, Drury was in charge of giving GCHQ its legal fig leaf.
According to Drury’s web page at BLC Solicitors (where he is now a partner): “Michael’s practice is diverse… he has successfully represented senior Ministers and others in former Soviet Union states, defeating extradition claims… [and] representing individuals in regulatory proceedings brought by the FCA (in LIBOR and other matters); acting in criminal investigations by the SFO (including for corporates and individuals in bribery and corruption cases…”
Eh? The former legal head of GCHQ has set up in practice defending Russian oligarchs and bankers being chased by the main UK bank regulator (FCA) and the Serious Fraud Office? I wonder what he does for Black Cube?
NEED FOR REGULATION
Intel activities such as Black Cube is ostensibly involved in (“legal” impersonation etc.) are not regulated in the UK. In 2013, Theresa May – then Home Secretary – announced she was going to introduce such legislation in the wake of the News of The World phone hacking scandal, but nothing more was heard of the matter. The Scottish government should reconsider the matter.