Israeli firm sought to influence elections: report
An Israeli firm sought to influence more than 30 elections around the world for clients by hacking, sabotage and spreading disinformation, according to an undercover media investigation published Wednesday.
PARIS - An Israeli firm sought to influence more than 30 elections around the world for clients by hacking, sabotage and spreading disinformation, according to an undercover media investigation published Wednesday.
It adds to a growing body of evidence that private firms across the world are profiting from invasive hacking tools and the power of social media platforms to shape public opinion.
The firm was dubbed "Team Jorge" by investigating journalists who posed as potential clients in order to gather information on its methods and capabilities.
The report said its boss, Tal Hanan, is a 50-year-old former Israeli special forces operative who boasted of being able to control supposedly secure Telegram accounts, thousands of fake social media accounts, and of planting news stories.
The investigation was carried out by a consortium of journalists from 30 outlets, including Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany and El Pais in Spain, under the direction of a France-based non-profit known as Forbidden Stories.
"The methods and techniques described by Team Jorge raise new challenges for big tech platforms," the Guardian wrote.
"Evidence of a global private market in disinformation aimed at elections will also ring alarm bells for democracies around the world."
Hanan did not respond to detailed questions, saying only: "I deny any wrongdoing."
He told three undercover reporters that his services, often called "black ops", were available to intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies.
"We are now involved in one election in Africa... We have a team in Greece and a team in [the] Emirates... [We have completed] 33 presidential-level campaigns, 27 of which were successful," the Guardian quoted him as saying.
British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica - since shut down - was allegedly used to develop software steering voters towards Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.
The group collected and exploited the personal data of 87 million Facebook users, to which the platform had given it access, leading to major fines and lawsuits.
On Tuesday, the chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, admitted creating an infamous troll farm that is suspected of fomenting online discord and interfering in Western elections.
An investigation led by Forbidden Stories in 2021 said powerful Israeli-made Pegasus spyware had been sold by the cyber intelligence company, NSO Group Technologies, to governments and used against at least 50,000 people around the world.
Forbidden Stories is a collaborative platform set up in 2017 at the initiative of French documentary maker Laurent Richard, with the support of Reporters Without Borders, and brings together more than 30 different media from around the world.