Tag Archives: spies

Harvey Weinstein’s Failed Attempt to Hire Private Eyes to Silence His Accusers

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Ronan Farrow has another stunning story about Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker, this time revealing how the Hollywood mogul hired private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to dig up dirt on journalists investigating him and on his accusers in an attempt to quash sexual abuse allegations made against him.

Here’s one example, of an agent from Black Cube (an “enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies”), who Weinstein hired to extract information from the actress Rose McGowan:

In May, 2017, McGowan received an e-mail from a literary agency introducing her to a woman who identified herself as Diana Filip, the deputy head of sustainable and responsible investments at Reuben Capital Partners, a London-based wealth-management firm. Filip told McGowan that she was launching an initiative to combat discrimination against women in the workplace, and asked McGowan, a vocal women’s-rights advocate, to speak at a gala kickoff event later that year. Filip offered McGowan a fee of sixty thousand dollars. “I understand that we have a lot in common,” Filip wrote to McGowan before their first meeting, in May, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Filip had a U.K. cell-phone number, and she spoke with what McGowan took to be a German accent. Over the following months, the two women met at least three more times at hotel bars in Los Angeles and New York and other locations. “I took her to the Venice boardwalk and we had ice cream while we strolled,” McGowan told me, adding that Filip was “very kind.” The two talked at length about issues relating to women’s empowerment. Filip also repeatedly told McGowan that she wanted to make a significant investment in McGowan’s production company.

Filip was persistent. In one e-mail, she suggested meeting in Los Angeles and then, when McGowan said she would be in New York, Filip said she could meet there just as easily. She also began pressing McGowan for information. In a conversation in July, McGowan revealed to Filip that she had spoken to me as part of my reporting on Weinstein. A week later, I received an e-mail from Filip asking for a meeting and suggesting that I join her campaign to end professional discrimination against women. “I am very impressed with your work as a male advocate for gender equality, and believe that you would make an invaluable addition to our activities,” she wrote, using her wealth-management firm’s e-mail address. Unsure of who she was, I did not respond.

Filip continued to meet with McGowan. In one meeting in September, Filip was joined by another Black Cube operative, who used the name Paul and claimed to be a colleague at Reuben Capital Partners. The goal, according to two sources with knowledge of the effort, was to pass McGowan to another operative to extract more information. On October 10th, the day The New Yorker published my story about Weinstein, Filip reached out to McGowan in an e-mail. “Hi Love,” she wrote. “How are you feeling? . . . Just wanted to tell you how brave I think you are.” She signed off with an “xx.” Filip e-mailed McGowan as recently as October 23rd.

In fact, “Diana Filip” was an alias for a former officer in the Israeli Defense Forces who originally hailed from Eastern Europe and was working for Black Cube, according to three individuals with knowledge of the situation. When I sent McGowan photos of the Black Cube agent, she recognized her instantly. “Oh my God,” she wrote back. “Reuben Capital. Diana Filip. No fucking way.”

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Scientific Conferences Are Filled with Spies

AP Photo/Michel Spingler

Nations have long done battle with one another in different ways. These days, they spy from satellites, send viruses to corrupt government software, poach scientists and infiltrate academia. At The Guardian, Daniel Golden describes how international intelligence agencies send operatives to scientific conferences to gather intel, and how the U.S. has worked to convince foreign nuclear scientists to defect.

Scientific conferences attract people from all corners of the world and facilitate the exchange of information. Conferences are also one of the few opportunities for nuclear scientists from Iran to leave the country, so they function as what Golden calls “a modern-day underground railroad” for potential defectors. U.S. intelligence agencies routinely create their own sham conferences through an intermediary in order to isolate their targets and engage them one-on-one. The system has worked on many scientists. It’s fraught with many dangers: how to blend into a relatively small academic community and impersonate a scientist with actual scientific knowledge? How to get the target away from his guards without attracting attention? The larger question is whether this billion-dollar industry keeps the world safer.

“From the Iranian point of view, they would clearly have an interest in sending scientists to conferences about peaceful uses of nuclear power,” Ronen Bergman told me. A prominent Israeli journalist, Bergman is the author of The Secret War With Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle Against the World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Power, and is working on a history of Israel’s central intelligence service, the Mossad. “They say, ‘Yes, we send our scientists to conferences to use civilian technology for a civilian purpose.’”

The CIA officer assigned to the case might pose as a student, a technical consultant, or an exhibitor with a booth. His first job would be to peel the guards away from the scientist. In one instance, kitchen staff recruited by the CIA poisoned the guards’ meal, leaving them incapacitated by diarrhoea and vomiting. The hope was that they would attribute their illness to aeroplane food or an unfamiliar cuisine.

With luck, the officer would catch the scientist alone for a few minutes, and pitch to him. He would have boned up on the Iranian by reading files and courting “access agents” close to him. That way, if the scientist expressed doubt that he was really dealing with the CIA, the officer could respond that he knew everything about him, even the most intimate details – and prove it. One officer told a potential defector: “I know you had testicular cancer and you lost your left nut.”

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Five Stories About Espionage

The life of a spy is supposed to be glamorous. James Bond, right? Fancy cars, hot women, top-of-the line technology, and a signature drink. I went looking for those stories this week, then remembered James Bond isn’t, you know, real. There are no standoffs on the top of moving trains, and Dame Judi Dench does not run a secret government agency, unfortunately. The reality of espionage is still exciting, but it’s more complicated. The good guys and bad guys are not so easily differentiated. Today’s spying relies on social media, surveillance, coercion and ambition. Read more…

Ernest Hemingway’s Private WWII-Era Spy Network

Ernest Hemingway aboard the Pilar, 1935: Wikimedia Commons

During World War II Hemingway organized a private spy network, which he jokingly called the Crook Factory, and gathered information about Nazi sympathizers on the island. But in a secret, 124-page report on Hemingway, the FBI—which feared his personal prestige and political power—expressed resentment at his amateur but alarming intrusion into their territory, and unsuccessfully attempted to control and vilify him.

In October 1942 the local FBI agent told J. Edgar Hoover that the American ambassador had granted Hemingway’s request “to patrol certain areas where German submarine activity has been reported” and had given him scarce gasoline for this purpose. Hemingway thought that his boat, the Pilar, fully manned and heavily armed but disguised for fishing, would attract the attention of a German submarine. The sub would signal the Pilar to come alongside in order to requisition supplies of fresh water and food. As the sub approached, Hemingway’s men would machine-gun the crew on deck while a Spanish jai alai player would throw a small bomb into the conning tower. Fortunately, for both Hemingway and the Germans, he never actually encountered an enemy submarine.

Jeffrey Meyers, writing in Commonweal about Ernest Hemingway’s long involvement with Cuba, where Hemingway lived for twenty years.

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On the Difference Between ‘Technical’ and ‘Tactical’ Spies

Photo of Carlo Franzinetti (Left) and Bruno Pontecorvo (Right): Wikimedia Commons

In a recent piece for the New York Review of BooksFreeman Dyson reviewed Half-Life, a biography of Bruno Pontecorvo, a brilliant nuclear physicist and possible spy. Pontecorvo spent six years working on nuclear reactors in Canada, where he may or may not have passed information on to Soviet contacts. However, according to Dyson—who is himself a world-renowned mathematical physicist— even if Pontecorvo had been a spy, the overall effect of his information wouldn’t have been hugely important. Perhaps some of it might have been useful to Soviet bomb designers, but it wouldn’t have been a game changer. Furthermore, the Soviets already had two technical spies (Klaus Fuchs and Ted Hall) relaying information from Los Alamos.

This is where Dyson brings up an interesting distinction: that between technical and tactical spies. As a layperson, I’d always presumed a spy is a spy; however, in Dyson’s view, technical and tactical spies belong in entirely different categories. He sees the latter as being responsible for putting actual lives in danger, whereas the former merely steal useful scientific knowledge:

Technical spies were unimportant because the Soviet Union had plenty of first-rate scientists working in the relevant areas of nuclear physics… If a country has this kind of home-grown technical talent, it does not need technical spies to make progress. If a country does not have this kind of talent, technical spies will not be an effective substitute. In either case, the contribution of technical spies will be marginal. Science is a collective enterprise, and needs a community of active participants to succeed in any large venture.

The public vastly overrates the importance of technical spies such as Klaus Fuchs, because the same word “spy” is used for technical spies and for tactical spies. The archetype of the tactical spy is Judas Iscariot, the secret enemy betraying his master and directly causing his master’s death. For two thousand years, the story of Judas has been linked with the image of a spy in the cultures of Europe. Another tactical spy, not quite as notorious as Judas, was Kim Philby, a British intelligence officer who held high positions in the British diplomatic service. He gave his Soviet contacts lists of names of undercover agents operating in various countries, so that Soviet authorities could quickly eliminate them. He was directly responsible for many disappearances. Tactical spies are rightly condemned by public opinion and by the traditional rules of war. They have immediate effects on the life and death of fellow citizens. They are fair game for any soldier to kill, with or without a legal trial. But technical spies are different. Technical spies are more concerned with things than with people.

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Why then does the American public still consider all spies to be demons? Why does the public make no distinction between technical spies like Julius Rosenberg stealing useful knowledge and tactical spies like Kim Philby destroying human lives? Perhaps it is because the American public is misled by the American secrecy system. The secrecy system is a bureaucratic monster that classifies vast quantities of information as secret, making it impossible for the ordinary citizen to see the difference between important and unimportant secrets.

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The Dark Arts: A Corporate Espionage Reading List

Corporate espionage takes many forms and is known by a number of names. At its most benign, it’s “competitive-intelligence,” which is the kind of information gathering that George Chidi describes in Inc. On the other end of the spectrum is the far more exciting—and illicit—line of work seen in Richard Behar’s 1999 story about the pharmaceutical industry. Here are five stories that delve deep into the murky world of corporate information gathering.

1. “Drug Spies” (Richard Behar, Fortune, September 1999)

This story about corporate spies fighting pirated drugs in the high stakes pharmaceutical industry reads like a summer action movie, complete with former Scotland Yard detectives, solitary confinement in a Cyprus prison and multinational drug giants. Read more…

The story of an astrologer who claimed in a 1941 keynote address that the stars indicated Hitler would invade the United States from Brazil and eventually be defeated. The astrologer, Louis de Wohl, was actually an agent for the British government:

What no one realized was that de Wohl’s lecture was pure propaganda from the British government, which was attempting to drag the Roosevelt administration into WWII by any means necessary. De Wohl, who was employed by SOE (Special Operations Executive, the wartime sabotage unit), had been dispatched with instructions to present himself as a renowned astrologer with no connections to Britain, and to undermine America’s belief in the invincibility of Hitler. As the spy novelist William Boyd put it in a 2008 radio interview: ‘At the time, there was a perception of American people, in the minds of the British Security Services, that they were more gullible than us Brits.’

“The Inconvenient Astrologer Of MI5.” — Emma Garman, The Awl

See also: “CIA Divorces: The Secrecy When Spies Split.” — Ian Shapira, Washington Post

When your wedding doubles as a covert operation. A look at the complications of CIA marriages, and how secrets often lead to separation:

The Fredericksburg woman divorcing her husband laid out all the messy details, including the most secret of them all. Her husband, she wrote in now-sealed court documents, is a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. His CIA job, she said, poisoned their five-year-old marriage.

“[He] used me and our daughter . . . to run cover for his undercover operations . . . I never felt safe, never knew who people were or why they were interested in us or why they were photographing us,” wrote the woman, who is in her 30s, in December. “As a result of [his] different assignments I never had a good support network of people I could trust or rely on to help out.” And, she claimed, her spy-husband had little interest in household chores. “[He] never so much as washed or folded a load of laundry, swept or mopped one floor, or changed one dirty diaper.”

“CIA Divorces: The Secrecy When Spies Split.” — Ian Shapira, The Washington Post

More from Shapira: “How a Letter on Hitler’s Stationery, Written to a Boy in Jersey, Reached the CIA.” — Oct. 31, 2011

The evolution of how we recruit and train spies—starting with the OSS in the 1940s—and our changing expectations of what the job entails and what motivates those who sign up:

I remember him saying something like: “This is the only thing in the Army that you can volunteer for and then get out of if you change your mind.” That’s because we had signed up for something illegal, even immoral, according to some people, he said.

It was called espionage. We were not going to be turned into spies, he explained, but “case officers” — the people who recruit foreigners to be spies. Put another way, he went on, we were going to persuade foreigners to be traitors, to steal their countries’ secrets. We were going to learn how to lie, steal, cheat to accomplish our mission, he said — and betray people who trusted us, if need be. Anyone who objected, he concluded, could walk out right now.

He looked around. One man got up and left. The rest of us, a little anxious, stayed put.

“What Makes a Perfect Spy Tick?” — Jeff Stein, Washington Post

See also: “The Journalist and the Spies.” — Dexter Filkins, New Yorker, Sept. 19, 2011