How The World Of Private Investigation Has Changed

Nov 7, 2017
Originally published on November 7, 2017 6:17 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The latest bombshell story about Harvey Weinstein is all about big-time private investigators digging for dirt on his accusers. Ronan Farrow writes in The New Yorker about how Weinstein tried to prevent publication of stories about him, stories which have led to dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and, in some cases, rape.

Farrow told NPR's Morning Edition today that Weinstein hired several international corporate intelligence firms. One of them called Black Cube describes itself as a select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units. Here's how Farrow described that operation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RONAN FARROW: In Black Cube's case, that included human intelligence tactics targeting women, targeting journalists, showing up in their lives using fake identities, using fake companies as a front. This was detailed. This was aggressive. And according to the women I spoke to, this was terrifying.

SIEGEL: We're going to talk now with Ronen Bergman, who is an Israeli journalist. He writes for the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth as well as for The New York Times about intelligence. Welcome to the program.

RONEN BERGMAN: Thank you so much, Robert, for inviting me.

SIEGEL: And I should say you're speaking to us via Skype. Ronen Bergman, what do you know about this company Black Cube?

BERGMAN: So Black Cube, as they indicated about themself, are indeed a company composed of veterans of Israeli intelligence including the Mossad but mainly from Israeli military intelligence called Aman. And they are experts with the various realms of intelligence, including SIGINT, hacking and, as we heard, human intelligence.

SIEGEL: So their typical client would be someone in business and somebody presumably with a lot of money to spend.

BERGMAN: A lot of money - people that are trying either to collect intelligence on specific targets, achieve all sorts of I would say, like, operations, spreading of information about someone and also trying to prevent information from being published or even trying to get down Internet sites or publications over the Internet that are harmful to their clients.

SIEGEL: The story in The New Yorker relates an incident in which a woman who evidently works for Black Cube used a fake name, represented herself as working for a fake investment company. She claimed to be launching an initiative to combat discrimination against women in the workplace. And she tried to befriend an accuser of Weinstein's and was evidently gathering information about her for Weinstein, working through Weinstein's lawyer. Does that sound like this kind of work to you? And does it sound like a private investigator or more like an intelligence agent?

BERGMAN: Well, it sounds like someone who works for Black Cube who comes with vast experience from Israeli intelligence, you know, the same sort of mindset and originality and experience that someone who served many, many years in Israeli intelligence and were doing all these operations on behalf of the Israeli state is now doing on behalf of a private company.

SIEGEL: Sounds like a strange kind of business and that if they had, say, succeeded in intimidating women not to tell their stories to reporters about Harvey Weinstein or if they'd intimidated The New York Times and made them not publish a story about Harvey Weinstein, you can't exactly put it in the company brochure that, you know, we helped a leading movie producer squelch stories about his alleged sexual harassment of women. How do you brag about your accomplishments in this kind of work?

BERGMAN: Well, Robert, I think that these kind of interviews and reports that The New Yorker has just published and the interview that we are conducting now - these are the best business development actions that these companies can take. The clients are seeing this as just another ample proof that companies like Black Cube - and again, I don't know about this incident, but companies at least like Black Cube are willing to do whatever possible - and they have the capability, the knowledge, paying very little attribution to the law - whatever possible for their clients.

SIEGEL: Although in fairness, The New Yorker story is all about a job that didn't work. That is, the accusers of Harvey Weinstein ultimately did talk. And The New York Times did publish, and The New Yorker did publish. So you could say, well, they failed on that one.

BERGMAN: Yeah. So it just proved that sometimes even the most trained, limitless people cannot stop a truthful, profound and deep investigative journalism. And this is just a good news.

SIEGEL: That's Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman. Ronen, thanks for talking with us today.

BERGMAN: Thank you so much, Robert.

SIEGEL: And we asked Black Cube for comment, and their statement said the company operates in full compliance with the law. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.