Black Cube… The story of how the Trump administration coordinated with a foreign intelligence organization to spy on American citizens

The following, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow, was published yesterday by the New Yorker. The article, which you can read in its entirety on the magazine’s website, is titled, “Israeli Operatives Who Aided Harvey Weinstein Collected Information on Former Obama Administration Officials.”

In June, 2017, Ann Norris, a former State Department official, received an e-mail containing an unusual proposal. Norris is married to Ben Rhodes, a former foreign-policy adviser to President Barack Obama and a prominent advocate of the Iran nuclear deal. In the e-mail, a woman who introduced herself as Eva Novak and claimed to work for a London-based film company called Shell Productions asked Norris to consult on a movie that she described as “‘All the President’s Men’ meets ‘The West Wing’”: it would follow the personal lives of “government officials in the positions that determine war and peace” during times of geopolitical crisis, including “nuclear negotiations with a hostile nation.” Recalling the exchange, Ann Norris said that she found Eva Novak’s request “bizarre,” and that she “never responded.”

The e-mail appears to be part of an undercover campaign by an Israeli private-intelligence firm to discredit Obama officials who had been leading proponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The campaign was first reported, on Saturday, by the British newspaper the Observer. However, sources familiar with the effort and pages of documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that there is more to understand. Two of those sources told me on Sunday that the operation was carried out by Black Cube—a firm that was also employed by Harvey Weinstein and that offers its clients access to operatives from “Israel’s élite military and governmental intelligence units,” including the Mossad.

A month before Norris received her e-mail, Rebecca Kahl, a former program officer at the National Democratic Institute and the wife of the former Obama Administration foreign-policy adviser Colin Kahl, had also received a puzzling e-mail. A woman named Adriana Gavrilo claimed to be the head of corporate social responsibility at Reuben Capital Partners, a London-based wealth-management firm. Gavrilo told Kahl that her firm was launching an initiative on education and that she wanted to meet to discuss the school that Kahl’s daughter attended, at which Kahl volunteered. Kahl referred Gavrilo to school staff members, but Gavrilo repeatedly refused to speak to anyone but her. Gavrilo’s firm would “not be able to make the necessary due diligence” on the school employees, she wrote. Rebecca Kahl, who said she “worried I’m strangely a target of some sort,” eventually stopped responding to Gavrilo…

Colin Kahl and Ben Rhodes, if it’s not clear from the above excerpt, both had a hand in the negotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, although neither was a principle architect of the multi-national agreement responsible for curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program… And that’s what this was apparently all about.

According to the Guardian, members of Trump’s team set the campaign in motion shortly after Trump’s 2017 visit to Tel Aviv, where the President apparently promised Benjamin Netanyahu that he’d find a way to kill the 2015 deal brokered by the Obama administration. According to a source quoted by the Guardian, “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.”

While it looks as though Black Cube has admitted that they were behind the above mentioned operation to discredit the Iran deal, there’s still some debate as to whether they were hired directly by the White House, or through an outside entity. While the Guardian claims to have sources that say the White House was behind it, Farrow claims that, according to his sources, it was a “private-sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran” that initiated the campaign. Regardless of who paid Black Cube, though, it seems interesting that Rhodes and Kahl were singled out, given that they were relatively low-level Obama aides. They were both, however, as former CIA officer Ned Price pointed out this morning, repeated targets of Trump foreign policy advisor Sebastian Gorka, before he was forced from the White House.

[above: “His fingerprints appear to be all over this,” Price said of Gorka.]

Well, as you can imagine, Rhodes and Kahl have weighed in today on Twitter. Rhodes called the campaign “thuggish” and “mean-spirited,” and said that this kind of thing should not be “acceptable in a democracy.” And Kahl laid out his memory of the events, which ended with his referring to the whole episode as, “yet another sign of the fundamental degradation of our country that Trump has produced.”

So, just to sum up, it would appear as though members of the Trump administration, either on their own, or through intermediaries, contracted with the same foreign company that Harvey Weinstein used to discredit Rose McGowan and others, to spy on former Obama aides, looking for information that might be used to discredit them. [If you can’t discredit the deal itself, discredit the people behind it, right?] I suppose it could have been worse. The Trump administration could have used our intelligence community to find dirt on American citizens, instead of contracting it out to the Israelis. But I don’t suspect that the distinction matters much to Rhodes, Kahl, and the other American citizens who were targeted in this campaign to undermine our nation’s foreign policy.

While we’re on the subject, let’s remember that, last week, the Trump administration also issued a false statement declaring that Iran “has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” This, of course, was a lie, as the administration was forced to concede, changing the “has” to “had.”

One last thing… If we kill the Iran deal, why in the world would North Korea enter into a similar deal with us, knowing that, at any time, we could just break our promise and walk away? It defies logic.

And, yes, we now live in a country where the government, it would seem, has no qualms about spying on its citizens for political purposes… This, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, is terrifying. But, in Trump’s America, it doesn’t even warrant a front page story.

[Sadly, no recordings exist, but I was once in a band with a fellow by the name of Jim Magas called Ski Troop Attack, and we had a song called Black Cube. Interestingly, in the band, we played time travelers from a post apocalyptic future who had come back with broken instruments to give the people of the world clues as to what the future holds. In addition to Black Cube, we had songs called Clean Surface and Glass Needle. Hopefully those names don’t come up in the press. If they do, I might start thinking that I really have been sent from the future.]

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47 Comments

  1. Posted May 7, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    While we’re discussing Ronan Farrow, he’s got another piece for the New Yorker out today. Co-written by Jane Mayer, the piece is about Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Democratic attorney general, and allegations of sexual violence that have been leveled against him for four women. I know that we’re all innocent until proven guilty, but it paints a pretty horrific picture of Schneiderman, and it’s a good reminder that this kind of thing happens on both sides of the aisle.

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/four-women-accuse-new-yorks-attorney-general-of-physical-abuse

  2. Posted May 7, 2018 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s alright if you just want to talk about Schneiderman here… I get that, after 24 hours, everyone’s ready to move on from our government contracting with foreign intelligence agents to subvert our foreign policy through trickery and deceit.

  3. Posted May 7, 2018 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Kellyanne Conway got a big laugh out of it.

  4. Posted May 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    When something like this happens, people on the right are so quick to jump up and say, “See, people on your side are just as bad.” Well, that might be, but I think what’s important is how people on our side deal with it. I haven’t seen anyone on our side suggesting that this is fake news, defending Scheniderman, calling the women names, etc. I’ve just seen people saying that, if he’s guilty, he should face the consequences. How refreshing would it be if Republicans said the same thing…. And, I’ll add, it’s disgusting to see Conway reveling in this.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Donald Trump has weighed in on Schneiderman.

    “Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone – next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner”

    https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/377751074628988929

  6. Posted May 7, 2018 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Schneiderman just stepped down.

    Hopefully Missouri’s governor will follow suit.

  7. Iron Lung 2
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Does the irony of bring up people who have been brought down because of sex scandals even occur to him?

  8. Sad
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    When the revelations about Tom Brokaw came out I knew it would never stop.

    Men are difficult.

  9. Sad
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Do you think we’ll ever see James Franco again?

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    We will see all these men again, Sad.
    That’s how it works.
    All that said, there’s a lot of false equivalency going on in hurling these accusations. Making a pass at a woman was standard operating procedure 20 years ago… 5 years ago. Asking for consent was not how it happened. As long as a man took no for an answer, no harm, no foul. To apply new standards to old behaviors is ridiculous. This is more about establishing community consensus on new standards. I’m not suggesting the old standards weren’t problematic, they just weren’t considered wrong at the time. And frankly they would not be considered wrong now if the incidence of much more serious assault and discrimination wasn’t happening too.

    I don’t think Dems have historically been better than GOP on these issues. I personally have experienced more difficulty with free love ex-hippy bosses than with conservatives. A conservative never tells you you are too uptight while pushing you into a back room, at least in my experience. Plus there’s the legacy of the Kennedy’s and Clinton to consider. We do seem to be catching on faster. I’m not hopeful it will hold. This is mostly about politics and winning elections nothing more for those in office. Happy to be wrong about that.

    I’m not sure what there is to say about the black box story. There doesn’t seem to be much there, there. Feels vaguely conspiracy tgeorist. Do we know the person approaching his wife was an operative. What dirt did they hope to get from meeting with her?

    Maybe I need to read more spy novels, but this wasnt clear enough an outrage to spark mine. Is it surprising that foreign surveillance on high level Gove execs happens?

    I admit I’m presently distracted and may be missing something, but what do you imagine should be an appropriate response to the black box story Mark?

  11. From the internets
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    DNC: We don’t care if you’re a Democrat, you’re a sexual abuser and that’s all that matters!

    RNC: We don’t care if you’re a sexual abuser, you’re a Republican and that’s all that matters!

  12. stupid hick
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    When I was a child, it was also medically accepted treatment to slap a “hysterical” woman, to try to bring her to her senses (men too, but there was a social stigma associated with diagnosing a man with hysteria, so it seldom happened, and if it did, it was never spoken about afterwards). The rule was you could distinguish treatment vs assault by whether an open hand or clenched fist was used. If you’re too young to remember (what am I even thinking, everyone here is at least 45 years old), google “airplane movie slap scene” and watch the YouTube video. Or watch an old James Bond movie. Or the movie Chinatown. Or, uh, pick up an old medical textbook… in other words, nothing to see here with Eric Schneiderman, folks.

  13. Eel
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Sneiderman also stands accused of choking at least one of the four women. Was that ever an accepted treatment for hysteria, Stupid Hick?

  14. M
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Jean, I do think the Black Cube story is important. This isn’t traditional opposition research that we’re talking about. If the Observer’s reporting is to be believed, this is a sitting presidential administration contracting a foreign intelligence agency to aggressively go after not elected officials, but former White House staffers. As John Lovett said on Pod Save America this morning, “It is now seen as fair game to hire private spies to go after your political enemies.” As no one was killed or blackmailed, I can see how some might be inclined to brush it off, but this is a big deal. And it’s certainly not normal. And we shouldn’t accept it just because we now live in a world where, every day, we’re talking about kompromat, videos of young prostitutes urinating, and all the rest of it. Had the Obama administration hired former Mossad agents to discredit Bush staffers, there would have been impeachment hearings. And they would have been justified.

  15. Kyle Griffin by proxy
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    (Kyle Griffin quoting from the NYT) The Black Cube report on Ben Rhodes for Iran Deal opponents “contains pictures of his apartment in Washington, telephone numbers and email addresses of members of his family, as well as unsubstantiated allegations of personal and ethical transgressions.”

    https://twitter.com/kylegriffin1/status/993842990639611904

  16. Jean Henry
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Mark—
    If the Whitehouse paid for it, yes it’s a big deal. Otherwise, it’s stabdard operating procedure. But it sounds like the WH didn’t hire them; private interests did. At very least it’s unclear. And no threats were made. Maybe some fake news was disseminated but that’s not new. People on these pages and other social media create and spread fake news meant to discredit others all the time without even getting paid for it.

    I think you simply have jumped the gun here. Many like me have learned to take a wait and see approach to these kind of allegations. That doesn’t mean, if more is confirmed, thecstory wont grab more attention as you’d prefer.

    Some prudence re spreading conspiratorial politics stories seems as much innoteder as outrage lately…

  17. stupid hick
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    The sensation of choking is a common symptom of hysteria, as you can find yourself by googling. So she may have mistaken a symptom of the disease as having been caused by him. It could be a coincidence that his hands were around her neck at the time. I’m sure he has an innocent explanation.

  18. John Brown
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    So it seems that the Israeli right wing is aligned with the American Taliban (evangelicals) and global military industrial complex in wanting war with Iran. And Seb Gorka is a Nazi, so there’s that too. And the Israelis are also super down with the gunification of America. If you check out Midway USA, or any other NRA affiliated domestic arms dealers, you’ll find tons of ammo from IMI (Israeli Military Industries) being sold in the US to our “purge” neighbors. And its not hunting ammo. Affordable, hoardable, military calibers. Not sure how supplying the US for potential Balkanization is in Israel’s interest?

  19. Demetrius
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    So many absolutely crazy (previously, largely unthinkable) things are now happening, and they are happening at such a dizzying pace– that anyone who’s still trying to pay attention is likely becoming numb to each new outrage. Hence the collective “shrug” when something as shocking as Black Cube is revealed.

    James Comey. Robert Mueller. Russian Hackers. The Clinton Foundation. Uranium One. Cambridge Analytica. Alt-Right. Fake News. Collusion. Obstruction. Pissing Prostitutes. Stormy Daniels. Rudy Guiliani … and now, news that American politicians hired former Mossad agents hired to spy on their political adversaries … honestly, who can even keep up ? And perhaps, isn’t that exactly the point …?

    Despite the fact that James Kunstler has turned into a bit of a right-wing crank these days, his ongoing assertion that we now live in an age when “Anything goes, and nothing matters.” seems increasingly true, and increasingly relevant.

    When the public (and political) sphere is is such a confusing mess that nobody knows what – or whom – to believe anymore, suspicion and distrust becomes our common currency. Such a state of disarray clearly benefits the already rich and well-connected, who are able to continue consolidating their wealth and power relatively undisturbed.

  20. ABC News
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    DEVELOPING: Congressional leaders are being informed by senior Trump admin. officials of intent to remove US from the Iran nuclear deal, according to two sources

  21. From the internets
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Statement from Eric T. Schneiderman:

    “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in non-consensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”

  22. M
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “You see, I choked and slapped them in bed, so it’s alright.”

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Ew! See why consent is a critical concept to create social Consensus around? I’m not sure if men understand it as clearly, since they less often encounter the violation of sexual boundaries. Consent would be unecessary otherwise.

    Interesting to see the Clinton foundation and uranium one grouped in with the Trump over-reaches and corruption. Fake news persists. No need to prove allegations.

    See Mark, this is shy restraint until all the information is in is necessary to resistance.

    We are living in a time when we need to carefully scrutinize anything in the news, especially if the narrative appeals to us.

  24. Jean Henry
    Posted May 8, 2018 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm. Well it seems they’ve got a smoking gun on Cohen now. 500k from a Russian oligarch. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

  25. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    ” If we kill the Iran deal, why in the world would North Korea enter into a similar deal with us, knowing that, at any time, we could just break our promise and walk away? It defies logic.

    And, yes, we now live in a country where the government, it would seem, has no qualms about spying on its citizens for political purposes… This, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, is terrifying. But, in Trump’s America, it doesn’t even warrant a front page story.”

    Turns out it doesn’t defy logic. Or do you consider logic defied? Of course it isn’t a similar deal at all. It’s a good deal for the USA, Korea and the world.

    DJT was correct. Obama spied heavily. They turned the power of the FBI into their own political weapon. Inversion of reality by Mark Maynard? Nawww…

  26. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    News flash HW— there is no North Korea deal yet.

  27. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Haha, what?

  28. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/06/trump-kim-korea-success/563012/

    No deal was negotiated or signed. The agreed to work towards a deal. It’s not nothing, but there’s a long road before. We have been in this same spot before, which is better than nothing. The only distinction was the face to face meeting. also not nothing. But the process of negotiation of a deal has not yet even started.

  29. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The deal is outlined in the document SIGNED by President Trump and Kim:

    The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity

    The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula

    Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

    The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

  30. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    POW remains returned so check that off. Destruction of nuclear facilities seems to have begun also. Awww, poor wittle Jean has to live in a world that’s becoming more peaceful with a meany doo doo head pwesident named DONALD TWUMP!!!

  31. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I’m super happy if these efforts lead to nuclear disarmament but i also know we have been at this exact spot before under Clinton without making it to that goal. I’m hesitant, not dismissive.

    The agreement achieved was as I said an agreement to meet again and work towards disarmament. It’s larfeky meaningless in terms of results.

  32. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    “Awww, poor wittle Jean has to live in a world that’s becoming more peaceful with a meany doo doo head pwesident named DONALD TWUMP!!!“

    Lol.

    This must be example of the civilized discourse IRobert aproves of, since he thinks HW is charming.

  33. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Are they not destroying any facilities yet? I thought they were. No missile tests since when? Huh! It was test after test last year but now that is done. Results.

  34. iRobert
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    For the record, Jean, I don’t approve of any of the discourse on this blog. Even the rare comments here which are attempts at civility are still always totally moronic. You’re right about one thing though; I do think HW is absolutely charming.

  35. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Moronic? You need to check out the comments section of other blogs.

  36. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    HW— North Korea symbolically destroyed a testing site before the election because it had already been disabled by an earthquake.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/26/north-korea-nuclear-test-site-collapse-may-be-out-of-action-china

    Nothing since then that I can find.

  37. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/06/07/north-korea-destroys-missile-test-site-ahead-trump-summit/681522002/

    New commercial satellite imagery indicates North Korea is destroying a key ballistic missile test site ahead of next week’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, a new analysis says.

  38. Jean
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Same situation my posts referred to. Ahead of the summit. They did it for looks but the silo had already been damaged. There has been no destruction of nuclear capability since. Nice try.

  39. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    My bad== I said ‘before the election’, but meant ‘before the summit.’

  40. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t matter. They are denuclearizing. I doubt it was an earthquake that hit their facility. What are the chances?

  41. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    http://news.abs-cbn.com/overseas/06/25/18/us-to-give-north-korea-post-summit-timeline-soon-official

    Phil Stewart, Reuters
    Posted at Jun 25 2018 08:39 AM

    The United States will soon present a timeline to North Korea with “specific asks” of Pyongyang after a historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior US defense official said.

    The official, who spoke to a small group of reporters ahead of a trip to Asia this week by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, did not specify details but suggested that the timeline would be rapid enough to make clear Pyongyang’s level of commitment.

    “We’ll know pretty soon if they’re going to operate in good faith or not,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    “There will be specific asks and there will be a specific timeline when we present the North Koreans with our concept of what implementation of the summit agreement looks like.”

  42. Jean Henry
    Posted June 24, 2018 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    https://www.nature.com/news/seismologists-stumped-by-mystery-shock-after-north-korean-nuclear-test-1.22618

    A s for the asks and timeline. Again we have seen all of those before. Your assertion, which iOS a back pedal from saying they are already denuclearizing) relies on North Korea following through. You may want to dial back your certainty for once. In this particular case, I truly hope you are right.

  43. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Always willing to bet. You say you hope I am right but you act like you don’t.

  44. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    When was the last missile test again?

  45. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Why was I confident way back in November North Korea was in for tremendous change tied to DJT?

  46. Sad
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Cuz you the snizzle shit HW!

    You’re in the know and on your toes!

  47. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted June 25, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Compare to someone like Henry being like “…wull, there might still be a chance it’s not happening…”

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