A ‘private Mossad for civilians’ goes worldwide to make its clients secure

Sabra Intelligence Solutions brings expertise acquired in Israel’s security services to the general population with, it says, a focus on operating ethically

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of an undercover intelligence agent (Artem Peretiatko; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of an undercover intelligence agent (Artem Peretiatko; iStock by Getty Images)

The rise of anti-Semitic acts globally has prompted Jewish communities and institutions in the US, Europe, Mexico and Australia to seek out the security services of Israeli firm Sabra Intelligence Solutions.

The “intelligence officers” of Israeli firm Sabra Intelligence Solutions fly around the world from their office in Haifa to provide security services to clients around the world, mapping out sites and setting up a response plan in case of emergencies.

This includes providing advice on how many security personnel are needed on the ground and where to deploy them, where to set up “sterile rooms” where people can flee if an attacker comes on the scene, and how to provide security in an unobtrusive way.

The two-year-old company, which calls itself a Mossad for civilians, is staffed by people with extensive experience in operations and training who served in classified intelligence units in the Israeli army, the Israel Police and other Israeli intelligence organizations. The teams sent to the field often include cyber professionals, lawyers, economists, and an in-house psychologist, the firm said.

The teams track and gather information — using, for example, artificial intelligence technologies on security cameras — and analyze it to suggest steps that should be taken.

The firm also says it works for Jewish communities facing anti-Semitism, but would not provide details.

Sabra Intelligence Solutions CEO Shay Chervinsky (Itzik Bellenitzki)

The firm was set up by Eran Bachar, who recruited his childhood friend Shay Chervinsky. The two grew up together in Bat Yam and kept in touch as they developed their respective careers. Bachar, who was injured during his army service in the paratrooper’s unit in 1995, went on to serve as an officer in  the Israel Police surveillance unit and also worked for the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service.

During his service, Bachar held a variety of classified operational positions. Chervinsky, who has in the meantime become ultra-Orthodox, worked in a number of firms both high-tech and low-tech and brought business skills to the joint venture.

“We saw there was a market opportunity,” Chervinsky, Sabra’s CEO, said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel. “We want to take the abilities of these various intelligence units and provide them to the general population, to the civilians who need them.”

The civilians Chervinsky referred to include not only Jewish communities around the world but also “billionaires” — people who need security services for all kinds of reasons and who are drawn by Israel’s strong security image, as its elite IDF units and Mossad and Shin Bet operations make headlines around the world.

These high net-worth individuals — including Russian oligarchs — come to Sabra with their “problems” and are looking to resolve them discreetly and with “creative solutions,” Chervinsky said.

For example, a publicly traded European company on the brink of closing a merger deal with another giant firm got shamed on social media — and the deal was scrapped.

“The board of the company was stressed, and the incident was affecting investors, with the share price of the firm dropping on the exchange. They came to us via word-of-mouth, via another client, and we flew a 4-person team out to them,” he said.

Sabra set up a local operations room — just as is done for an army operation —  and “hunkered down” to analyze social media and other data. Using local operatives, the team worked round the clock and came up with next-day results indicating that a competing company was responsible for the social media smear.

Illustrative image of an intelligence operations room (gorodenkoff; iStock by Getty Images)

The Sabra teams are also employed to find flaws in the security details of known and high-net-worth individuals, following them undercover to spot the weak links. The teams operate on the dark web, creating fake personas, to discover plots against clients. They also have undercover agents who contact and develop relationships with targets vis so- called “random encounters” to get information needed for clients, he said.

Sabra has helped a person recover some of the $50 million debt owed by an individual who claimed he couldn’t pay because he was undergoing a bad divorce, said Chervinsky. “We discovered that the person was actually still with his wife,” and went to the local authorities with that information. A Sabra teams has also advised an NBA player about improvements that could be made to his personal security.

“We showed him how he could have been kidnapped, for example, on a number of occasions,” Chervinsky said. “We showed him the weak points of his security and sat down with his team to give them tips.”

Illustrative image of an intelligence agent; spy or undercover operator (AlexLinch; iStock by Getty Images)

The Sabra team consists of 23 local employees and at any given moment 10 of them are abroad on missions.

“All the information we get is obtained legally and ethically,” Chervinsky hurries to underline. The firm employs a legal adviser who checks each operation; its board approves all operations it takes on and a rabbi is called when doubts arise regarding the ethics of a mission, he said.

Other more famous Israeli firms,  including intelligence firm Black Cube, and cybersecurity firm NSO, have become notorious and earned global headlines for operations they have allegedly undertaken.

Black Cube, created by former Israeli intelligence agents, has drawn international attention for allegedly working to discredit Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as to protect the reputation of disgraced #MeToo Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Black Cube filed a £15 million ($19 million) lawsuit in the UK against Israeli investigative journalist Ilana Dayan after she broadcast an exposé on some of the alleged workings of the secretive company.

Herzliya-based spyware firm NSO, founded in 2010 by Israelis Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, has developed Pegasus, a highly invasive tool that can reportedly switch on a target’s cellphone camera and microphone and access data on it, effectively turning the device into a pocket spy.

The software has put NSO under the spotlight as dissidents, journalists and other opposition figures in a variety of countries claimed the company’s technology has been used by repressive governments to spy on them. These include Mexican, Saudi and Qatari journalists who have filed lawsuits against the company, and an Amnesty International employee who was allegedly targeted by the software.

“We have set up fences to what we do and don’t do,” said Sabra’s Chervinsky. “We have turned away business to the tune of tens of millions of dollars because we are very careful with the cases we take on.”

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