Firm hired by Blue and White said to uncover major Russian hack of Gantz, aides

But centrist party rebuts claim of massive breach targeting staff as ‘utter lie,’ says CGI Group’s CEO leaked it to the media to pressure the campaign to pay its bill

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks to reporters at the Knesset as his party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks to reporters at the Knesset as his party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Flash90)

A business intelligence firm hired by Blue and White to identify the source of media leaks from the centrist party’s top ranks has reportedly uncovered something far more serious — a massive Russian hack of phones and computers belonging to party leader Benny Gantz and top campaign officials.

Citing a CGI Group report handed to Blue and White leaders last week, Channel 12’s political reporter Amit Segal reported Wednesday that a sustained, “intense and unusual” cyberattack was underway against the centrist party, and had already delivered to the attackers the entire contents of the personal phones of Gantz, his chief of staff Hod Betzer, campaign manager Ido Har-Tov and campaign adviser Ronen Moshe. Channel 12 gave no further details about the hack or how it was traced to Russian sources.

Within an hour of the broadcast, Blue and White officials savaged the report, claiming CGI’s conclusions were wrong and that the company’s founder and CEO Zvika Nave had leaked the report to Channel 12 in order to pressure the campaign to pay CGI’s bill, estimated by the TV station at between NIS 100,000 and 500,000  ($28,000-$142,000).

“The [CGI] report raised the suspicion that there was an attempt to obtain information [via the purported Russian hack], but that turned out to be an utter and complete lie,” a party official told Globes business journal political reporter Tal Schneider on Wednesday night.

CGI Group founder and CEO Zvika Nave. (Courtesy)

The unnamed Blue and White officials said the phones in question were taken to a different company specializing in cybersecurity after party leaders received CGI’s report last week. “No devices were found to be compromised,” an official said.

Speaking to Globes, CGI did not explicitly deny the accusation, but said its bill had been paid in full.

According to the Channel 12 report, CGI also claimed that Blue and White’s internal computer network had been hacked, and urged the party to file a police complaint.

Blue and White has so far refrained from doing so, the network said.

Blue and White was formed ahead of the April elections by a union of Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party. Reports have surfaced in the ensuing months of tensions between the different factions.

One unnamed Yesh Atid official slammed Gantz’s faction on Wednesday over the CGI fracas, telling Channel 12, “This is yet another buffoonish move by Gantz’s people. In the middle of an election campaign, to hire a company whose profession is corporate espionage is to invite these sorts of troubles into your home. Lapid will meet with the quartet [of Blue and White leaders, consisting of Gantz, Lapid, Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi] tomorrow and demand in the strongest terms that this whole event be brought to an end.”

(L-R) Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon of the Blue and White party during a tour in Sderot, August 6, 2019. (Elad Malka)

According to reports, it was Gantz’s chief of staff Betzer who had hired the CGI Group, an Israeli firm that prides itself on employing veterans of Israel’s intelligence services, to sniff out alleged “moles” in the party’s top ranks after leaked audio recordings of Gantz reached the press in the run-up to the April race.

Blue and White had launched an internal probe in March, but it did not identify a culprit.

In one of the recordings, Gantz could be heard saying he did not completely rule out joining forces with Benjamin Netanyahu, despite public declarations he would not sit in a government with the prime minister due to corruption allegations against him. In the same recording, Gantz was also heard saying he was willing to make significant concessions to ultra-Orthodox parties to get them to join a coalition he would head.

The second recording had Gantz saying that on the eve of elections, Netanyahu wouldn’t mind it if he were to die.

Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid speak during a campaign event in Kiryat Ono, on August 7, 2019. (Flash90)

Nave is CGI’s founder, owner and CEO. Its president is Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security service and ex-minister from the Yesh Atid party.

Gantz has already had to contend with leaked reports earlier this year that said his cellphone was hacked by Iran. The former IDF chief of staff in March confirmed his phone had been compromised a year earlier, but stressed that no sensitive security intelligence or personally incriminating information was on the device.

Netanyahu’s Likud party tried to use the hack, which Gantz was informed about last year by Israeli security officials, to suggest the fact that hackers could compromise his phone meant he was unfit to lead the country. Gantz charged that the media leak about the breach was politically motivated.

Blue and White tied with Netanyahu’s Likud on 35 seats in the April elections, but most MKs recommended Netanyahu as prime minister. It is currently polling neck-and-neck with the ruling party ahead of the September 17 vote, which Netanyahu initiated after failing to form a government after the last vote.

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