Israel likely knew of Black Cube’s efforts to discredit Iran deal – report

Source confirms to NBC that Mossad-linked firm was involved in a covert operation targeting Obama administration officials

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, right, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office on September 10, 2014. (White House/Pete Souza)
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, right, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office on September 10, 2014. (White House/Pete Souza)

Black Cube, a shadowy Israeli intelligence company, was hired to slander Obama administration officials involved with the Iran nuclear deal as part of a covert effort to discredit the multinational accord, NBC news said Saturday, reinforcing previous reports the Mossad-linked firm had meddled in US politics.

“They would never work against Israeli interests,” a source familiar with Black Cube’s work on the Iran deal told NBC, which said the agency was an “almost privatized wing of Mossad.”

“The insinuation is that ‘we’re so powerful, we have these links, and we can call on them,'” said the source, who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal from Black Cube. “They want that veneer of ‘we’re still the state, but we’re not really the state.'”

The source added that there was “little chance” the Israeli government was unaware of Black Cube’s efforts.

The report confirmed that Black Cube began gathering information on Ben Rhodes, Colin Kahl and other officials days after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last May. The source said the undercover campaign was initiated “for Trump,” but there was no evidence directly linking his administration to the agency.

“You’ll never find their name on a contract,” he said. “I can’t prove that it was the administration other than what I was told.”

Then Vice President Joe Biden, center, flanked by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, left, and National Security Adviser to the Vice President Colin Kahl, at the Blair House in Washington, February 24, 2016. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

But the source hinted that Trump’s hostility toward Barack Obama could have motivated the operation.

“Why spend time and money to make the whole the deal look rotten, unless you’re obsessed with destroying Obama’s legacy?”

The Trump administration’s alleged efforts to discredit Obama’s hard-fought nuclear deal with Iran were first reported by Britain’s Observer and the New Yorker earlier this month.

In a statement to NBC, Black Cube denied the reports, saying it has “no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran nuclear deal.”

The company slammed media outlets and said “suggesting Black Cube is targeting US officials is misleading their readers and viewers.”

But sources familiar with Black Cube’s work have told the news outlets the firm was hired to uncover evidence of unflattering behavior, such as financial or sexual impropriety, by the Iran deal’s architects, including Obama administration aides Kahl and Rhodes.

The reports said the operation was part of wider efforts to justify Trump’s decision earlier this month to withdraw the US from the deal.

Khal told NBC that during the period that Black Cube was allegedly hired to investigate him, his wife Rebecca was contacted by a private British equity firm that wanted to discuss her fundraising efforts at their daughter’s school.

He said he and his wife became suspicious of the exchange, and she ended the correspondence.

NBC obtained a copy of Black Cube’s file on Khal’s wife, which included personal information about the Khals and their relatives.

“It’s creepy to know that someone was trying to dig up your profile and the names of your in-laws and your kids and your wife and where you live,” Khal said of the file. “That’s pretty sleazy.”

Black Cube logo

According to the report, a Black Cube operative also sought to befriend Rhodes’s wife, Ann, during the same period, under the guise of offering her a job as a political consultant on a TV show.

The White House has not responded to the reports on Black Cube, but top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees this week requested the agency share any information it has on the alleged campaign to undermine the Obama administration.

From left to right: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., marking Black History Month in the US Capitol building, Feb. 24, 2016. (Ron Kampeas via JTA)

A letter sent Thursday by representatives Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel said that if the reports are accurate, they “raise grave questions about how and why a foreign entity was engaged to attempt to secretly influence the foreign policy of the United States.”

The letter was mostly symbolic: As the minority, Democrats do not have subpoena powers, and even with such powers, congressional authority over a foreign entity would be limited.

Separately, Black Cube was also reported to have tracked alleged victims of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was arrested Friday on rape charges.

Last November, the New Yorker reported that Weinstein hired Black Cube for $1.3 million to suppress allegations he sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of women.

Actress Rose McGowan at a film premiere in Los Angeles on April 15, 2015. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The report said an Israeli woman named Stella Penn Pechanac befriended Rose McGowan, an American actress who accuses Weinstein of raping her, claiming to be a women’s rights advocate — and secretly recorded their conversations.

Stella Penn Pechanac, the Israeli intelligence operative who allegedly duped at least one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, seen performing in a play in August, 2009. (screen capture: YouTube)

Days later, a Black Cube board member apologized for working with Weinstein, saying the firm would not have assisted the disgraced producer if it had known it was helping suppress sexual assault allegations against him.

“If we had known this from the beginning, God forbid we wouldn’t have taken the job,” Asher Tishler told Hadashot news in November. “I apologize for taking the job. When we took the job we had no idea this was going on.”

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