Secretive Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube was hired to engage in a campaign to discredit local NGOs, along with individuals connected to Jewish billionaire George Soros, ahead of Hungary’s presidential election earlier this year, POLITICO reported Friday.
Recordings made by operatives of the Tel Aviv-based company were then used by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to attack rights groups and Soros himself in the days leading up to his landslide election victory in April, the report said.
The magazine cited a former employee of the firm as well as an individual with knowledge of the organization who both confirmed the details. It provided numerous pieces of evidence backing up its claim, including addresses and names of fake individuals and companies used in the operation which Black Cube has used in the past.
Politico said operatives for the company met with officials from local civil rights groups under false pretenses and identities, and made compromising recordings of those officials.
Recordings included statements on efforts to lobby foreign governments to pressure Hungary against legislation cracking down on those NGOs. These were leaked to The Jerusalem Post and the state newspaper Magyar Idok, which both published stories on the issues.
Orban himself used them in claiming enemies inside and outside Hungary were attempting to gain control of the country.
“Soros’s people will be installed in government — this is what the ‘Soros Leaks’ recordings tell us,” Orban said in one interview before the election, in quotes provided by POLITICO.
“If Soros’s people have influence in government, they will occupy the Hungarian energy sector and the banking system. And the Hungarian people will pay the price for that.”
It is not known who hired Black Cube to allegedly conduct the operation. The report’s two sources were unable to confirm whether the money the Israeli firm was given for its work came from the Hungarian government, and a spokesman for the latter declined to comment on the claims.
A spokesperson for Black Cube told the news magazine that the company’s policy is to not confirm or deny such claims made regarding its operations.
Since 1979, the Hungarian-born Soros has funneled tens of billions of dollars into his Open Society Foundations (OSF), which in turn fund civil society groups around the world.
Orban, who based his campaign on demonizing migrants, accuses Soros and organizations supported by his Open Society Foundations of seeking to allow thousands of immigrants into Hungary.
In the lead up to the campaign, Orban’s Fidesz party plastered the country with billboards “warning” about Soros.
One of them depicted the philanthropist and opposition candidates holding wire-cutters to destroy the razor-wire fence that Orban erected on the Serbian border in 2015 to keep out migrants.
Orban and his government repeatedly attacked Soros using language that some critics have said has anti-Semitic undertones.
While Black Cube has been accused of involvement in controversial dealings in the past, the POLITICO report claims the Hungarian presidential campaign would be the first time the private intelligence firm’s work has been allegedly used in an election campaign.
As part of the operation, Black Cube agents met with the NGO staffers and Soros allies in various cities across Europe and the US pretending to be supporters. They used fake aliases, but two of them had “discernible Israeli accents,” those who met with them told POLITICO.
After meetings with the intelligence firm’s targets were completed, information on the fabricated companies the agents had pretended to represent was deleted from the internet and telephone numbers were disconnected.
According to POLITICO, one of the fake email addresses given by Black Cube agents had been used in another operation launched by the private intelligence firm targeting actress Rose McGowan, after she accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape.
A Black Cube board member later apologized for his firm’s work on behalf of Weinstein, and said it would not have assisted the disgraced producer had it had known it was helping suppress sexual assault allegations against him.
Black Cube’s name has come up in a number of other high-profile intelligence gathering operations.
In May, the New Yorker magazine reported that the firm was allegedly hired by aids to US President Donald Trump to dig up dirt on Obama officials in order to discredit the Iran nuclear deal.
The operation in 2017 reportedly targeted Ann Norris, a former US State Department official who is married to Ben Rhodes, a foreign-policy adviser to former president Barack Obama and a prominent advocate of the Iran nuclear deal. It also targeted Rebecca Kahl, a former program officer at the National Democratic Institute and the wife of the former Obama administration foreign-policy adviser Colin Kahl.
And Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who revealed that data analysts Cambridge Analytica had harvested details of 50 million Facebook users and used the material in Trump’s election campaign, also told the British parliament that Black Cube was involved in a hacking scheme targeting the president of Nigeria.
Black Cube denied involvement in both operations, in apparent deviations from its aforementioned policy of not confirming or denying reports on its work.
Along with a second private intelligence company, Psy-Group, it is being sued for alleged defamation in a Canadian lawsuit by hedge fund West Face Capital Inc., for $500 million in damages. In one instance cited in that case, a Black Cube operative is alleged to have tried to entrap a retired Canadian judge into making anti-Semitic comments.
In response to a Times of Israel request for comment on that case, Black Cube said last month: “It is Black Cube’s policy to never discuss its clients with any third party, and to never confirm or deny any speculation made with regard to the company’s work. Referencing Black Cube has become an international sport during 2018. It is important to note that Black Cube always operates in full compliance of the law in every jurisdiction in which it conducts its work, following legal advice from the world’s leading law firms.”