Who is behind Israel’s Archimedes Group, banned by Facebook for election fakery?
Website of company that boasted it would ‘change reality’ for its clients was registered by Grey Content advertising firm; Archimedes CEO used to head European Friends of Israel
Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.
On May 16, social media giant Facebook announced that it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, groups and events linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based firm, and that it was banning Archimedes from its platform. It said the company, which boasted on its website that it could “change reality according to our client’s wishes,” was involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” targeting users in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia in an apparent effort to influence political discourse in these regions.
Among the countries allegedly targeted by Archimedes were Malaysia, Congo, Tunisia and Togo. A report from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab also found that Archimedes stumped for the winning candidate in February’s Nigerian presidential elections, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. One of the pages that Facebook took down appeared filled with viral misinformation attacking Atiku Abubakar, the former vice president and Buhari’s main rival. The page’s banner image showed Abubakar as Darth Vader, the Star Wars villain, holding up a sign reading, “Make Nigeria Worse Again.”
Facebook banned Archimedes for its “coordinated and deceptive behavior” and conducted a sweeping takedown of accounts and pages primarily aimed at disrupting elections in African countries. Overall, the misleading accounts had reached some 2.8 million users, and the pages had engaged over 5,000 followers, according to Facebook’s estimates. Facebook said Archimedes had spent some $800,000 on fake ads and that its deceptive activity dated back to 2012.
While news outlets all over the world have speculated about the Archimedes Group, who is behind it, and its motives, publicly available data sheds some light on these questions.
The Archimedes Group’s website
Until May 16, when Facebook outed Archimedes, the company’s own website, selling its services, declared that it had taken “significant roles in many political campaigns, among them presidential campaigns and other social media projects all over the world” and that it utilizes “every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.”
The website did not give the name of any individuals associated with the company, but did feature an address: 98 Yigal Alon St in Tel Aviv, the site of the well-known 45-story Electra Tower.
Once Facebook went public, however, Archimedes radically changed its website — ar-gr.com — which at time of writing only features a home page with no further content whatsoever.
The site was registered on January 26, 2016, by someone using the address harel.[email protected] The domain g-c.co.il belongs to Adler Chomski Communication Marketing Ltd, one of Israel’s largest advertising firms, and the individual who registered the site, Harel Eldan, is listed in the directory of the Association of Israeli Advertising Agencies. Eldan is also the contact person for an advertising company known as “Grey Content Ltd,” which is a subsidiary of Adler Chomski Communications. Grey Content used to be located at Yigal Alon 98, the address that was until recently specified on Archimedes Group’s website as its location. (Grey Content has since moved to Menachem Begin 148.)
When The Times of Israel called Grey Content Ltd, Harel Eldan herself answered the phone. She said she is the office manager at Grey Content, and that she had been asked as part of her duties to acquire the ar-gr.com domain name back in 2016, but insisted that she did not know anything further about Archimedes Group.
The Times of Israel later spoke to Rami Rushkeviz, CEO of Grey Content, who said that Grey Content Ltd. has absolutely nothing to do with Archimedes Group and that his company simply provided site registration services for a man named Elinadav Heymann.
“I think their offices are in Modi’in somewhere,” he said. “We also helped him create a business card and slide deck. We provide these services to hundreds of companies a year.”
Grey Content Ltd. has been the subject of controversy in Israel in recent years, although the company itself has not been accused of wrongdoing.
In February 2018, the advertising industry news site ice.co.il pointed out that Grey Content had received a third of the government’s entire television advertising budget in 2016 — twice as much money as its next most-hired competitor — and had received a total of NIS 31.1 million (some $8.7 million) of taxpayer money in 2016 and the first half of 2017, without any tender being issued.
Grey Content also featured in a November 2017 criminal indictment in the Yisrael Beytenu scandal, a series of prosecutions against politicians and senior advisers from Avigdor Liberman’s party for allegedly taking bribes in exchange for directing government money toward certain entities. (Liberman was not a suspect in the affair.)
Grey Content is not accused of any wrongdoing in the case; Moshe has been charged with bribery. Keidar and Moshe deny the allegations. The case is ongoing.
The Archimedes Group’s CEO?
Elsewhere online, the website Negotiations.ch, which calls itself “your experts for difficult negotiations,” until recently identified Elinadav Heymann as the CEO of Archimedes Group, presenting Heymann as one of its experts. It said he was previously director of the European Friends of Israel in Brussels. (A short video of Heymann, identified in that job, appears online here.) Prior to that, he was a spokesman and adviser in the Knesset, and before that a “Senior Intelligence Agent” for the Israeli air force, Negotiations.ch said.
As of this writing, the entry for Heymann was no longer available on the Negotiations.ch website.
The Times of Israel called, texted and emailed Heymann but did not hear back from him prior to publication.
Harel Eldan told The Times of Israel she had never heard of Elinadav Heymann and she was not aware of anyone with that name working for Grey Content.
Rami Rushkeviz. the CEO of Grey Content. confirmed to the Times of Israel that Elinadav Heymann was his company’s contact person for the Archimedes Group but said he has had nothing to do with Heymann since his company registered the website and provided initial branding services to Archimedes Group.
The European Friends of Israel, Heymann’s previous employer, lobbies the European Parliament on behalf of Israel-related causes. It is not affiliated with the Israeli government and its sources of funding are difficult to determine, but two Jewish charities, the Matanel Foundation and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, have mentioned in reports and on websites affiliated with them that they provided funding the group.
AP contributed to this report.