Spies tailed Ronan Farrow for a year.
Ronan Farrow’s new book Catch and Kill is an eye-popping look at his experience reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault. Farrow spent over a year pursuing the story, talking to multiple women whom Weinstein had assaulted and painted a picture of an abusive Hollywood mogul who was protected from consequences by an army of loyalists. He started working on the story as a reporter for NBC but it soon became clear that the network was not fully behind the effort to reveal one of the darkest open secrets in Hollywood. Every phase of the reporting process was an uphill battle as the network tried to get him to “pause” his reporting.
It was only later that Farrow learned that NBC wasn’t the only one throwing obstacles at him. Harvey Weinstein knew what he was doing and he hired an elite private investigation firm to try and thwart Farrow’s work. The Israeli company Black Cube followed Farrow for months and sent various undercover agents to try and meet with him to solicit information about his project. Not only were they assigned to surveil Farrow, but they were also infiltrating the lives of the women who were speaking with Farrow about Weinstein. One agent successfully gained the confidence of Rose McGowan, got a copy of her memoir before it was published and delivered the manuscript directly to Harvey Weinstein. For this work, Black Cube received payments from the Weinstein Company that are reported to have been over a million dollars.
What is Black Cube? Read on for the shocking details.
1. What is Black Cube?
Black Cube knew about Ronan Farrow long before Ronan Farrow knew about Black Cube. He had been the subject of surveillance by multiple agents attached to the company before he even knew that they existed, much less that Harvey Weinstein was paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was tipped off to the operation by a Black Cube contractor; a British journalist on their payroll had been calling Farrow and others connected with the story for months, as he writes in The New Yorker. The writer finally had some kind of change of heart and let Farrow know that his interest wasn’t just journalist-to-journalist: he was working for someone else. That was when Farrow first heard the term Black Cube.
As he began to research the firm, he learned that they were one of the top international private investigation firms in the world. Based out of Israel, they had a reputation for work that was on par with the Israeli government’s legendary intelligence agency Mossad. “Black Cube was founded in Tel Aviv, in 2010, by veterans of a secret Israeli intelligence unit. Meir Dagan, the former director of Mossad, sat on the company’s advisory board until his death in 2016,” Farrow wrote. “Dagan once described Black Cube to a prospective client as a personal Mossad. Over time, the agency’s workforce grew to include more than a hundred operatives, with thirty languages between them.”
Many of the employees had experience within the Israeli intelligence agencies and they had access to state of the art technology for their operations. Some agents worked undercover, using invented identities and they were trained in psyop or “psychological operations designed to manipulate a mark.”
2. What does Black Cube do?
As cloak and dagger as their operations sound, Black Cube is far from a secret. You can find their corporate website by a simple Google search — no need to access the dark web or anything like that. The front page of their site boldly states that they are “A select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units that specializes in tailored solutions to complex business and litigation challenges.”
And while they may not be a dark web entity, they sure seem like they know their way around the dark web. They brag that they “developed innovative tools and methodologies to handle massive amounts of data. We unearth useful information for our clients and map all potential sources of interest by trawling the deep web and harvesting information from typically inaccessible areas of the Internet such as the Dark Net.”
They even share case studies of investigations they have run, largely related to business operations, though they sometimes interfere in government operations as well, according to NPRl. They work on issues like employee data leakage, asset tracing, sniffing out bribery and one case of “Competitive Intelligence Research for a Multi-National Corporate.” They operate in numerous countries including the UK, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Italy and China.
Needless to say, they don’t have a price list on their website. Their services don’t come cheap. Based on the documents he received in his research, Farrow estimates Harvey Weinstein may have spent over a million dollars having Black Cube tail him and other people.
Catch and Kill is in stores now.
3. Black Cube tells its side of the story
After Farrow learned that Back Cube was working for Weinstein, he went to work trying to figure out what they were doing for the mogul. After months of exhaustive research, he managed to gain contact with two men connected to the firm. He never identified them but they were able to furnish him with contracts and other documentation about the relationship between Black Cube and Weinstein. “At first, according to sources close to the Black Cube operation, the agency believed that it had been hired to counter a negative campaign against Weinstein, and expected that the work would concentrate on his business rivals,” Farrow wrote in The New Yorker. “But the agency soon began to receive assignments to spy on women with sexual harassment and assault accusations against Weinstein, and on reporters investigating those accusations.”
4. Sleeper73 tells all
While Farrow was reaching out to Black Cube insiders, an insider was reaching out to him. On the same day his contacts emailed a batch of documents, he received a second batch that was even more illustrative of the tactics that had been used against Farrow and the women he was talking to about Weinstein.
“Attached was an extensive record of Black Cube’s work for Weinstein. The documents included their first contract, signed in late October 2016, and a revision from July 11, 2017, which extended Black Cube’s work for Weinstein through November of 2017,” Farrow wrote. “The later contract directed the spies to ‘provide intelligence which will help the Client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY Newspaper,’ a reference to reporting on Weinstein by The New York Times. The contract also directed them to obtain a copy of a memoir that McGowan was writing, which was described as ‘a book which is currently being written and includes harmful negative information on and about the Client.’ The agency agreed to hire ‘an investigative journalist,’ and an ‘agent by the name of “Anna”https://www.yourtango.com/” for four months.”
Farrow quickly realized that the second document dump was an unsolicited reveal from a whistle-blower who sought him out and used only the handle Sleeper73. He was able to verify all the information he got from that whistleblower but he never found out any identifying information. In one of Sleeper73’s last contacts with him, she revealed her motives in talking to him, writing “I’m an insider who is fed up with BC’s false and devious ways of obtaining material illegally. Moreover, in this case, I truly believe HW is a sex offender and I’m ashamed as a woman for participating.”
5. Why did you come to me?
Later, another of the company’s subcontractors had misgivings about surveilling the press. Igor Ostrovskiy was a Ukrainian national who had worked for an investigative agency called InfoTactic in New York City. InfoTactic had been hired by Black Cube to do surveillance on Farrow. His feelings about the gig changed when he learned Farrow was a reporter. Ostrovskiy had vivid memories of living under oppressive Soviet policies, including strictly controlled state media.
Ostrovskiy had been following the journalist around the city for months before changing his loyalty and telling Farrow what was going on.
When Farrow was working on his book last year, he spoke with Ostrovskiy one last time and finally asked him why he had decided to come to him. Ostrovskiy told him that free press matters to him and he didn’t feel good about tailing a reporter. “I asked him why he had decided to contact me, and, later, law enforcement,” Farrow recalled “’I like to be able to read the news and not think somebody’s holding a gun to a reporter’s head, deciding what he writes,’ he told me. ‘Coming from a society where the news was controlled by those in power, I never, ever want to allow this to happen to the country that gave me and my wife and my son a chance.”https://www.yourtango.com/”
Farrow writes about Black Cube in his new book.
6. A bridge too far
Sleeper73 ultimately wasn’t the only one who had negative feelings about Weinstein. Eventually, Black Cube cut off its contract with Weinstein. Farrow notes that “A source close to the Black Cube operation said that the company withdrew from its relationship with Weinstein as it became increasingly clear that the producer wanted the firm to target women with sexual-misconduct allegations against him.” Apparently, even a private spy agency as elite as Black Cube thinks targeting sexual assault victims on behalf of their assailant is too much.
While Black Cube might have distanced itself from Weinstein during the fallout of farrow’s investigation, it’s business doesn’t seem to have been hurt by the association. The company is thriving and it’s still providing investigative services for the richest and most powerful people in the world.
Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.