Israeli Cyber-Security Merchant Peddles Wares Secretly in United Arab Emirates
For those who follow my Twitter feed, you’ll recall a tweet I published based on a Haaretz story, which reported the mysterious appearance of unmarked airplanes at Ben Gurion Airport. It turns out these planes were leased to a “Gulf State” company. But the reporter refused to name the country, the cargo carried or reason for their being at Ben Gurion. This information is either under military censorship or judicial gag. But it can be reported here.
Thanks to a confidential Israeli source, I can answer those questions. The planes were leased to a company doing business in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and are carrying security personnel, other security-related machinery being shipped there by an Israeli cyber-security consultant. These are not merely computers. These are the infrastructure of a national security state. Everything that is needed to control a population from within and protect its security from without.
Some of you may wonder how Israel is doing business with an Arab state which doesn’t recognize Israel. The answer, it turns out, is easily. Iran is not only Israel’s enemy, but the enemy of all the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. The latter funded Israel’s covert ops campaign against Iran to the tune of $1-billion. During the last round of P5+1 nuclear talks, Israel purportedly joined with the Saudis to pressure the U.S. not to do a deal. There have been rumblings that Israel and S.A. might jointly attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. Israel has made common cause against Iran with many of these kingdoms.
I reported here that Israel opened a secret military liaison office in UAE to coordinate security strategy against Iran. This security deal may be part of this process of beefing up military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf.
One of my ‘sidelines’ is reporting the corrupt dealings of Israel’s flourishing arms dealing/cyber-intelligence industry. Tonight, we have a new story to tell. It involves an Israel security company called Logic, which is part of a larger conglomerate called AGT International (originally Asia Global Technologies). AGT is a Swiss-registered company owned by Mati Kochavi, with $8-billion in projects under management and $1-billion in annual revenue, according to its own claims (which are disputed in a Calcalist Hebrew profile of Logic). Here is a description of its portfolio:
The company provides security services and research in a wide variety of areas, including industrial, urban, cyber, transportation, maritime, border and corporate security. It protects transportation hubs, manages urban information systems, assists law enforcement and provides intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance solutions. Its professional services also include risk and vulnerability assessment, evaluation and personnel training, and it will provide customized security solutions built to particular needs.
Kochavi, age 50, is a mysterious, and even somewhat shady character about which relatively little is known. Calcalist offered the most extensive picture of his background. He was born in Haifa and attended the University of Haifa, where he studied history and philosophy. He claims that early-on he wanted to be a journalist, rather than a security expert or high-tech mogul. He did his military service in intelligence (most likely Unit 8200, though he’s never confirmed this).
In the 1990s he moved to New York, where he fell in with the wealthy real estate developers Steven Ross and Martin Adelman of the powerhouse Related Companies. They provided him with a spacious office in the Time Warner Center, which Related had built, and he proceeded to make his first fortune.
After 9/11, Kochavi and other entrepreneurs like Aubrey Chernick, the main funder of Standwithus and other Islamophobic causes and founder of NC4, saw a monumental business opportunity. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s almost unlimited security budget to ensure the nation’s internal security, offered a veritable gravy train of opportunity. With his strong sales background and patina of Israeli cyber-security expertise, the Israeli was a natural.
But his first few attempts were abject failures. He bought the rights to market a new drone technology, hired well-known Israeli ex-military figures as lobbyists and door-openers, and fell flat on his face. In his next venture, he entered into a partnership with the Israeli defense contractor, EL TA, to market its security technology. However, the partnership dissolved when EL TA discovered that Kohavi was essentially stealing the technology and selling it in private ventures that were outside their partnership. He was never charged with wrongdoing, but no Israeli military-industrial enterprises will ever partner with him again (though they will sell him their products).
The Israeli performed another business sleight-of-hand by founding AGT in Switzerland, allowing him to avoid Israeli taxes. An even more important benefit is to shield from his Arab customers the Israeli origins of his products and services. Logic was founded as the Israeli branch of the company. But much about it is secret. It has no website. It has one client, AGT. It mushroomed from an initial 20 employees to 600, making it one of Israel’s fastest-growing companies. Yet, until the Calcalist profile, almost nothing was known about it. Despite claims of international business consultancies and projects in multiple countries, AGT has only one known client.
Intelligence Online noted in 2012 that the $300-million in annual trade between Abu Dhabi and Israel involved almost solely security products including surveillance cameras, electronic fences and sensors to monitor strategic infrastructure and oil fields. It noted that Kohavi and AGT was the major, if not only supplier. Israeli sources note that AGT probably could not compete with the major industry players in the field for contracts with the developed world. It is a relative newcomer and its expertise is untested. So the company turns to the second-tier for its revenue, and Arab nations are impressed by the Israeli reputation for air-tight security. Despite the official hostility between Israel and the Arab states, the more authoritarian ones have much in common with Israel. Their levels of corruption, repression, and authoritarianism require sophisticated security solutions in order to maintain the elite in power. Who has maintained its own position in a hostile regional environment better than Israel?
Just to point to a few international indexes that spotlight the levels of repression and corruption in UAE, Transparency International ranks it 25th in corruption of 175 countries, while Israel is ranked 37th. UAE is 118th in press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders. Some of you will recall the Afghan businessman who was tortured on videotape by a member of the UAE royal family. This is the society whose powerful elite Mati Kohavi props up. Calcalist could not identify any other projects under supervision by AGT.
In 2004, Kohavi sought to burnish his image with a major sortie into the world of think tanks with an NGO promoting the peace process called Bridging the Rift. It was to be a joint Jordanian-Israeli project bringing together scholars and researchers from both countries. The two governments were to contribute 300 dunams for a campus on which the research project would flourish. It would fall under the academic auspices of the blue-chip U.S. universities, Cornell and Stanford. At the groundbreaking, Kohavi was joined by a Who’s Who of Israeli politics including then-PM Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. His New York developer mentors, Edelman and Ross joined him. However, the project never went far and sources close to Kohavi claim it’s been “frozen” due to “governmental decisions.”
The company’s business model seems not to develop its own original technologies, but rather to license various independent (mostly Israeli) technologies and integrate them for a complex security environment. So it may coordinate domestic surveillance, border security, airport and seaport oversight into a single package that UAE can purchase. The Israelis in turn will purchase, install and maintain the infrastructure.
Kohavi is portrayed in adulatory media articles as a “global thought leader” in “public safety and security solutions.” In other words, he’s the Herzliya version of the old-fashioned arms dealer with a suit and MBA. Here’s some more puffery about Kochavi and his security sales pitch:
AGT International has dedicated itself to providing security solutions to law enforcement and urban security organizations that fit the specific needs of each city and country. Overall, the goal of AGT International is to help local and national governments predict, prepare for, and prevent security problems through unique solutions.
When you’re a hammer every problem is a nail waiting to be pounded. When you’re an Israeli, raised in a national security state, every problem can be managed using the tools of such a state. This reduces human beings and values like justice to irrelevancies. Every problem is a target and every solution is a gun. Forget politics, civil rights, democracy, freedom. The only thing that matters is stability. We can create it in a few ways if we’re not popularly elected in the Middle East: either by buying it or by enforcing it from the barrel of a gun (I use that term metaphorically to encompass all the security products Kohavi sells). That is AGT’s method.
The Israeli is one of thousands who’ve transferred their intelligence/Unit 8200 skills from cyber-warfare scenarios to the realms of global security and commerce. This national burst of entrepreneurial energy has also benefitted Israel’s intelligence services by allowing it to exploit these products as part of their own operations.
Though I suspect his motives and find much about him distasteful, I have to admit he’s innovative in his way. He’s found ways to integrate his “security solutions” with unlikely enterprises like journalism and social media. His product, Vocativ, harvests information from social and journalistic media in ways that serve the needs of his clients, notably security and intelligence agencies:
If you were to eavesdrop on social-media conversations all over the world involving the term “NSA” and run a sentiment analysis on the results, you’d probably find that the wire-tapping spy agency is none too popular with just about anyone these days.
A new digital news startup called Vocativ has the technology to run just that analysis. Yet its founder, Israeli-born security mogul Mati Kochavi, invites the comparison. He’s organized his newsroom along the lines of an intelligence agency in the belief that journalism needs to undergo the same transformation that’s already swept the field of spycraft.
I found an example he offered in a Haaretz interview quite interesting: in the company’s social media war room his staff collated all the tweets published in Saudi Arabia over a certain period. They zeroed in on one tweet published by a Saudi professor who had hundreds of thousands of followers. The ultimate goal, the reporter was told, was to contact the source and develop the tweeted information into an article that could be sold to other publications. But imagine you ran Vocativ, had the Israeli intelligence background you did, and knew your pals back home might want to develop their own sources in Arab countries. What better way to develop intelligence sources and possibly future agents than have an ostensibly international journalism enterprise, owned by Israelis, and delving into the social developments in those states most hostile to Israel. A potential intelligence goldmine.
An article from back in July in Pando already made this connection using the sole big story Vocativ claims to have broken. Here’s a representative passage:
…When you realize that Vocativ is also a mouthpiece for Israel’s armed forces, you have to stop and have a moment of silent appreciation for the sheer sleazy hilarity of this world. I mean, a site that’s half soft porn and half IDF press releases, with a side bet on a fake occult skill in Deep Web summoning…that’s just amazing.
It’s worth a read.
The melding of journalism and intelligence should bring a shock and sense of horror to journalists out there. What Kochavi really wants to do is perform the investigative research that reporters might normally do, but to harness it to the interests of the repressive regimes who are his clients. If you’re an activist in say, UAE, and using Twitter or Facebook to broadcast your views and rally your followers, Vocativ is going to expose you to that country’s security agency, which can then track you either physically or virtually.
Though he describes the product as a way of better understanding global trends in information and other fields and intends for his clients to be conventional media outlets: it seems clear that the product can easily be used in more prosaic and damaging ways.
32 thoughts on “Israeli Cyber-Security Merchant Peddles Wares Secretly in United Arab Emirates – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Businessman Mati Kochavi, who owns technology companies AGT International and Logic Industries, has set up Moonscape Ventures to invest $120 million in Israeli start-ups. AGT operates in Internet of Things and Logic provides electronic sensors in the security sector.
Moonscape Ventures will be managed by Tammy Mahn, a leading investment professional with years of experience at Pitango Venture Capital and Evergreen Venture Partners, and Yonit Golub Serkin, who served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Development for the City of New York during Michael Bloomberg’s Administration. There she worked to develop and implement policies to attract entrepreneurs, build the city’s angel fund and grow Silicon Alley.
Yossi Melman in 2008 – Should retired IDF officers do business in Arab states or not?
The United States sold $26 billion worth of of goods to UAE last year, and as of September 2014, the United States has sold
$15 billion. That’s $40 billion in two years.
But if a private Israeli national, doing business in Switzerland, should trade with UAE, well……
And here’s another fun fact.
Most of America’s exports to the UAE go through Port Seattle, Richard Silverstein’s hometown.
Hardly newsworthy. Right?
@ Red Eft: The “exports” going through the Port of Seattle are likely Boeing planes (or parts for them) which Emirates Airlines orders in large numbers. Wouldn’t it be nice if Israel could have that sort of export relationship with UAE??! Why don’t you lobby for a peace agreement along the lines of the Saudi peace plan so Israel could have normal relations & trade with the Arab world. What have you done to make that happen besides carping & whining in the comment thread here?
Well Red Elf Iran was UAE’s export destination number 3 in 2013. The value of exports was over 21 billion Euros.
The goods and services UAE sells to Iran are hardly crude oil, natural gas, dried fish or dates. It is certain that many goods (even weapons ?) Israeli and USA sold to UAE end in Iran. And it is equally certain that the regimes of Israel and USA know that perfectly well, but are not willing to admit it to their own public. Hardly newsworthy. Right?
More likely, the UAE is using Kochavi’s AGT Technology to protect UAE’s airlines, government and infrastructure from Iranian government hackers who are targeting the UAE.
Where’s your cite, Sumo?
Red Elf that doesn’t explain what UAE exports to Iran? 26 billion USD is a lot of money and much, very much of goods. For comparisons sake the budget of IDF is 16.5 billion USD. And there is certainly much export from UAE to Iran, which doesn’t appear in any UAE statistics. Smuggling.
Have you ever wondered how the “underdeveloped” Iran managed to hijack and down some of the developed US and Israeli drones? Maybe you profit worshiping “moralists” even sold them at one stage the technology, instruments and software to do that?
It is well known and documented, that Israel and Israelis do not hesitate to sell weapons to anybody, legally or illegally, openly or under cover. Remember Iran Contra events? Or those China trades which USA did not like at all? Who was one the main weapon deliverers for Myanmar’s generals during their ethnic cleansing and other “democracy projects”? Who sold weapons to Eritrea before changing side to Ethiopia? Who were Idi Amin’s first best friends? Who armed the South Sudanese and where did they have offices? Who gave whites in South Africa the means to produce and own nukes? Who changed weapons to blood diamonds delivered by child soldiers and insane war lords? ETC. Why on earth should any Arab or Muslim country, Sunni or Shia, trust Israel as a nation, a country with that history and moral. Their corrupted leaders may in some countries pretend to “trust” Israel for a short period, but eventually the masses will decide the level of true trust.
@ Red Eft: This is the perfect hasbara argument that falls flat on its face. The U.S. has normal relations with UAE. We don’t boycott them nor they us. That’s not the case with Israel. If Israel had relations with UAE then trade between the two would be much larger (another benefit of normalizing relations with the Arab world which Israeli rejectionists like yr PM ignore) & I would not make an issue of Kohavi.
Your issue is that Israel has some sub rosa business dealings with a country with a poor human rights record.
That’s why you include the pic of the prince torturing the Libyan businessman.
My point is that you blithely avert your eyes from your country’s huge trade deals with human rights violating UAE.
@ Red Eft: Excuse me, but here I thought the subject of this blog was Israel! Thanks so much for correcting me & pointing out it’s true mission: U.S. human rights violations. I’ll have to make a few changes now that you’ve pointed this out–like change the title of the blog & erase all those blog posts that don’t deal with U.S. human rights violations. But a small price to pay for being set on the straight & narrow by you.
Thanks so much for looking over my editorial shoulder & pointing out the error of my ways. I wouldn’t know what to do with without people like you!
On a more serious note, can you point out any blog post I’ve ever written in which I’ve supported U.S. aid for dictatorships like UAE? In fact, I’ve excoriated the U.S. for funneling billions in arms to Gulf states. I’ve supported the Arab Spring, which threatened dictatorships like those in the Gulf.
Almost all U.S. exports to UAE are airplanes. Boeing airplanes. Not used to beat up Afghan businessmen or snoop on the private communications of private citizens. Not facilitating a secret police state, as some of Kohavi’s gear surely does.
And really, the idea of you telling me what I should be writing about & trying to divert me from writing about the subject of this blog is beyond ludicrous.
” The planes …are carrying security personnel, other security-related machinery being shipped there by an Israeli cyber-security consultant”
Which make it more than likely that the UAE is trying to protect herself from Iran’s IRGC hackers and less likely that AGT technology is being used to repress internal dissent.
@Red Eft: I left out of my article quotations about the intrusive, all encompassing surveillance systems Kohavi sells, which allow governments to track almost anyone, anywhere, at any time. If Dubai could track all the Al-Mabouh Mossad assassins for days, why wouldn’t it use the same systems to monitor internal dissidents & other “undesirables?”
AGT partners with CISCO and Microsoft as well as lesser known businesses, conducting nefarious activities like monitoring dikes in China to prevent floods and monitoring chemical production in India in order to prevent another Bhopal.
Pure evil, right?
I know it’s not biblical, ever heard of the Greek tragedy of the Trojan Horse?
The collected data is fed into […] military intelligence computer systems …
A nice report for you from CSIS and the Heritage Foundation [!] here. Connectong all intelligence gathering, domestic and foreign, to homeland security to counter ‘disaster’ and terrorism [read input for NSA data centers].
China – UAE – Israel – India – USA – seeing a pattern there? I would like to know more about the softwrae AGT & Co installs and the monitoring of data.
Small oversight: The transparency ranking index is from least corrupt to most corrupt. I.E. Israel is more corrupt than the UAE according to that index. UAE is the 25th least corrupt country in the world, and Israel is the 37th least corrupt. Almost two hundred countries were compared.
@ eli: That’s what I meant to write! Many’s the slip between the brain & the lip (or keyboard!). Thanks for the correction!
○ Vocativ’s ridiculous ISIS story fails to mention the company’s deep links to Israeli intelligence
All those Kochavis! It’s a name I happen to know pretty well, because I naturally follow the career of General Aviv Kochavi, one of the most important strategic minds in the Middle East. General Kochavi has had an interesting career. He commanded the Gaza Division before being promoted to head of Military Intelligence.
Kochavi is a man who understands the importance of the world press in the sort of war being carried out in Gaza. In fact, he’s on record as saying the IDF’s most important battlefield is online:
Major General Aviv Kochavi, speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, went on record as saying “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.”
And when General Kochavi talks about “cyber,” it’s naïve to think he only meant the stuff that hackers do. Cyber-warfare means controlling the online narrative and using it to keep the world press on your side, or at the very least, off your case, while you kill the people you want to kill. That’s a fact of war in the new millennium.
[The server of vocativ.com is located in Ashburn VA]
A spokesperson for Vocativ made the following statement:
“Your headline is incorrect — Vocativ has no ties to intelligence, and nothing in your story demonstrates otherwise.
[Editor’s note: Haaretz says “Kochavi often hires analysts – he calls them “ninjas” with a background in Israeli intelligence. We met former Google analysts, people with multi-language fluency and people who served in the Israel Defense Forces’ signal intelligence unit, Unit 8200.”]
Brecher’s only “proof” is an insinuation that there’s a connection between Major General Aviv Kochavi and Vocativ founder Mati Kochavi — which there is not — and a comment made by a former employee from one of Mati’s other companies, who left his employ seven ago — roughly four years before Vocativ was even an idea. Of course the Israelis Mati employs have military backgrounds, as all Israeli citizens must must serve in the military, other than ultra orthodox. A McDonald’s in Tel Aviv has employees with military backgrounds.
It’s also important to note that Vocativ is a NY-based company whose newsroom operates independently. Regarding Vocativ’s ISIS story, it clearly states that the information was found on open, official forums and social media – and with full transparency, included links to the sources in the piece. Using its deep web technology, Vocativ surfaced facts — not an unhinged rant.”
“Lastly, nowhere did we use the word “infiltrate”, per your erroneous and irresponsible headline.”
@ Red Eft: Wait now, because Vocativ is owned by, & employs personnel with extensive military intelligence background, and because much of its journalistic work will involve skills and topics of interest to intelligence figures (along with media outlets), that means it has no ties to intelligence??? That doesn’t even pass the smell test. You may wish to be naive & gullible. But the rest of us retain a high level of skepticism around anything to do with Israeli intelligence.
Common sense & logic says that Vocativ’s work has so many potential overlaps with Israeli intelligence objectives, that the Mossad & Unit 8200 would be crazy NOT to exploit it as a resource. If I can think of a benefit for them from Vocativ, believe me they’re not stupid–they’ve thought of it already. And if there’s profit in it for Kohavi, he has too.
Please source every quotation you offer with a link & name the outlet. You comment was sloppily constructed so no one can know where the quote came from. But now that I’ve found the Pando story I wish I’d seen it before I wrote my post. It goes far deeper than I did in making the connection between Israeli intelligence & Vocativ. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Vocativ has failed before to make a clear distinction …
○ Showtime for Vocativ
On the corruption index, it is better to have a lower score. Not sure why you,highlighted the 25 and 37 rankings as being bad. Confused?
@Sluggo: If you think being 37th on the world corruption index is a good score, then that may explain why the quality of Hasbara is so poor these days!
From your excellent article …
Ofer Burin was CEO of Logic Industries Ltd from June 2006 – December 2008. He is now VP with NESS-TSG, a global provider of advanced Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) solutions.
Linked to Pini Birman, CEO of Genesis System House Ltd., Defense & Homeland Security.
Logic Industries Ltd. is located in Kibbutz Yakum, north of Tel Aviv and just 5 km outside of Netanya. Logic Industries Ltd. will fire 100 of its 850 employees (Nov. 2013). The company, which develops IT management security solutions for national resources systems, is run by chairman and CEO (major general, res.) Amos Malka, a former head of the IDF Intelligence Corps (Aman).
“Business” background of Amos Malka.
Mr. Malka serves as the Chairman of Nyotron Information Security Ltd. He served as Director of O.D.F. Optronics Ltd. In 2001, he was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit by the U.S. President, “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service”.
Nyotron is a privately-held company, founded in 2008. Nyotron is led by an experienced management team of security experts that lead major security and networking projects across Israel and Europe. Its team contains some of the most seasoned minds of Israel’s Information Security Industry. Nyotron develops next-generation end point security solutions against un-known Exploits, Viruses and Trojans. Nyotron’s first product, the technology breakthrough Paranoid, provides a real time protection for both consumers and enterprises market, from targeted and un-known “Zero Day Attacks”.
It is amazing how the “Iran factor” has moved for Israel into a positive territory. It has brought, as a common enemy, Saudi-Arabia and Emirates closer to Israel (and even Egypt, which is supported by the Saudi-Arabia). Iran and its Hezbollah ally are fighting ISIL, which is a potential problem for Israel, and Iran has helped to broker the recent internal in Iraq deal with the Kurds, which would weaken contacts of the latter to Turkey (which is increasingly an enemy of Israel)
While Israel and its denizens seem to make every endeavour to make themselves as disreputable as they can there is movement on the diplomatic front. Recently French parliament too called on the government to recognise the Palestinian state. But there is more. According to Van Agt’s Rights Forum France wants the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that determines that a new round of peace talks has to lead to a result within two years. Arab countries, among which Jordan, are working on a Resolution according to which Israel has to withdraw from occupied territory before November 2016. If either Resolution is hit by an American veto Abbas would seek admission to the ICJ which would make possible the prosecution of Israeli war criminals and Israel as a whole for the war crime of resettling its own citizens in occupied territory.
How likely would an American veto be? According to Haaretz at the White House the possibility of coming up with something stronger than merely verbal rebukes is being considered. It wrote today:
“Barak Ravid reported in Thursday’s Haaretz that the Obama administration is considering taking stronger measures against construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. A few weeks ago, the administration discussed the possibility of moving from denunciations to taking action, the report said. U.S. steps may include not vetoing resolutions denouncing the settlements in the UN Security Council, and more.”
That would indeed open up a whole new chapter in US – Israel relations.
So Vocativ is a company doing legit business while the true purpose of AGT lies in the heart of Kibbutz Yakum in Israel. NICE!
Amdocs and Verint losing their share of intelligence gathering [telecom] as the data is to be found on the Internet and social media. No surprise there.
Interesting social media links to managing director at Vocativ.
Mr. Richard, there is no question you are in truthful directions and pursuits. See 3i mind. Owned by Kochavi. Same heads of business like agt
Services and shit for spying and now media. world has not seen.
Former spies and spy communictions directors. crazy and true
If you only new the entire story. None of this should be a surprise.