NOTE: I will be doing two separate interviews with California radio stations on Thursday. The subject will be my article which Jacobin Magazine will publish later this week on Israeli cyber-hacking firms exploiting malware on behalf of rogue regime clients. We’ll discuss the recent Whatsapp hack created by NSO Group; and another Israeli company which was banned by Facebook after creating fake accounts which aired election propaganda sabotaging elections in Africa and Latin America.
On Thurs. at 9:30am (Pacific) I’ll be interviewed on KMUD (Mendocino). You can listen live here.
At 5pm (Pacific), I’ll be interviewed by KPFA (Berkeley). You can listen live here.
Jacobin Magazine just published my piece on Israel’s NSO Group and its hack of Whatsapp, which endangered the life of Saudi dissident, Ghanem Almasarir.
Comment feature: My comment function stopped working for two weeks. It has just been fixed. If you published a comment after May 24th, it has just been restored. I will be addressing and responding to some of these as time permits. If in future you notice anything on the site not working as it should, let me know.
In February 2018, I saw a video of an Israeli TV news segment, which reported on a campaign to smear the Israeli police investigating the corruption cases against Bibi Netanyahu. The Kan report claimed that Soriano had signed a contract, and hired sub-contractors who were former Israeli military intelligence agents, to engage in surveillance of the police officials. The goal was to dig up dirt on the investigators and thus to sabotage the entire case mounted against him.
Soriano, age 51, was born in Argentina. He runs a high-end private investigation firm based in the UK called USG Security LTD. It is based in London, and its offices are a few blocks from Buckingham Palace. He resides in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Golders Green. His clients are among the wealthiest individuals and companies on the continent. He also specializes in providing security for ultra-Orthodox diamond dealers.
In fact, Politico has just revealed that last April, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which conducted a two-year bipartisan investigation of Russia’s successful campaign to secure the presidency for Donald Trump, has requested Soriano’s testimony about his business relationships with Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripraska. The letter inviting him to testify sought:
“…All communications or records of communications” with some characters who have by now become household names, like Manafort and Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The committee also requested Soriano’s communications with three Israeli private intelligence firms: Psy Group, Wikistrat, and Black Cube, as well as any communications he may have had with Orbis Business Intelligence, a firm co-founded by the former British spy Christopher Steele.
This story blows open what was previously known about the election conspiracy, which mostly focussed on Russian bad actors. As Politico wrote:
The letter, obtained by Politico, offers yet another window into the panel’s secretive — but largely bipartisan — two-year-old investigation, and reveals the investigators’ interest in what, if any, role Israel may have played in attempts to manipulate the 2016 election.
Three of the four dirty-ops firms mentioned above are Israeli. It indicates that all of them may’ve also played critical roles in this wrongdoing. Given what we know about these firms (and I’ve reported extensively on all of them here), it’s clear that their services demand a high price tag and that only governments or oligarchs can afford their fees.
We already know that pro-Israel American Jews like Elliot Broidy played major roles in separate scandals involving the Trump transition. Joel Zamel, the founder of both Psy Group and Wikistrat, joined with Broidy in promoting various hare-brained schemes to the Trumps, including a plan to raise a mercenary army to invade Iran and overthrow its regime. It’s within the realm of possibility there are other pro-Israel plutocrats like them out there yet to be exposed. Soriano would certainly know where those bodies are buried (and would be loathe to talk for precisely that reason).
Returning to the Kan TV new story, it notes that Netanyahu and Soriano go back quite a ways. The UK private investigator knew Bibi’s brother Yonatan and even produced a documentary film after his death. Whenever Bibi needed “muscle” he called on Soriano. The Israeli broadcaster quotes a former worker in the prime minister’s office who said that the staff called Soriano, behind his back, “Bibi’s Bully.”
Within months, Soriano’s lawyers sents demands that I delete the Soriano post I’d published. If I refused, I would be sued for $75,000 damages based on the claim of defaming the man and his reputation.
I was not the only individual who reported on this story. Noted Israeli investigative journalist, Raviv Drucker, also spoke about it on an Israeli radio program. For his trouble, he too was sued by Soriano. When the Israeli media watchdog publication, 7th Eye, reported that Drucker had been sued, Soriano sued it as well. Thus, it’s no wonder that all other Israeli media outlets have refused to report on the case. Thankfully, so far we’re the only three parties who’ve drawn his ire in this case.
With the help of an Israeli attorney, I secured Shlomy Zacharia as my local counsel, who has represented me throughout the case. In our initial filings, we argued that an Israeli court should not have jurisdiction in this matter because the blog post and website originate in the U.S. Therefore any legal proceeding should be brought in the U.S. and argued under U.S. law.
Additionally, Soriano is a UK resident, with vague ties to Israel. Given that I am a U.S. citizen, there was no basis to claim Israel as the proper jurisdiction. We argued that this case represented an example of libel tourism in which an aggrieved party shops for the most favorable legal system in which to argue his case. UK laws used to be highly favorable to complainants and they used to exploit this by bringing suit when they had only the most tenuous connection to the country itself. Eventually, laws were tightened there and libel tourists stopped calling.
The Magistrate court agreed with our argument and threw out Soriano’s claims, deciding that Israeli courts are not the proper forum for hearing the case. Soriano’s attorney filed an appeal with the District Court. After arguments a few weeks ago, that court this week rejected the appeal. In addition, the court awarded me $2,500 in legal fees to be paid by Soriano.
Though the case was decided on more procedural grounds, I believe it represents a victory for press freedom and free speech. It is the second time I’ve been forced to defend myself in such a case and the second time I’ve won. I hope it will be the last, but given the nature of what I do, I can’t count on that.
I launched a legal defense fund on Facebook to help with the legal costs. I’m grateful that the fundraiser has raised over $1,000. If you have a Facebook account and wish to add your support, please do. You can also use the links in the blog sidebar to make a Paypal donation or a tax-deductible donation via the green Network for Good Donate button. If you do the latter, be sure to add “Tikun Olam” as the designee for your gift.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.