Speed Reads

dirty tricks

Who hired Israeli operatives to spy on U.S. supporters of the Iran nuclear deal?

On Sunday, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow reported that Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube, staffed with former Mossad agents, had targeted two former Obama adminisration national security staffers who vocally support the Iran nuclear deal. The Guardian had reported that the campaign was tied to President Trump's circle, but on Monday, The New York Times said it is still "unclear who hired Black Cube" to hunt for specific dirt on Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, targeting their families and journalists, though "one person with knowledge of the reports suggested that the company had been hired by a commercial client with an interest in opposing the nuclear deal."

That seems odd. "It's just not common for a corporate enterprise to think about smearing a political figure — especially an obscure one — as a tactic for getting what it wants," Kevin Drum notes at Mother Jones. "So does commercial really mean commercial, or does it merely mean 'not an elected official'? Maybe a super PAC?" On Monday's PBS NewsHour, The Guardian's Julian Borger said his understanding is that Black Cube's investigation "was commissioned by people close to Donald Trump," and his source close to Black Cube say "it was clear that when the tasking for this went out, that the ultimate customer was the Trump team, the Trump camp."

"Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran nuclear deal," target="_blank">Black Cube spokesman Ido Minkowski told the Times. "Anyone who claims otherwise is misleading their readers and viewers."

The Guardian said Monday that "a source close to Black Cube conceded that the firm had been involved in the information-gathering effort aimed at Rhodes and Kahl, but insisted the investigation in question was not political but linked to one of its private sector clients, in relation to an alleged breach of Iran sanctions by a competitor. Israeli media quoted Black Cube sources on Monday as saying that its work was related to a dispute between shipping companies, but did not explain how that mission led the firm to attempt to spy on the Rhodes and Kahl families." Read about other groups targeted for supporting the Iran deal, including a warning from U.S. intelligence about "the Trump crowd," at The Guardian.