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An Israeli spy firm was reportedly hired to dig up dirt on ex-Obama aides involved in the Iran deal

Possibly by people tied to Trump.

House Oversight And Government Reform Committee Holds Hearing Iran Nuclear Deal
Former Obama aide Ben Rhodes discussing the Iran deal on television in May 2016. According to reports from the New Yorker and the Observer, the secretive Israeli intelligence agency Black Cube has been enlisted to dig up dirt on Rhodes and another former Obama administration official, Colin Kahl.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Black Cube, a secretive Israeli intelligence firm enlisted by disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to undermine women who made allegations of sexual misconduct against him, was also hired to dig up dirt on former Obama administration officials in an attempt to undercut the Iran deal, according to a new report from the New Yorker.

A separate report from the Observer, the Sunday edition of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, alleges that aides to President Donald Trump hired the spy firm.

The reports land as Trump faces a May 12 deadline of whether to renew the Iran deal. As part of the agreement in 2015, the US lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for the country downsizing its nuclear program. Trump has consistently railed against the agreement and is reportedly looking for excuses not to renew it. If the reports are true, those around him have gone as far as to seek out dirt on former Obama aides to give him that excuse.

The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reported on Sunday that Black Cube had been hired to gather information on Ben Rhodes, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, and Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, in an effort to find damaging information about them and in turn undermine the Iran deal negotiated under the Obama administration.

The company compiled detailed background profiles on Rhodes and Kahl and tried to find out whether they had worked with Iran lobbyists or somehow made money on the deal. They also tried to figure out whether Rhodes was one of the Obama staffers who backed National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s request to unmask the identities of Trump transition officials caught in foreign surveillance.

The tactics Farrow describes seem fairly transparent, even though, given the firm’s prominence, they’ve probably worked in the past: Rhodes’s and Kahl’s wives were apparently contacted by Black Cube operatives. Rhodes’s wife, Ann Norris, got an email from a woman who claimed to work for a London-based film company asking her to consult on a movie about the lives of government officials during times of geopolitical crisis, including “nuclear negotiations with a hostile nation.” (Norris didn’t respond.)

Kahl’s wife, Rebecca Kahl, got an email from a woman who insisted she needed to talk to her about the school her daughter attended. When Kahl tried to refer her to school staff members, the woman insisted she would only speak to her. (She eventually stopped responding.)

In another instance, an operative posed as a journalist and spoke with Trita Parsi, a Swedish-Iranian author. At first, they talked broadly about Iran policy, but then the conversation devolved into specific questions about Rhodes and Kahl.

Harvey Weinstein used Black Cube to undermine the women and journalists involved in sexual misconduct allegations against him

Black Cube is the same agency Farrow wrote about in November: Weinstein hired Black Cube to track actresses and journalists involved in sexual misconduct allegations against him. One operative met with Rose McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of rape, pretending to be a women’s rights advocate. The same operative, using a different fake identity, met twice with a journalist to figure out who was talking to the media. Black Cube is linked to the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.

The New Yorker’s report landed a day after the Observer reported that aides to President Trump had hired Black Cube to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign on Rhodes and Kahl. Per the Observer:

Sources said that officials linked to Trump’s team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago, his first foreign tour as US president. Trump promised Netanyahu that Iran would never have nuclear weapons and suggested that the Iranians thought they could “do what they want” since negotiating the nuclear deal in 2015. A source with details of the “dirty tricks campaign” said: “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.”

Operatives were told to contract prominent Iranian Americans and journalists who favored the Iran deal, including, according to the Guardian, reporters for the New York Times, MSNBC, the Atlantic, Haaretz, and Vox. (Vox hasn’t been able to identify who allegedly received the communications.)

Black Cube told the New Yorker in a statement that it never discusses its clients with any third parties or confirms or denies speculation about its work. The firm also said it has “no relation whatsoever with the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran Nuclear deal” — so it made an exception to deny the Trump ties.

The New Yorker reported that one source said the effort to get information on Rhodes and Kahl was part of Black Cube’s work for a “private sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran.”

Rhodes told the Observer he was not aware of the campaign against him but was not surprised. “I would say that digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do,” he said.

Both Rhodes and Kahl reacted on Twitter as well.

The White House hasn’t yet commented on the reports.

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