Israel's Defence Ministry has admitted to hiring controversial espionage organisation Black Cube, allowing it to use an Israeli army intelligence base to conduct its operations.
According to a report by Haaretz, Israel's Defence Ministry held "a short-term contract with Black Cube from 2012-2014". It is not clear whether the controversial company assisted the Israeli state in its spy operations or whether the company was hired to support the Israeli army's intelligence division.
The ministry refused to say how much it paid Black Cube for its services or whether the firm was hired through a tender, but stressed that "the relationship was conducted in keeping with obligatory regulations".
In addition, during the period in question Black Cube employees were stationed full time on an Israeli army intelligence base, indicating the close relationship enjoyed between the two organisations.
Black Cube declined to respond to Haaretz's report.
Since it was founded in 2010 by Dan Zorella, who formerly served in the Israeli army's special operations unit, Black Cube has been mired in controversy.
Perhaps its best-known client is Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of several counts of sexual assault and rape. In 2017, Weinstein was revealed to have hired Black Cube to spy on his accusers and determine who was making allegations to the press.
The firm has also been accused of targeting officials in the administration of former US President Barack Obama in order to locate Iranian assets in the Gulf and East Asia, as well as being hired by Israeli businessman Idan Ofer to spy on Israeli politicians and high profile officials.
As Haaretz explains, though Black Cube insists it only takes on civilian clients and does not work for governments or political actors, the revelation that it previously held a contract with Israel's Defence Ministry further undermines this claim.
Black Cube is just one of several notorious spy agencies with origins in Israel.
Intelligence firm NSO Group – which was founded in 2010 and is based in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv – was thrust into the spotlight last year following the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
It was subsequently revealed that NSO Group's "Pegasus" spyware – which can be used to remotely infect a target's mobile phone and then relay back data accessed by the device – was used by Saudi Arabia to spy on a number of Khashoggi's associates, including Canada-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz.
NSO's software has also been used to target Amnesty International staff, human rights lawyers and hack popular messaging service WhatsApp. The firm now faces lawsuits for its role in spying on civilians on behalf of questionable regimes, with Israel's Defence Ministry coming under pressure to revoke the group's export license.