By Philip Giraldi
Handing out cookies in Maidan Square in Kiev as an incentive to bring about regime change? Why not? It worked in 2014 when then-Sen. John McCain and the State Department’s Victoria Nuland were featured performers in a $5 billion investment by the U.S. government to topple the friendly-to-Russia regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. Of course, one might suggest that the success in bringing in a new government acceptable to Nuland has not really turned out that well for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, nor for those Americans who understand that the Biden administration’s pledge to arm Ukraine and stay in the fight against Russia “as long as it takes” just might not be very good for the United States either.
George Washington, America’s first president, had something to say about getting caught up in foreign quarrels and entangling alliances in his farewell address upon leaving office in 1796. He said:
Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.
Unfortunately, successive administrations were not listening, starting with the Monroe Doctrine and continuing with a series of 19th-century wars directed against neighboring states and American Indians to achieve the new nation’s “manifest destiny” as a continent-spanning major power.
And the United States is still at it, though it now conceals what it is up to by preaching “democracy” and wrapping the message in “woke progressivism” at every opportunity. An interesting recent trip by a senior government official that was not reported in the mainstream media suggests that the game is still afoot in Eastern Europe. The early February visitor was Samantha Power, currently head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and a familiar figure from the Obama administration, where she served as ambassador to the United Nations and was involved in the various wars started by that notable Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
USAID was founded in 1961 and it was intended to serve as a vehicle for nurturing democratic government and associated civic institutions among nations that had little or no experience in popular government. That role has become less relevant as nation states have evolved and the organization itself has responded by becoming more assertive in its role, pushing policies that have coincided with U.S. foreign policy objectives. This has led some host nations to close USAID offices.
Within the U.S. government itself, it is often observed that USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) now are largely in the business of doing what the CIA used to do, i.e. interfering in local politics by supporting opposition parties and other dissident groups. Both organizations were very active in Ukraine in 2014 and served as conduits for money transfers to the opposition parties for “democracy building.”
Power, who is married to another Democratic Party-affiliated power broker, lawyer Cass Sunstein, traveled to Hungary on her diplomatic passport but took pains to cover her travel as a routine bureaucratic visit to an overseas post. Hungary is undeniably a democracy, is a member of the European Union, and also of NATO. Power did not clear the travel with the Hungarian government and did not meet with any government officials. She took to Twitter to announce that her visit was to reestablish USAID in the Hungarian capital.
“Great to be here in Budapest with [the U.S. ambassador to Hungary] where [USAID] just relaunched new, locally driven initiatives to help independent media thrive and reach new audiences, take on corruption and increase civic engagement,” she tweeted.
She met with opposition political figures and civil organizations and groups, including several aligned with the LGBTQI+ movement, who are dedicated to advocating for gay rights and dignity in Hungary and around the world. Power was accompanied by highly controversial U.S. Ambassador David Pressman, who is homosexual, of course, and who has been highly critical of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. He was finally told to “shut up” by Hungary’s foreign minister.
To be sure, Hungary’s government does not support the U.S.-led strategy to prolong and even escalate the Russia-Ukraine war, does not accept globalist open immigration, opposes same-sex marriage, and does not allow LGBTQI+ material to be presented to minors in schools. For that reason, the time was clearly right for Power to show up with a little dose of regime change in her portfolio. Hungarian officials had already expressed their concern over what they consider extreme pressure coming from the United States, largely because Hungary is a conservative country that values its culture and political independence. The visit by Power is an indication the pressure will likely increase.
The Samantha Power story is of interest, to be sure, but it surfaced at the same time as a much bigger tale of international subversion, also relating to elections and regime change. The United States must certainly be considered the world leader in compelling all nations to conform to the political and moral values that it insists be adhered to, but, another country, Israel, has stealthily become the nation that uses its prowess in cyberwar and technology via the internet to influence more foreign elections than anyone else.
A mysterious group, referred to by its founder Tal Hanan as “Team Jorge,” has particular expertise in hacking and spreading disinformation using thousands of fake identities and profiles. It works for a number of clients who pay for the services. Its activities, now exposed, add to a growing body of evidence that shadowy private firms exist across the world that are exploiting invasive hacking tools and the power of online social media platforms to manipulate public opinion and even to sway voters in elections.
Hanan, a former Israeli special forces operative, claims his company, which he regards as a legitimate corporate contractor, has been operating under the radar for two decades out of an office near Tel Aviv. Team Jorge also has six overseas affiliates which have been providing services both to political groups and businesses.
Hanan boasted that, “We are now involved in one election in Africa,” while the group also has “a team in Greece and a team in [the United Arab] Emirates.”
“[We have completed] 33 presidential-level campaigns, 27 of which were successful,” Hanan noted. “Most of the campaigns—two-thirds—were in Africa,” but Hanan also claimed the group also has operated in Latin America, the United States and Europe. He said at one point that he was involved in two “major projects” in the U.S. but denied interfering directly in American politics. No matter where it operates, Team Jorge’s business is profitable. Hanan told one potential client that he would accept payments in a variety of currencies. Interference in an election would cost anywhere between 6 and 15 million Euros.
Hanan was exposed by a team of three undercover reporters who posed as prospective clients in the latter half of 2022. The story appeared in the popular British outlet The Guardian in mid-February, and was also picked up by the UK’s Daily Mail. The lengthy articles revealed the content of secretly recorded meetings in which Hanan described in detail how his services, which some might describe as “black ops,” were available to intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies that wanted to secretly manipulate public opinion. To demonstrate the power of his hacking tools, Hanan hacked into the Gmail inbox and Telegram account of several political operatives in Kenya a few days before a presidential election there. Telegram is supposed to be a top security communications system.
Team Jorge’s most sought-after service is a sophisticated software package, Advanced Impact Media Solutions, or AIMS. Per Hanan, it can create and control thousands of fake social media profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Telegram, Gmail, Instagram, and YouTube. Some of the AIMS avatars even have backup credit accounts to establish their bona fides, using bank cards, bitcoin wallets and Airbnb account numbers.
Team Jorge also has had what might be described as a business relationship with the now notorious British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica is now out of business but it participated in a Nigerian election with Team Jorge. It is best known for having stolen the personal data belonging to 87 million Facebook users. It then allegedly used the data to provide analytical assistance to the 2016 presidential campaigns of both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and some believe the service provided may have influenced the result of the subsequent U.S. presidential election.
Israel has long been the home of start-up cyberwarfare companies due to its government’s intense focus on developing the tools and skills to attack targets like Iran’s alleged nuclear program. It now might also face increased international pressure to rein in the former employees who were schooled in its military technology sector. Most of Hanan’s employees are, in fact, formerly with the government.
The Team Jorge revelations come on top of accounts of how the powerful Israeli-made Pegasus spyware had been developed and sold by the cyber intelligence company NSO Group Technologies to various governments and other users. NSO reportedly spent lavishly in a bid to convince the U.S. government to buy its advanced spyware. It even paid $100,000 to Michael Flynn before he became President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser. The company’s software was reportedly used internationally by governments to spy on political dissidents and on journalists in particular. Some others targeted by Pegasus included human rights activists and religious leaders, as well as politicians including French President Emmanuel Macron.
There has been a sharp reaction within the social media and internet communications communities since the revelations about Team Jorge. Meta, the owner of Facebook, immediately took steps to identify and take down possible AIMS-linked identities on its platform. It is presumed that other companies are doing the same. Team Jorge claims to have had great success in its disinformation efforts relating to elections, but until someone does an essentially forensic analysis of what was done and how, no one will ever know the truth.
Presumably the company has already destroyed any and all particularly embarrassing documents. What is known, however, is that the toxic mix of Israel’s advanced cyberwar programs combined with the private enterprise of those cyberwarriors who leave government is something that has to be addressed. It has to be regulated or controlled in some fashion or the credibility of the social media and communications systems that currently bind much of the world together will be suspect.
Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.