The Private Investigators … two operatives tasked with surveilling reporters became embroiled in an international plot
to suppresssexual-assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
On a cold day in late 2016, two men sat in a corner at Nargis Café, an Uzbek and Russian restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
The place was decorated with tchotchkes from the steppes and ceramic depictions of peasant life: grandmas in babushkas, farmers with sheep.
On a tiled wall nearby, a blue-and-white evil eye hung on a string.
One of the men was Russian, the other Ukrainian; both were born in the disintegrating Soviet Union.
Roman Khaykin, the Russian, was short and trim and bald, with a snub nose and dark eyes.
Everything else about him was pale: his eyebrows were thin; his face was bloodless.
He was originally from the city of Kislovodsk, whose name translates to “sour waters.”
Igor Ostrovskiy, the Ukrainian, was taller and a little fat.
He had curly hair that got unruly when he let it grow out.
He and his family had fled to the United States in the early nineties.
Ostrovskiy was curious and sometimes meddlesome.
During high school, he’d suspected that several classmates were selling stolen credit-card numbers and had helped law enforcement disrupt the operation.
Khaykin and Ostrovskiy spoke in accented English enlivened with Russian idioms—“Krasavchik!”
Khaykin would often say, a word derived from “handsome” but used to praise a job well done.
Both men were in the business of subterfuge and surveillance.
In 2011, Ostrovskiy, a private investigator, had found himself between jobs.
He’d Googled “Russian private investigators” and then cold e-mailed Khaykin, who had a company called InfoTactic, to ask for work.
Khaykin liked Ostrovskiy’s chutzpah and started hiring him for surveillance jobs.
They were meeting at Nargis to discuss potential work.
As plates of kebab arrived, Khaykin explained that he’d started working as a subcontractor for a new client,
a firm that he wouldn’t name but that was bringing in big business.
“I’m into some cool shit,” Khaykin said.
“Some dark stuff.”
He’d adopted some new tactics, too.
He could get bank records and unauthorized credit reports.
He had ways of tracking a phone’s geolocation data.
He said that the phone high jinks usually cost a few thousand dollars, with cheaper options for gullible marks and more expensive ones for those who proved elusive.
Khaykin said that he’d already used the tracking method successfully, for a case in which one family member had hired him to find another.
Ostrovskiy assumed that Khaykin was exaggerating.
But he needed work.
And Khaykin, it turned out, needed more manpower to serve his new patron.
In October of 2016, as reporters circled allegations of sexual assault and harassment against the film producer Harvey Weinstein,
Weinstein and his lawyers hired Black Cube, an Israeli private-intelligence agency.
At first, according to sources close to the Black Cube operation, the agency believed that it had been hired to counter a negative campaign against Weinstein,
and expected that the work would concentrate on his business rivals.
But the agency soon began to receive assignments to spy on women with sexual-harassment and assault accusations against Weinstein,
and on reporters investigating those accusations.
Black Cube, whose staff included former members of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence and military agencies, specialized in deception,
including the use of front companies and operatives with false identities.
(Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex.”)
Hiring the agency was only a part of Weinstein’s larger effort to prevent the disclosure of the sexual-abuse claims.
He also hired the private-investigation firm co-founded by Jack Palladino, who was best known for working to undermine women who had accused
former President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct.
As a part of its work for Weinstein, Palladino’s firm created dossiers on both journalists and accusers.
Under the guise of assembling research for a book about his company, Weinstein also hired some of his former employees to compile lists of targets
and then contact the people on those lists.
The lists included reporters at The New Yorker, the Times, and New Yorkmagazine; the actresses Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and Annabella Sciorra;
and secondary sources who might be able to confirm those women’s stories.
But Black Cube played the largest role in Weinstein’s efforts to suppress the stories.
Weinstein shared the lists of targets with the Israeli agency, which forwarded them to a network of operatives around the world.
The New Yorker previously reported that those operatives included a journalist whom the agency hired and a dedicated spy who posed under multiple false identities
to gain access to journalists and accusers.
Black Cube also hired Khaykin and Ostrovskiy, as subcontractors, and asked them to surveil people on the target lists.
During the time that I was reporting the first of those stories, Khaykin and Ostrovskiy staked out my apartment building and tailed me to the offices of NBC,
where I worked as a correspondent, and later to the offices of The New Yorker.
At one point, Khaykin claimed to have successfully used my cell phone to track my location.
(A source close to the Black Cube operation said that the agency was unaware of, and did not authorize, the cell-phone tracking.)
The two men also performed counter-surveillance, making sure that Black Cube operatives weren’t followed to meetings, which often took place in hotel lobbies
or upscale restaurants in Manhattan.
At those meetings, Ostrovskiy would order meals—a perk of the job—while discreetly eavesdropping and recording the encounters.
Some of the meetings he monitored were unrelated to Weinstein and concerned far-flung locations, including Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Russia.
For Ostrovskiy, much of the work was shrouded in mystery; the layers of command meant that he didn’t know why he was following his targets, or for whom.
Ostrovskiy had spent most of his career as a private investigator on more mundane jobs—digging up dirt for custody cases, uncovering evidence of insurance fraud,
or spying on cheating spouses.
The early months of 2017, after he resumed working for Khaykin, were dominated by these kinds of assignments, for which he was paid thirty-five dollars an hour,
That summer, however, Khaykin began giving Ostrovskiy assignments that came from the anonymous new client.
Khaykin said little about these jobs.
Sometimes he would send screenshots of documents that featured the addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, and biographical information of targets.
Often, the screenshots included information on spouses and other family members.
Although Ostrovskiy didn’t know it, the information was pulled from dossiers that Black Cube had compiled for Harvey Weinstein.
In the summer of 2017, as I was speaking to Weinstein’s accusers and colleagues, Ostrovskiy and Khaykin began meeting at dawn near my apartment building,
on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Some days, they would stay in Khaykin’s car, a silver Nissan Pathfinder.
Other times, the two would use separate cars.
Khaykin would be ready to follow me if I left the building, and Ostrovskiy would keep an eye on my apartment.
When separated, they stayed in touch by text.
The investigators had been given photos of me and had done database searches of their own.
They monitored my social-media accounts and those of my friends and relatives, trying to track my movements.
The pair sat in front of my building, chain-smoking and getting bagels from a restaurant around the corner.
The surveillance often dragged on for hours, and there were few opportunities for bathroom breaks.
“I need to use a bottle,” Ostrovskiy once texted Khaykin.
“If you nearby I can wait.”
He resigned himself to using the bottle.
Khaykin and Ostrovskiy sometimes disagreed about how best to conduct the surveillance, bickering in their texts and calls.
Under the impression that I was on the “Today” show one morning, and assuming that I would be at Rockefeller Center, where the show tapes, Khaykin wrote to Ostrovskiy,
“Is it worth going?
To see if we get him coming out?”
“It’s a really busy area, Rockefeller Center,” Ostrovskiy replied.
“We don’t have enough people to cover all the entrances and exits.”
At times, the investigators were hapless.
One day, Ostrovskiy and Khaykin spotted one of my neighbors, to whom I bore a passing resemblance, coming out of my apartment building.
They gave chase.
Ostrovskiy followed by car, filming on a Panasonic camcorder, and Khaykin pursued on foot.
On a later day, when Ostrovskiy was alone on duty, he followed the same man again, drawing near enough to touch him.
Sensing that something was wrong, Ostrovskiy dialled my number.
Upstairs, in my apartment, I picked up a call from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” I said, and heard a brief exclamation in Russian before the line went dead.
I put down the phone confused and unnerved.
Downstairs, my neighbor walked on, unaware that Ostrovskiy had been following him.
end part 1
By Ronan Farrow
… part 2
How a private spy who manipulated Rose McGowan in service of Harvey Weinstein
This is the second installment in a three-part series.
In October of 2016, a writer named Ben Wallace got a call from a number that he didn’t recognize, with a U.K. country code.
Wallace had spent the preceding weeks pursuing leads, for New York magazine, about rumors of sexual harassment and assault
that were swirling around the movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
When Wallace picked up the call, the voice on the line was that of a woman with a refined European accent.
“You can call me Anna,” she said.
Wallace had lived in the Czech Republic and Hungary for a few years after graduating from college.
He had a good ear for accents, but he couldn’t place this one.
He guessed that the woman might be German.
Anna said she had heard that Wallace was working on a story about the entertainment industry.
“I received your number through a friend,” he recalled her saying.
“I might have something that might be of importance for you.”
Wallace tried to think of what friend might have made the introduction.
Not many people knew about his assignment.
He pressed the woman for more information, but she acted coy.
Her story was sensitive, she explained, and she wanted to talk in person.
The following Monday, Wallace met the woman at a coffee shop in SoHo.
She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, with long blond hair, dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a Roman nose.
She wore Converse sneakers and gold jewelry.
Anna said that she wasn’t comfortable giving her real name yet.
She said that she had a story about Weinstein but was grappling with whether to tell it.
Not long after, Wallace and Anna met for a second time, at a hotel bar.
When Wallace arrived, Anna smiled at him invitingly, almost seductively.
She had ordered a glass of wine.
“I won’t bite,” she said, patting the seat next to her.
“Come sit next to me.”
Wallace told her that he had a cold and ordered tea.
Anna was cagey about the details of her experience with Weinstein.
She said that she first wanted to learn more about Wallace’s story.
Some of her questions seemed strange.
Anna asked what had motivated him to take the assignment, how many sources he had, and who they were.
As they talked, she leaned in, conspicuously extending her wrist toward him.
Wallace began to suspect that he was being recorded.
When Anna eventually recounted her story about Weinstein, it was mild and lacked detail.
She and Weinstein had an affair that ended poorly, she said, and she wanted revenge.
Anna broke down while recounting the story, but her performance had a soap-operatic quality.
Wallace told Anna that he sympathized with her, but he considered consensual affairs to be Weinstein’s private business.
Around the same time, the actress Rose McGowan was planning to go public with a claim that Weinstein had raped her in the nineteen-nineties. ”
(Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex.”)
In October of 2016, McGowan tweeted about her allegation, without naming Weinstein; in February of 2017, she recounted the story to me for an investigation
that I was conducting; in the ensuing months, she finished writing a memoir that included the allegation.
McGowan told me that she had found support from women’s-rights activists.
In April of 2017, Lacy Lynch, a literary agent who was advising McGowan, forwarded her an e-mail from Reuben Capital Partners, a London-based wealth-management firm
that wanted to enlist McGowan’s help with a charitable project called Women in Focus.
The e-mail said that the firm was planning a gala dinner at the end of the year and wanted McGowan to be a keynote speaker.
“We have taken a keen interest in the work Ms Rose McGowan does for the advocacy of women’s rights and we believe that the ideals she strives towards align closely with
those upheld by our new initiative,” the e-mail said.
It was signed by Diana Filip, who identified herself as the deputy head of sustainable and responsible investments.
The following month, Filip and McGowan met face to face, at the Belvedere, an airy Mediterranean restaurant at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills.
Filip had long blond hair, dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a Roman nose.
She had an elegant European accent that McGowan couldn’t place.
McGowan was generally skeptical of strangers, but Filip seemed to know everything about her, and seemed to understand what she’d been through.
McGowan began to let her guard down.
In October of 2016, shortly before Wallace’s encounter with Anna, Harvey Weinstein sent a cryptic e-mail to his legal team.
For years, he had been represented by David Boies, the attorney who argued for marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court,
and who represented Al Gore in the dispute over the 2000 Presidential election.
Weinstein wanted Boies’s advice on a private-intelligence firm that had been recommended to him by Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel.
“The Black Cube Group from Israel contacted me through Ehud Barak,” Weinstein wrote.
“They r strategists and say your firm have used them.
Gmail me when u get a chance.”
Run largely by former officers of the Mossad and other Israeli spy agencies,
Black Cube has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, and offers its clients operatives who, according to the firm’s promotional literature,
are “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units.”
Later that month, Boies’s firm and Black Cube signed a secret contract retaining the spy agency’s services for Weinstein.
Boies’s colleagues wired a hundred thousand dollars to Black Cube, as an initial payment.
In e-mails and documents related to the arrangement, Black Cube staff tried to hide Weinstein’s identity, referring to him as “the end client” or “Mr. X.”
Naming Weinstein, one message warned, “will make him extremely angry.”
Black Cube promised Weinstein “a dedicated team of expert intelligence officers that will operate in the USA and any other necessary country.”
The team would include a project manager, intelligence analysts, linguists, “Avatar Operators,” who would create fake identities on social media,
and “operations experts with extensive experience in social engineering.”
The agency also promised to provide “a full time agent by the name of ‘Anna’ (hereinafter ‘the Agent’), who will be based in New York and Los Angeles as per the Client’s
instructions and who will be available full time to assist the Client and his attorneys for the next four months.
” Eventually, Weinstein and Boies brokered an agreement with the spy agency to obtain a draft of McGowan’s book, so that Weinstein could discredit it,
and to assist in blocking the publication of news stories about the allegations.
Over the next year, Black Cube operatives periodically met with Weinstein, in New York and Los Angeles, updating him on the firm’s progress.
The agency submitted invoices for hundreds of thousands of dollars and asked for large “bonus fees” if it succeeded in its objectives.
(A source close to the Black Cube operation said that the company withdrew from its relationship with Weinstein as it became increasingly clear that the producer wanted
the firm to target women with sexual-misconduct allegations against him.)
Black Cube was founded in Tel Aviv, in 2010, by veterans of a secret Israeli intelligence unit.
Meir Dagan, the former director of Mossad, sat on the company’s advisory board until his death, in 2016.
Dagan once described Black Cube to a prospective client as a personal Mossad.
Over time, the agency’s workforce grew to include more than a hundred operatives, with thirty languages between them.
It eventually moved its headquarters to a sprawling office space in a high-rise tower in central Tel Aviv, behind an unmarked black door.
In the company’s reception area, everything from the plush furnishings to the art on the walls evoked a black cube.
Inside, agents managed false identities and front companies; each workspace had a cubby hole containing as many as twenty cell phones,
tied to different numbers and fictional personae.
Black Cube’s work was designed never to be discovered.
But its operatives could be sloppy, and, once in a while, one of them would leave behind too many fingerprints.
In the spring of 2017—as the Trump Administration and its supporters worked to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal—a number of peculiar e-mails were sent to the spouses of
prominent defenders of the deal.
Rebecca Kahl, a former program officer at the National Democratic Institute and the wife of the former Obama Administration foreign-policy adviser Colin Kahl,
received e-mails from a woman identifying herself as Adriana Gavrilo, of Reuben Capital Partners.
Gavrilo claimed that she was launching an initiative on education and asked to meet in order to discuss the school that Kahl’s daughter attended.
Kahl, worried that she was “strangely a target of some sort,” stopped responding to the requests.
Ann Norris, a former State Department official and the wife of the former Obama foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes, also received an unusual e-mail,
from a woman named Eva Novak, who said that she worked for a London-based film company called Shell Productions.
Novak asked Norris to consult on a movie, which she described as “ ‘All the President’s Men’ meets ‘The West Wing.’ ”
The film, she said, would portray government officials during times of geopolitical crisis, including during “nuclear negotiations with a hostile nation.”
Norris found Novak’s request “bizarre” and didn’t write back.
There were other examples.
During the summer of 2017, a woman who identified herself as Diana Ilic, a London-based consultant working for a European software mogul, began calling and meeting
with critics of the insurance company AmTrust Financial Services, Inc., pressing them to make self-incriminating statements.
(An AmTrust spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that the company didn’t hire Black Cube to investigate critics, but, according to the paper, she declined to say
“whether its lawyers or others in its service had done so.”)
Not long after, a woman named Maja Lazarov, who claimed to work for Caesar & Co., a London-based recruitment agency, began approaching employees of West Face
Capital, a Canadian asset-management firm, and soliciting damaging statements from them.
In photos taken during the meetings, and in profile pictures on social-media accounts tied to the suspicious e-mails, the same face appeared over and over:
high cheekbones and dark eyes, framed by long blond hair.
Anna, Adriana, Eva, Diana, Maja—they were all the same woman, a Black Cube agent named Stella Penn Pechanac.
Stella Penn Pechanac was born between two worlds and belonged to none.
“I was a Bosnian Muslim, and my husband was a Serbian Orthodox,” her mother once told a journalist.
“And what was our little Steliza?”
In childhood photos, the girl was not yet blond; she had dark hair and dark eyes.
She was raised in Sarajevo, amid beat-up cars and dilapidated tower blocks.
When she was a child, the Bosnian war broke out, turning Serbian Orthodox Christians against Bosnian Muslims.
Sarajevo was cordoned by sect and beset by violence, poverty, and hunger.
Pechanac’s mother made grass soup when there was nothing else to eat.
Snipers fired on civilians.
Mortar rounds landed indiscriminately on city streets.
For half a year, the family lived in a bare, closet-size basement room.
When shells started landing nearby, Pechanac’s parents took in people who had been wounded and shared the family’s thin mattress.
“One woman died on it,” Pechanac would later recall. After the shelling, the entryway of their building was covered in blood.
“There were water hoses we used to clean with, and they simply washed all the blood out the door,” she said.
“I remember—seven years old.”
About a decade before the Weinstein operation, when Pechanac was in her early twenties, she and her mother appeared in a documentary about the war.
Her mother wept openly, walking the streets of Sarajevo and recalling the bloodshed.
Pechanac appeared reluctant to participate.
She hovered at the margins of the shots, chewing gum or smoking, looking petulant.
Eventually, one of the filmmakers cornered her and asked what it was like to relive the painful memories.
“It makes me mad that she had to go through this,” she said, referring to her mother.
“But, personally, I haven’t felt anything for a long time.”
Pechanac’s Muslim grandmother had taken in and protected Jews during the Second World War, and the State of Israel had given her an honorific,
the Righteous Among the Nations.
During the war in Bosnia, a Jewish family returned the favor, helping the Pechanacs escape to Israel.
They settled in Jerusalem and converted from Islam to Judaism.
The young Stella Pechanac adapted to a new identity and culture.
“She doesn’t feel inside patriotic like the people born in Israel,” one person who knew Pechanac well told me.
“Always, in one level, she feel like a stranger.”
At eighteen, Pechanac joined the Israeli Air Force.
After that, she enrolled at Nissan Nativ acting school.
She dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress, but she found only a few acting opportunities, in plays and in music videos.
“At all the auditions, they all noticed my accent.
They all noticed I was different,” Pechanac later said.
For Pechanac, the job at Black Cube presented an ideal compromise: its operatives were trained to conduct psyops—psychological operations
designed to manipulate a mark.
Like the best actors, they were students of body language, of the tics that expose lying or vulnerability.
They knew how to read those signs in others and how to deploy them convincingly themselves.
They wore costumes and used technology straight out of spy thrillers, like camera watches and recording pens.
“She went to work in Black Cube,” the person who knew her well said, “Because she needs to be a character.”
Although Pechanac’s attempts to elicit information from Ben Wallace went nowhere—Wallace stopped returning her calls
—the operation targeting McGowan proved more successful.
In the months after McGowan met the woman who called herself Diana Filip, the two became close.
They exchanged e-mails and spoke on the phone.
When McGowan travelled between the West and East Coasts, Filip, serendipitously, always seemed to be in the same place.
In August of 2017, they had a girls’ night out, at the Peninsula hotel in New York, and McGowan spoke frankly about her efforts to go public with her rape allegation.
She revealed that she’d been talking to me.
All the while, Filip sat close to her, listening sympathetically.
(Pechanac has said that she was unaware of many of the allegations against Weinstein during the operation.
“At the time he was really not a monster,” she told Israel’s Channel 12.
“He was not the man we know him to be today.”)
Soon after, Filip sent McGowan an e-mail.
“I’m back home, and just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful evening!” she wrote.
“It’s always a pleasure seeing you and spending time with you :).
I sincerely hope I’ll be back soon and that this time we’ll have more time!”
Then she came to the point.
“I was thinking about Ronan Farrow, who you mentioned during our meeting,” she wrote.
“Seems like a really impressive and sweet guy.
I read a bit about him and was very impressed by his work, despite the problematic family connection.”
She asked whether I might help with the charity initiative that she was supposedly working on, Women in Focus.
“I was thinking that someone like him could be an interesting and valuable addition to our project (not for the conference, but the annual activity through 2018),
due to the fact that he’s a pro-female male,” she wrote.
“Do you think you could introduce us, in order to look into this opportunity further?”
Filip also e-mailed me directly.
“I am very impressed with your work as a male advocate for gender equality, and believe that you would make an invaluable addition to our activities,” she wrote.
She also sent inquiries to a speaking agent I worked with, asking whether I might give a speech, or even several, at her gala.
She answered detailed questions and named the investors who would be in the room.
She said that she would need to meet in person before her firm could make a final decision.
“I hope such a meeting could be arranged sometime in the coming weeks, in fact I’m planning to be in NY next week so if Mr Farrow is available that might be a good
opportunity,” she wrote.
It was the first of several messages saying that a meeting had to happen soon.
When that failed, she said that she would settle for a phone call.
McGowan and Filip continued spending time together.
They met at hotel bars in Los Angeles and New York.
They took long walks.
Once, McGowan brought Filip to the Venice Beach boardwalk, where they ate ice cream as they strolled.
Filip talked about investing in McGowan’s production company.
She introduced McGowan to a man who identified himself as Paul Laurent, a colleague from Reuben Capital Partners.
Like Filip, he was attractive, with an indeterminate accent.
He was curious and attentive.
The three talked about possible collaborations and their shared belief in the importance of telling stories that would empower women.
McGowan and Filip also discussed how explicitly McGowan was going to publicly describe her allegation against Weinstein, and under what circumstances.
They talked through what McGowan had said to reporters and what she was writing in her book.
During one of their emotional heart-to-hearts, McGowan told Filip that there was no one else in the world she could trust.
In the fall of 2017, Weinstein met with three Black Cube operatives in the back room of the Tribeca Grill, in New York.
The operatives began the meeting on a triumphant note.
“We got something good for you,” one said, smiling.
One of the agents was a working-level employee who had been deeply involved in the operation.
In a white shirt and blazer, she had an air of crisp professionalism.
She was blond, with high cheekbones, a strong nose, and an elegant, hard-to-place accent.
She was introduced as Anna.
She was deferential to her colleagues, letting them direct the conversation.
When they turned to her, she talked with enthusiasm about the many months she’d spent gaining her mark’s trust and secretly recording hours of conversation.
Then the Black Cube operatives read aloud what they said were passages about Weinstein from McGowan’s forthcoming book.
As Weinstein listened, his eyes widened.
“Oh, my God,” he muttered.
“Oh, my God.”
Pechanac wasn’t the only one trying to befriend sources and reporters on behalf of Black Cube.
As part of its contract with Weinstein, the agency agreed to hire “an investigative journalist, as per the Client request,” who would conduct ten interviews a month,
for four months, and who would be paid forty thousand dollars for the work.
The agency would “promptly report to the Client the results of such interviews by the Journalist.”
For the job, Black Cube had settled on Seth Freedman, an Englishman who had written for the Guardian.
Freedman was a small man with a thick beard and hair that seemed perpetually askew.
He’d been a London stockbroker, then moved to Israel, in the two thousands, where he served in a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces for fifteen months.
Later, he became a whistle-blower, taking to the pages of the Guardian to expose his financial firm’s manipulation of wholesale gas prices.
He was eventually fired for releasing the information.
His articles had a rambling, jocular quality and were laced with frank references to a drug habit.
In 2013, he wrote a novel called “Dead Cat Bounce,” about a coked-up London-based Jewish finance guy who runs away to join the Israel Defense Forces and gets swept up
in a world of espionage and crime, all under the guise of being a writer for the Guardian.
Freedman wrote the way a gangster in a Guy Ritchie movie talks: “The perfect mojito is a line of coke.
See what I’m saying?
Rum, lime, sugar, mint—yeah, yeah, yeah, but trust me, it’s the poor man’s Charlie.
The scared man’s snow.
The straight man’s chang.”
After being hired by Black Cube, Freedman collected information about the allegations against Weinstein while receiving instructions from a Black Cube project manager
via e-mail and WhatsApp.
Freedman called Ben Wallace, saying he had heard rumors that Wallace was working on a Weinstein story and offering to help.
“He was pumping me for what I had heard and learned,” Wallace recalled.
Freedman also e-mailed HarperCollins, the publisher of McGowan’s book, and eventually spoke with McGowan.
He said that he was working on a piece about Hollywood and was calling from his family’s farm, in the English countryside.
He pressed her for information about her book and what she planned to say in it.
McGowan told Freedman that she had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Weinstein after the alleged attack, and he replied, “Most people I talk to in Hollywood,
they say, you know, ‘I’m not allowed to talk about it on record.’ ”
“Because they’re all too scared,” McGowan said.
“And if they do say it,” Freedman continued, “then they’ll never work again.”
Freedman repeatedly pressed McGowan about whether she was talking to other reporters.
“So,” he asked her at one point, “what would make you kind of call it quits?”
Zelda Perkins, one of two former assistants at Weinstein’s company who, in the nineteen-nineties, reached a joint settlement with the producer over sexual-harassment
claims, also got a strange inquiry from Freedman.
So did Annabella Sciorra, an actress who said that Weinstein had raped her in the early nineties.
I also received calls from Freedman, who said that he was working “on a kind of collaborative piece with journalists from other papers on a very kind of soft piece
about life in the film industry.”
The description struck me as oddly vague.
“We’ve come across some stuff doing our research that we really can’t use,” Freedman said.
“I just wondered if what we have could be useful to you, basically.”
He offered to connect me to someone he described as a high-profile source.
I told Freedman that I was open to leads but couldn’t tell him anything about my reporting.
He was silent for a beat, seemingly unsatisfied.
“If someone makes an allegation against someone, libel law in the U.K. is very strict and no one will publish if you say, ‘Ms. X said this about Mr. Y.’
Unless you’ve got some kind of proof to back it up,” he said. “
Is it different in the States, can you publish ‘This person said that about someone else,’ or would you also have to stand it up in some way?”
It sounded like a warning.
After speaking to Freedman, I was convinced that he was working for Weinstein or one of his intermediaries.
Eventually, Wallace, Sciorra, and Perkins all told me about their own suspicious inquiries from Freedman.
In the fall of 2017, after The New Yorker began publishing my stories on Weinstein’s alleged pattern of sexual assault and harassment, I contacted Freedman again,
saying that I wanted to talk.
A tumble of WhatsApp messages came back.
“Massive congratulations on your reporting,” Freedman wrote.
“Have been following closely.”
He seemed to sincerely want to help with my reporting.
He sent a screenshot of a document titled “List of targets.”
It included nearly a hundred names: former Weinstein employees, journalists, women with allegations.
Many of the sources in my reporting were on it, including McGowan, Perkins, Sciorra, and several others who had expressed concern that they
were being watched or followed.
Priority targets were listed in red.
A few hours after Freedman and I began exchanging messages, I was on the phone with him.
Initially, he told me that his interest in Weinstein was solely journalistic.
“I got tipped off in about November last year that something was gonna happen, and people were looking into a story about Harvey Weinstein,” he said.
As we talked, he revealed more details about the “people” who had tipped him off.
At first, Freedman referred to this shadowy group as “them.”
Then he called them “we.”
He explained, “We thought this was . . . the normal kind of business dispute you have with Oligarch 1 against Oligarch 2, the equivalent in Hollywood.”
I struggled to make sense of what he was saying.
Freedman told me that, when the focus of his work turned to McGowan and other women, he began to grow uncomfortable.
“It turned out that it was actually about sexual assault,” he said.
“We pulled back and we said there’s no way we’re getting involved with this.
How do we extricate ourselves?
Because he’s hired us.”
I tried to guess who Freedman might have been working for, who Weinstein could have hired.
“Are we talking about private investigators?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, cautiously.
“I was in the Israeli Army,” he continued.
“I know a lot of people involved in Israeli intelligence.
That should be enough to give you a guide to who they are without me telling you who they are.”
I pressed him one more time.
“Can you name any of the individuals in this group or the name of the group?”
Finally, he said, “They’re called Black Cube.”
This excerpt is drawn from “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow, out this month from Little, Brown and Company
This is the final installment in a three-part series
For a reporter, there are few things more valuable than an inside source—a whistle-blower who feels ethically compelled to expose an operation from within.
In October of 2017, while reporting on sexual-assault accusations against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, I learned that he had hired the Israeli private-intelligence
agency Black Cube to surveil his accusers and the journalists trying to tell their stories.
I had obtained a list of marks suggesting that the spy agency’s operatives had approached the actress Rose McGowan, the writer Ben Wallace, and me.
But I needed confirmation, and that would require an insider outraged enough to risk leaking the full details of the operation.
I blanketed Tel Aviv, where Black Cube was based, with calls and e-mails, asking about the company’s work for Weinstein.
There was a formal denial from their freelance publicist, Eido Minkovsky, who flattered his way through our phone calls.
“My wife’s seen your pictures,” he said.
“There’s no way she’s gonna come to New York.
She’s not allowed to.
I confiscated her visa.”
“You’re a sweet talker,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s my game,” Minkovsky replied.
Two men close to the Black Cube operation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, offered a similar denial.
In a series of phone calls, they said that the agency had only done Internet research for Weinstein, and that its operatives had never contacted reporters or accusers.
I pressed them about the names on the target list, including McGowan and another actress who had accused Weinstein of assault in my reporting, Annabella Sciorra.
(Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex.”)
“We never approached any of these,” the man with the deeper of the two voices said.
“I also made sure with my team here, any of these you wrote here: Annabella Sciorra… Rose McGowan…”
I told them that both Ben Wallace and I suspected that we’d been targeted.
“We don’t generally work on journalists as a target,” came the reply.
The man with the higher voice swore that they were telling the truth.
“We’re Talmud Jews!” he said.
“We don’t swear for nothing!”
The calls were both ominous and entertaining.
Black Cube was founded in 2010, by Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus, two veterans of a secret Israeli intelligence unit.
The agency stressed that its tactics had been vetted by attorneys around the world and that it stayed within the letter of the law.
(The agency’s agreement with Weinstein specified that all of the firm’s activities would be conducted
“by legal means and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”)
But others in the private-intelligence world told me that Black Cube had a reputation for flouting rules.
In 2016, two of its operatives were jailed in Romania, for intimidating a prosecutor and hacking her e-mails.
They were later convicted, and received suspended sentences.
One person involved with Black Cube’s operations told me, “it’s impossible to do what they do without breaking the law.”
When I asked the head of a competing Israeli private-intelligence firm, who had had dealings with Black Cube, what I should do if I suspected that I was being followed
by a Black Cube agent, he said, “Just start running.”
The two men close to the Black Cube operation had promised to send documents that would disprove any claims that Black Cube had followed accusers or reporters.
“I will send you the documents today,” the lower voice said.
“We’ll use a one-time e-mail or one of our servers.”
Thirty minutes after they hung up, a message arrived from the encrypted-messaging service ProtonMail, with documents attached.
Another message followed a few hours later, from a different e-mail service, Zmail, with more documents.
I assumed that both messages were from the two men close to the Black Cube operation, though the ProtonMail message had an unusually intimate tone.
“Hello mutual friend,” it said.
“Attached you’ll find new information concerning the HW&BC affair. Best, cryptoadmin.”
The ProtonMail account it came from bore the name Sleeper1973.
Attached was an extensive record of Black Cube’s work for Weinstein.
The documents included their first contract, signed in late October, 2016, and a revision from July 11, 2017, which extended Black Cube’s work for Weinstein
through November of 2017.
The later contract directed the spies to “provide intelligence which will help the Client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY
Newspaper,” a reference to reporting on Weinstein by the Times.
The contract also directed them to obtain a copy of a memoir that McGowan was writing, which was described as “a book which currently being written and includes
harmful negative information on and about the Client.”
The agency agreed to hire “an investigative journalist,” and an “agent by the name of ‘Anna’” for four months.
The invoices attached were substantial: the fees, including bonuses, could have reached seven figures.
The contracts were signed by Black Cube’s director, Avi Yanus, and by the law firm of Boies Schiller, which represented Weinstein.
This was astonishing: Boies Schiller also represented the Times.
But there was the signature of the firm’s chairman, David Boies, in blue-inked cursive, on a contract to kill the paper’s own reporting.
The next morning, I called the two men close to the Black Cube operation.
I thanked them for sending the documents.
They sounded cheerful, confident that what they had sent would exonerate the firm of conducting intrusive surveillance on Weinstein’s behalf.
“We did not approach any of these women undercover,” the deeper of the two voices said.
“We did not approach any of these journalists undercover.”
When I began asking questions about the contract that called for those very tactics, they sounded confused.
They denied that such a contract existed.
“I’m looking at it.
It’s on Black Cube’s stationery,” I said.
“I’m referring to a document you guys sent me.”
“When you say, ‘we guys,’ what do you mean by ‘we guys?’ ” the deeper voice said, sounding cautious, even worried.
“This was in the binder of documents that you sent to me yesterday,” I said.
“Not the second dump from Zmail, but the very first one, from the Sleeper e-mail.”
There was a long silence on the line.
“We did not send you any burner e-mail yesterday,” the deeper voice said.
“The only thing we sent you yesterday was from Zmail.”
Realization prickled my skin.
The men had promised to send me Black Cube documents from a discreet e-mail account.
What was the likelihood that someone would leak a conflicting, and more devastating, tranche of documents at exactly the same time?
But that seemed like the only explanation.
Anxious to protect the source, I changed the subject and told the two men that I had authenticated the contracts with David Boies and others.
“They are genuine,” I said.
There was a touch of panic in the deeper voice.
“I . . . I don’t know who sent that,” the man said.
Then, collecting himself, he added, “We should do this friendly, I would say.”
I wondered what the alternative would look like.
After I got off the phone, I sent an e-mail to the Sleeper1973 address.
“Can you give any information that would help authenticate these documents?
Some parties involved are denying several pieces of this.”
A response arrived immediately: “I’m not surprised they denied it, but it is all true. they were trying to get Rose’s book, via a girl named ‘Ana’ (possibly a HUMINT agent).”
Another set of files was attached, which contained a wide range of correspondence and ancillary documents.
Over time, these, too, checked out.
My editors asked me to try to learn more about source, whom we started calling Sleeper.
“Sleeper1973 is possibly a Woody Allen reference,” I wrote, referring to a film directed by my father and released in 1973.
“Which is certainly cheeky.”
Someone with a dark sense of humor, then.
(I’d publicly criticized my father after my sister accused him of sexual assault. He has denied the allegation.)
Sleeper rebuffed my pleas for an encrypted call or an in-person meeting.
“I can understand your editors’ concern although I’m afraid to reveal my identity.
Every online method can be monitored these days…its hard for me to trust it wont come back at me,” Sleeper wrote.
“I’m sure you know NSO so I’m not interested in taking unnecessary risks.”
NSO Group is an Israeli cyber-intelligence firm known for developing software that can take control of a cell phone and strip-mine it for data.
According to watchdog groups, the software has been used to target dissidents and journalists around the world.
(NSO has said that the software is “not a product to track or surveil dissidents or journalists for doing their job;
it’s licensed only for the sole purpose of investigating or preventing crime and terror.”)
Sleeper continued sending information from the encrypted e-mail address, and it always proved accurate.
After McGowan told me that she’d spent time only with trusted contacts and couldn’t think of anyone who might have been “Anna,” the undercover operative,
I asked Sleeper for help. Another lightning-quick reply: “Regarding Anna, her genuine name is Stella Pen.
I’ve attached pictures as well.
She allegedly got 125 pages of Rose’s book (as appears on BC’s agreement with Boies), and discussed the findings with HW himself.”
Attached were three photos of a statuesque blonde with a prominent nose and high cheekbones.
I texted the photos to McGowan and Ben Wallace.
“Oh my God,” McGowan wrote back.
“No fucking way.”
For months, she had been meeting with the woman in the photos, who had claimed to be a women’s-rights advocate working for a fictional wealth-management firm.
Wallace remembered her immediately, too—she’d posed as a Weinstein victim.
“Yes,” he wrote back. “Who is she?”
I presented the evidence from Sleeper to the men close to the Black Cube operation, and they soon dropped their denials.
They described, in detail, the efforts that their operative had made to insinuate herself into McGowan’s life.
McGowan had been an easy mark.
“She was trusting,” the deeper voice explained. “
They became very good friends.
I’m sure she’s a bit shocked.”
McGowan had told the operative that it seemed like everyone in her life was secretly connected to Weinstein.
She’d even suspected her lawyers.
But, the men told me, “she of course didn’t suspect us.”
As The New Yorker prepared to publish an article revealing the work that Black Cube and other private-investigation firms had done for Weinstein,
panic set in at those organizations.
Black Cube sent the magazine legal threats, promising to take “appropriate action against you” if we published the Black Cube documents or information from them.
Inside the agency, one of the firm’s senior leaders even contemplated destroying the material from the Weinstein investigation.
“We wish to dispose of every document and information we possess in regards with this project,” read one e-mail.
The men close to the Black Cube operation said that the agency was frantically hunting for the person who had leaked the contracts and other documents to me.
The company was, the deeper voice told me, “investigating everything.
All the parties involved, and what was stolen.”
Black Cube was also ordering employees to take polygraph tests, and had promised to sue anyone caught lying.
“We find it hard to believe that a worker would go on a suicide mission like this,” the higher voice said.
I wrote to Sleeper, worried. “I just want to make sure you are not at risk,” I wrote.
“I will do all I can to keep you protected.”
The reply was immediate: “I do appreciate your care. . . Momentarily, I feel safe.”
Just before we published, I made one last attempt to get the source’s identity.
In response, Sleeper told me something that made it clear where the documents were coming from—and asked me to keep the secret.
There was also a hint about motive.
“I’m an insider who is fed up with BC’s false and devious ways of obtaining material illegally,”
Sleeper wrote. “Moreover, in this case, I truly believe HW is a sex offender and I’m ashamed as a woman for participating.”
I paused, processing this revelation.
That, in the end, is all that I can tell you about Sleeper, and about the risks that she took to uncover something vast.
She was a woman and she’d had enough.
“Lets just say that I will never ever give you something that I cant back you for 100%,” she wrote in one of her final messages to me.
“I work in the information industry.
World of espionage and endless action.
Hope we can actually talk about it some day.
The project I’m involved in. . . .out of this world, my dear.”
By Ronan Farrow