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The trailer for 'Team Jorge'. Photo supplied
Tel Aviv

Israeli company suspected of manipulating votes in 33 countries

An Israeli company is said to have hacked into the accounts of campaign workers and operate fake user accounts. The Tel Aviv company run by secret agents claims to have manipulated elections worldwide. The traces also lead to Europe.

Published: February 16, 2023, 7:58 am

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    A hitherto unknown Israeli company is said to have manipulated elections worldwide. The company, which operates under the name “Team Jorge”, is based in Tel Aviv, and comprises a team of private contractors who sell disinformation.

    According to various reports including in the German weekly Der Spiegel, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the journalists’ network Forbidden Stories, it involves an ultra-secret Israeli company specializing in manipulating elections and hacking African and European politicians.

    The services offered have reportedly included real large-scale disinformation campaigns and hacking attacks. According to the report, it is run by former agents and military personnel.

    The team has so far intervened in 33 national election campaigns and votes, including in Kenya and Nigeria. In 27 cases the manipulators are said to have been successful. Apparently only actions that interfere in the politics of Israel, Russia and the US were excluded.

    Fake accounts on social networks

    In order to influence social networks, the company set up its own technical platform called AIMS, through which they are said to have created fake accounts in just a few minutes. It currently controls a total of 30 000 of these accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and apparently so professionally that it is not possible for the networks to recognize the fake.

    Forbidden Stories has since verified the existence of these often very damaging fake accounts fabricated with the AIMS (Advanced Impact Media Solutions) tool which is not searchable on the web.

    “Jorge recounted how one pretty, blond-haired avatar named Shannon Aiken used an Amazon account to order sex toys to the house of a political rival of one of his clients, leaving the rival candidate’s wife to believe he had been unfaithful. ‘After that, the story was leaked, and he couldn’t go home. The campaign turned around,’ Jorge said.”

    “Team Jorge” itself likes to describe these disinformation campaigns as “information warfare”, selling their services to the highest bidder. The brochure proposed a strategy to “feed and enhance each other,” combining “strategic intelligence,” “public perception,” “information warfare,” “communication security,” and a “special package” for “D-Day”.

    The tools used include the latest technological developments, with artificial intelligence producing on-demand viral posts while the remote hacking of Telegram accounts has enriched its list of services.

    Thus introducing bot networks, how to spread false information, and hacking of opponents were proposed as “solutions” regarding meddling in elections.

    Israeli ex-military runs company

    The head of the company is said to be an Israeli businessman and ex-military man Tal Hanan. In addition to Tel Aviv, the company is also present in countries such as Greece, Bosnia, Indonesia and now Ukraine, suggesting that they may have carried out electoral manipulation in these countries.

    According to the research, the group apparently temporarily hacked into the Telegram account of a high-ranking campaign manager in Kenya, read all messages there and sent messages to other users on behalf of the victim unnoticed.

    The staff consists of former agents, soldiers and members of special forces. The company has been in business since 1999.

    A French journalist from Radio France, posing as a representative for an African leader hoping to postpone, or even cancel, an election in the summer of 2022, exposed Hanan’s dealings. But even after many Zoom discussions, Jorge maintained his anonymity. The job, “Jorge” told him, would cost some 6 million euros.

    There are also connections to Cambridge Analytica, the British company which made headlines in 2016 for targeting users with personalized ads based on Facebook data, claiming to have influenced the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election.

    In 2015, both companies are said to have been meddling in Nigeria’s election campaign. There are many other disconcerting examples.

    During various meetings with undercover journalists, Hanan boasted about having 100 employees worldwide.

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