Israeli disinformation firm may have manipulated elections in 33 countries

By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

An unknown Israeli company operating under the name “Team Jorge” is alleged to have manipulated elections in up to 33 countries worldwide, according to reports including Der Spiegel, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and the journalists’ network “Forbidden Stories.”

The services the Tel Aviv-based company offered are said to have included large-scale disinformation campaigns and hacking attacks. It is alleged the company is run by former intelligence agents and military officers, according to the report.

The team has reportedly intervened in 33 national election campaigns and votes so far, including in Kenya and Nigeria. It is understood to have been successful in 27 cases with the only countries where the interference failed being Israel, Russia, and the United States.

Fake accounts on social networks

In order to influence the narrative on social networks, the company set up its own technical platform called Aims, through which it allegedly created fake accounts in a matter of minutes. The company currently controls a total of 30,000 fake accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and apparently operates so professionally that it is impossible for the networks to detect the fake accounts. “Team Jorge” itself reportedly described this strategy as “information warfare.”

According to reports, the group apparently temporarily hacked into the Telegram account of a high-ranking campaign manager in Kenya. Its members read all the private messages on the account and sent messages to other users in the victim’s name without being noticed.

Israeli ex-military man runs the company

The head of the company is said to be Israeli businessman and ex-military official Tal Hanan. In addition to Tel Aviv, the company is said to have a presence in countries such as Greece, Bosnia, Indonesia, and Ukraine. It is not known whether its members have carried out election manipulations in these countries. The staff consists of former agents, soldiers, and members of special forces; the company has been operating since 1999.

In addition, there are links to the company Cambridge Analytica, according to the report. The British company infamously made headlines in 2016 for assigning personalized ads to users based on Facebook data and claimed to have influenced the Brexit vote and the 2016 U.S. presidential election in this way.

In 2015, both companies were reportedly active in Nigeria’s election campaign. However, Cambridge Analytica is said to have denied Hanan’s involvement in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

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