An Israeli firm sought to influence more than 30 elections around the world - with the two-thirds in Africa- for clients by hacking, sabotage and spreading disinformation, according to an undercover media investigation consortium named Forbidden Stories.
The company, with no legal existence, dubbed "Team Jorge" by journalists who posed as potential clients in order to gather information on its methods and capabilities. They chose this nickname because of the pseudonym of one of its leaders, Tal Hanan, is composed of former members of Israeli security services according to the revelations of the collective Wednesday (Feb. 15). Its various sponsors have not been identified.
The 50-year-old told three undercover reporters that his services, often called "black ops" in the industry, were available to intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies.
"We are now involved in one election in Africa... We have a team in Greece and a team in [the] Emirates... [We have completed] 33 presidential-level campaigns, 27 of which were successful," the Guardian quoted him as saying.
Most of the campaigns – two-thirds – were in Africa, he claimed.
This adds to a growing body of evidence that shadowy private firms across the world are profiting from invasive hacking tools and the power of social media platforms to manipulate public opinion.
Hanan did not respond to detailed questions, saying only: "I deny any wrongdoing."
The investigation published Wednesday was carried out by a consortium of journalists from 30 outlets, including Code for Africa, the Guardian in the UK, The Washington Post in the US, Le Monde in France, Israeli Haaretz, under the supervision of the France-based non-profit Forbidden Stories.
Kenya: aides hacked
While making a demonstration of his technology to reporters, Tal Hanan appeared to hack into the Gmail inbox and Telegram account of political operatives in Kenya days before a presidential election there.
Forbidden Stories named the targets as two aides to William Ruto, who ended up winning the August 2022 ballot.
"Team Jorge" was involved in the 2018 scandal commonly known as Cambridge Analytica. The notorious British consulting firm which has since shut down was allegedly used to develop software steering voters towards specific personalities. It collected and exploited the personal data of 87 million Facebook users to which the platform had given it access. Donald Trump was one of their clients.
Online public influence campaigns were carried out via a software platform, known as Advanced Impact Media Solutions, that allegedly controlled nearly 40,000 social media profiles across Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the reports say.