Last week, Citizen Lab and the AP published a blockbuster story revealing that Citizen Lab had been targeted by undercover operatives who pumped Lab employees for information on the group's work uncovering illegal surveillance operations undertaken by authoritarian governments using tools made by the notorious Israeli cyber-arms dealer NSO Group.
The AP published a still and video of one of the undercovers, who'd posed as "Michel Lambert." Now, The New York Times has identified him as Aharon Almog-Assoulin, whose CV includes work for Israeli spy agencies and who is now affiliated with Black Cube, a black ops private security firm whose greatest hits include digging up kompromat for Harvey Weinstein to use against the women he sexually assaulted; smearing George Soros to help authoritarian dictator Viktor Orban win the Hungarian election; and sending spies to dig up dirt on Obama officials in a bid to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal.
The NYT identified Almog-Assoulin with help from Israeli investigative TV show Uvda. Contacted by the Times, Almog-Assoulin said, "I do not have any interest in continuing with this conversation."
Black Cube denies that Almog-Assoulin was working for them when he attempted to defraud Citizen Lab. They threatened to sue the Times.
NSO denies engaging Black Cube or Almog-Assoulin.
The operatives, whoever they were working for, did not seem especially smooth. Mr. Almog-Assoulin, posing as “Michel Lambert,” claimed to be intrigued by Mr. Scott-Railton’s doctoral research on using kites to lift cameras aloft, though drones have made that work a bit out of date.
At their lunch meeting, he read questions from cue cards of three colors that seemed to be organized by topic, explaining that at his age he needed them to keep the details straight. He held the cards in one hand, while in the other he held and awkwardly pointed a pen that appeared to contain a video recorder, Mr. Scott-Railton said.
In a phone conversation, he had told Mr. Scott-Railton that he had a son about his age. When they met, he said the child was a daughter.
At one point, Mr. Scott-Railton said, the supposed Mr. Lambert suggested that they move their conversation to a nearby cigar bar, noting that he was especially fond of Punch cigars, a premium brand.
As it happens, Mr. Almog-Assoulin’s profile picture on WhatsApp, a tool for secure texts and calls, is an image of the Punch cigar logo.
The Case of the Bumbling Spy: A Watchdog Group Gets Him on Camera [Ronen Bergman and Scott Shane/New York Times]