The Mystery Deepens

May 8, 2018 9:34 a.m.

Yesterday we discussed reports that opponents of the Iran Nuclear Deal, or at least opponents of at least two former Obama administration foreign policy staffers, had hired the Israeli private intelligence firm Black Cube to spy on and run a black ops operation against these two men, Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl.

Now The New York Times has obtained a copy of the report.

There isn’t too much new detail. It’s about what one would expect, in-person surveillance, addresses, phone numbers, emails, various unsubstantiated allegations of personal transgressions. One of the most interesting parts of the article for me isn’t even in the article. It’s the byline. The article is by Michael D. Shear and Ronen Bergman. Bergman doesn’t work for the Times. He’s a top Israeli investigative journalist for  Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s top dailies. Clearly, he’s the one who got hold of the report produced by Black Cube and he’s freelancing this piece with the Times.

According to the Times, there’s nothing in the report that suggests who commissioned it. And they found no evidence it was commissioned by people close to President Trump, as the original report in The Guardian suggested. One source they spoke to suggested it was prepared for a commercial client, with direct financial interests in the perpetuations of sanctions against Iran. From the wording of the Times piece, however, it seems like this source’s information wasn’t that direct.

Here’s the key thing to consider. There are various private corporations with interests in perpetuating sanctions, though most would find themselves on the other side of that equation. But if the motive was financial, the entity would want a return on their investment. Neither Rhodes nor Kahl was involved in negotiating the Iran deal. Anything could come out of great personal embarrassment to either one of them and it wouldn’t really make any difference to the Iran Deal. The rightwing focus on Rhodes has always basically been a conspiracy theory in which garden-variety press work pushing the administration’s support for the deal it signed got spun for gullible Fox News rubes into some sort of epic scandal.

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The simple fact is that if a commercial concern needed sanctions against Iran for its business purposes, going after two mid-level Obama administration appointees would be an almost comically inefficient way to do it. Targeting these two men seems overwhelmingly more likely to be about domestic U.S. politics because both men remain prominent supporters of the deal on social media and both men, but especially Rhodes is a bugaboo in right-wing media circles. Both have also been accused of working with people still inside the government to leak information damaging to the Trump administration or its policy goals. I have no idea whether that is true or not.  But if those suspicions drove someone to hire Black Cube to dig up on dirt on these guys, again, that’s almost certainly going to be about U.S. domestic politics, partisan politics, rather than some commercial entity with purely financial motives.

As the Times points out, without explicitly drawing the implication, Sebastian Gorka, the European renegade turned arch-Trumper, seems like a logical candidate either as the guy who hired Black Cube or more likely one who was a recipient of the dirt.

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