A new investigation conducted by the French nonprofit “Forbidden Stories” has uncovered the role of an Israeli team of contractors called "Team Jorge" in meddling in more than 30 elections worldwide.
Led by Tal Hanan, a former Israeli special force operative, Team Jorge has been interfering in elections for over 20 years. Hanan claims that his team has been successful in 27 of the 33 elections they have intervened in. He is also identified as the CEO of an Israeli company called “Demoman International.”
Hanan disclosed to undercover reporters that his team's services are offered to intelligence agencies, political campaigns, and corporate clients who want to manipulate and influence public opinion in various regions, including Africa, South and Central America, the U.S. and Europe. Their election-influencing tactics involve hacking the Gmail accounts of their rivals and planting disinformation in news outlets.
The cost for their services ranges from €6m to €15m, though evidence suggests that they have charged less in previous instances. During the meeting with the reporters, Hanan showed a slideshow with the heading "Wrecking havoc during African election day," according to The Guardian.
Advanced Impact Media Solutions: The Weapon of Choice for Team Jorge
Team Jorge's main service is the Advanced Impact Media Solutions (Aims) software package, which can control thousands of fake social media profiles across various social media platforms. These bots are more advanced than the easily recognizable fake accounts typically found on social media platforms, often using real people's pictures.
Aims-bots have been identified in 20 countries, including the U.K, U.S, Canada, Senegal, and India. These bots promote disinformation and other harmful content. As Hanan explained to the reporters, "After you've created credibility, what do you do? Then you can manipulate." Aims was utilized to spread propaganda in 17 elections.
Connections to Cambridge Analytica and Other Implications of Team Jorge's Meddling
Leaked emails demonstrate that Team Jorge previously had relations with Cambridge Analytica, a former British political consultancy that became well-known following a data scandal related to Facebook. Their work included meddling in the 2015 Nigerian presidential election.
The investigation has significant implications and echoes, with more consequences to come. In India, the Congress has requested a probe into the use of Team Jorge in Indian elections.
Elsewhere, in France, a BFM-TV veteran presenter, Rachid M'Barki, was suspended after revelations that he had close relations with Team Jorge. The unit told undercover reporters that they had been involved in a BFM-TV news report on the Monaco yachting business. So far, M'Barki has denied any wrongdoing.
The Echoes of Team Jorge's Election Interference and the Threat to Democracy Worldwide
The investigation raises concerns about the rise of disinformation on social media and highlights the existence of a powerful market for disinformation, posing a threat to democracy worldwide. The advanced capabilities of teams like Team Jorge may undermine the integrity of democratic elections, which are the foundation of any free society. These findings are part of a series of spyware issues related to Israel, which is an important issue for the international community to address.