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9 Oct, 2018 13:24

Top Trump aide sought Israeli help in online manipulation during 2016 election - report

Top Trump aide sought Israeli help in online manipulation during 2016 election - report

An Israeli private intelligence firm produced three separate proposals to manipulate social media in the US and spread misinformation for the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential elections, according to a new report.

The misinformation campaign, dubbed ‘Project Rome,’ was produced by the Israeli private intelligence firm Psy-Group, which was founded and run by former members of the Israeli intelligence services and pitched to Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign manager for Trump, serving under Paul Manafort. The contacts between Gates and the Israeli company were first reported on Tuesday by the New York Times.

In the alleged dossier, the company suggested to Gates that creating a horde of fake online profiles to carry out social media manipulation and intelligence-gathering in order to gain a strategic advantage over Trump’s Republican nominee rivals and Hillary Clinton would be worth the reported $3 million price tag.  

The bogus online personas would be created to sway 5,000 delegates at the 2016 Republican National Convention by attacking Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). After compiling all information available on the target delegates the 40 Psy-Group employees would bombard up to 2,500 of them with socially tailored messages, both on and offline, including messages from ‘former Cruz supporters’ describing Cruz’s “ulterior motives or hidden plans.”

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Throughout “Project Rome” the company would disguise its activities through the use of codenames: “The Lion” for Trump, “The Bear” for Cruz and "The Forest" for Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile Psy-Group would conduct opposition research, create a series of “intensive influence activities and campaigns” and “complementary intelligence activities” with the intention of exacerbating the political divide along party lines and within the Republican Party’s supporters themselves. On top of this, the company suggested “tailored third-party messaging” targeting minority, suburban female and undecided voters. 

Psy-Group claimed that it would provide “all services in accordance with the laws and regulations of the country/ies in which they are conducted.”

There is no evidence the Trump campaign acted on any of the alleged proposals, which would have forced Psy-Group to double in size, hiring an additional 50 staff.

READ MORE: FBI documents detail Clinton and Mueller’s own ‘Russiagate’ – but they’re classified

However, Psy-Group’s owner Joel Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. in August 2016, along with George Nader, an emissary from the Emirati government, and Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater. The Mueller investigation has questioned members of Psy-Group in relation to this particular meeting. In addition, US Federal investigators presented a court order to the Israeli authorities to confiscate Psy-Group’s computers.

“Mr Zamel never pitched, or otherwise discussed, any of Psy-Group’s proposals relating to the US elections with anyone related to the Trump campaign, including not with Donald Trump Jr., except for outlining the capabilities of some of his companies in general terms,” Zamel’s lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said in a statement as cited by The Times.

The Psy-Group company is now in liquidation. Gates was indicted along with Paul Manafort in 2017 and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation which is focusing on an alleged $2 million payment to Zamel from George Nader, which came shortly after the 2016 election.

The news sparked an interesting exchange between journalist, lawyer and author Glenn Greenwald and Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. Greenwald noted perceived hypocrisy when it comes to Israel, given the fervor the entire Russiagate scandal has stirred up among the political classes in the US.

He called out the Democrat for drawing comparisons with them, seemingly baiting him into calling for sanctions against long-time US ally Israel for “attempted collusion with foreigners.”

This, despite the fact that The New York Times’ report explicitly states there is currently no evidence to prove that the Trump campaign retained Psy-Group’s services.

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