Instead of my usual conversation with Camp I am posting this article below. It appeared in the Tagesanzeiger, a Swiss newspaper and they encourage sharing. You can also find it in the Guardian. It’s real news. It’s an eyeopener but not unexpected in this manipulative new age of electronic communication where AI avatars are about to replace real people and The News is an electronic soap box, accessible to anybody with the tools and some skills. As you can see from the article below, manipulation is everywhere. Scary? You bet. Real? Absolutely? Effective? You’ll be the judge?
Destabilize a democracy? Team Jorge does it for 6 million
The suspicion: A secret troupe hacks politicians and manipulates elections for money. For proof, three reporters visit the group’s command center in Israel, disguised as customers and with hidden cameras. Ein Recherche-Krimi.
Cécile Andrzejewski, Bastian Obermayer, Frederik Obermaier, Oliver Zihlmann
Published today at 05:00
Jorge greets the undercover journalists who pose as potential clients – and then the Israeli shows what his team can do: With a hidden camera in the headquarters of the election manipulators.
His name is Jorge. Or George. Actually, he has no name, says the man in the blue shirt. “That’s who we are. We are nothing. We are air.”
It’s towards the end of 2022. Jorge is sitting in a desolate office in the industrial area of the Israeli city of Modiin. Here, between a scribbled whiteboard and a screen, he receives customers to offer his product: “Suppression of voter turnout”, for example, is written in English in a PowerPoint presentation of his company.
It is a kind of “manipulation AG”, but it is not in any company register. No wonder, because it also offers services such as the “disruption” of elections or “accusations” of political opponents.
Jorge and his partners are Israeli ex-agents. The office is part of their command center. They laughingly talk about how they hack politicians, in which countries they have already been active, how they proceed, what it all costs. They talk casually, because they think they have new customers in front of them. In reality, they are undercover journalists of a research team, equipped with a hidden camera. In total, they record six hours in exchange with Team Jorge.
Any politician, any country in the world, including Switzerland, can be the target of an attack: “Jorge” at the meeting in Israel.
In the course of the research, the following picture finally emerges: Jorge’s offer is primarily aimed at politicians or wealthy businessmen. You can buy a so-called “package”. You set a goal together – for example, to postpone an election or to influence it in a certain direction. Team Jorge then gets to work.
The Israelis, at least that’s how they explain it, obtain hacked or simply fake material to put pressure on political opponents. They organize cyber attacks to sow doubts among the population as to whether everything was right. Or they unleash on any country their own army of tens of thousands of fake social media accounts that can amplify or fight any desired political opinion.
The target of such an attack can be almost any politician and virtually any country in the world. Switzerland can also be affected. For example, in the research on election manipulation, a bank and false social media profiles from Switzerland appear on their screen.
For Team Jorge, the shaking of a democracy is therefore a commodity for sale. And it also has a price. A large-scale operation on election day in an African country, for example, costs 6 million euros. For an entire presidential campaign in the country, it is already 15 million euros.
The team claims that it has been running its business for more than 20 years, having intervened unnoticed in 33 national election campaigns and referendums, in 27 of them “successfully” in the interests of its own clientele. In 2022, Team Jorge reportedly had 13 active surgeries underway.
At this point at the latest, the question arises: Can this really be – can a small group of ex-agents actually intervene in elections worldwide?
The answer is: Yes, it looks like it.
On D-Day, election day, “Team Jorge” wants to suppress the voter turnout of the opponent in order to turn the result. Or disrupt the election by publishing compromising data and accusations against the political opponent.
The sales pitch
The research that proves this comes from the journalist consortium Forbidden Stories. 30 media outlets from over 20 countries have joined forces to uncover disinformation campaigns worldwide under the title “Story Killers”. Among them are the “Guardian”, “Le Monde”, the “Spiegel” and the “Zeit”. In Switzerland, Tamedia’s research desk and its partner Paper Trail Media are involved, as is the French-speaking Swiss television RTS.
In the case of Team Jorge, two journalists from Israel and one from France were decisive. They contacted the Israeli force last summer through informants. And claimed they were advisers to a wealthy businessman. He urgently wants to prevent an upcoming election in an African country. Team Jorge took a bite.
Probably hoping to land a new million-dollar order, the Israelis began to negotiate with the supposed new customers. In total, there were five video conferences and two on-site visits. The journalists of the consortium were able to film all online conferences from the screen. The videos of these “sales talks” are disturbing. First comes a bald man in front of the camera, code name Max. He assures that they have “tailor-made solutions” and “unique opportunities” to satisfy customer needs. Specialists in “psychological warfare” are in the team, as are high-ranking intelligence officials.
One could prepare a “massive reaction” and deliberately stir up the fear of a wave of refugees to Europe.
First of all, it is still a negotiation. But at the third conversation, Jorge suddenly appears. With him, the presentation will definitely be scary. He is the only one who does not show his face at first, it remains hidden behind PowerPoint slides.
The elections are first and foremost about the image of the candidates, he lectures. Secondly, to mobilise voters. Thirdly, the electoral system. “So how do you manipulate the system in your favor?” he asks. And gives the answer himself: “We cover all three. Okay?”
In order to get the supposed job, the postponement of an election in Africa, he proposes to put pressure on the EU. One could, for example, prepare a “massive reaction” and thus deliberately stir up the fear of a wave of refugees to Europe.
“My approach will be: If something happens in this country, five million people will start walking north, to Libya, and then on boats. Guess where they’re going.” His conclusion: The EU will do everything to postpone the election date in the country as desired – just as its new customers want.
In the third video call, Jorge brags for over an hour in the flippant jargon of a car salesman about how his troupe intervenes in the innermost part of democracies. He gives anecdotes in a chattering tone, for example about the chief of staff of a president in South America. They had hacked him and found out that he had an illegitimate son of whom no one knew anything. But many people have a “bastard” in the country, says Jorge. “So, we changed the story.”,
Without further ado, the team invented a second pregnancy and claimed that the politician had urged his lover to have an abortion in this case – which was not true. Since it was possible to prove the affair and the first child, it was very difficult for the man to credibly deny the second, invented part.
“Now he will come into conflict with the Catholic Church. Do you understand?” explains Jorge. This is devastating in this country. “The narrative is very important,” he says. “It has to have an impact.”
After a few more anecdotes of this kind, Jorge suddenly interrupts his PowerPoint presentation and rummages around on his hard disk. He has shared his screen – all meeting participants can see what he is doing. Then he opens the folder «Kenya».
A live hack in Kenya
It’s the end of July 2022. In two weeks, the presidential election will take place in the East African state, the hot phase of the election campaign is underway. Kenya is actually regarded as a model democracy in Africa. It is not known that Team Jorge apparently has a mandate there.
On the screen, Jorge now opens an apparently hacked G-mail account. This is the assistant of a powerful man in the country, one of his “goals”. You see a full email inbox, a small circle next to it glows green. Jorge is live in the account at this moment. But that’s not all.
Jorge shows that he also has access to all of the man’s contacts, including mobile phone numbers. All documents in the cloud, everything that has his “target” electronically, is open to him. Even supposedly secure messengers are accessible, assures the Israeli.
To demonstrate this, he switches with a few clicks into an apparently hacked Telegram account of the user “Davis ChirChir”. This is “some minister,” says Jorge casually. Kenya’s former and current energy minister is Davis Chirchir. At the time of the video call, shortly before the election, he was Chief of Staff to the Kenyan Vice President.
The man is apparently constantly on the phone via Telegram. “I can follow all his calls here,” says Jorge. Then he sees a message from a woman. He is immediately interested. “I can get her picture,” he offers. Or he could send her a message, for example: “How are you, darling?” The Israeli can now send any messages with this account, and they always come from “Davis ChirChir”. This can get to the press, to his wife, to the president, to the electoral commission. If Jorge is really in the account of the high-ranking politician, the possibilities of torpedoing him, his party or the entire elections seem almost limitless. Especially when Team Jorge finds something on the hard disk, in the man’s emails or text messages with which it can put him or others under pressure. Or by falsifying the unsuspicious into something suspicious. Jorge doesn’t need to say all that. He just says: “I can cause problems here now.” The question remains: Is this really all real?
In order to prove his skills, the Israeli shows an apparently hacked profile of an influential Kenyan political advisor in one of the meetings. The man is via Telegram Messenger in exchange with a well-known businessman, also from Kenya. Jorge now types the number 11 into this chat – and sends it live on behalf of the consultant.
So that the hack is not noticed, Jorge quickly deletes the message. But a mistake happens to him, which now plays into the hands of the journalists. It deletes the 11 only from the hacked sender. But not with the recipient, the businessman. In this case, the number 11 remain in the chat history.
In fact, journalists of the “mirror” later succeed in meeting the businessman in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. After initial mistrust, he shows them the chat history with the political consultant. At the exact time of the hack, he received a message from him that is still in his history.
It’s the first hard proof that Jorge isn’t bluffing. For the journalists, it comes as a shock. Until that moment, it was quite possible that a clever fraudster was trying to deceive rich customers.
The fact that Jorge is not an impostor is also suggested by the events in Kenya. On August 9, 2022, William Ruto wins the presidential elections there, but only with 50.5 percent of the vote. As a result, a huge disinformation campaign immediately starts against him. Manipulated election documents appear on dubious websites. Fake videos are making the rounds on social media, and alleged whistleblowers are spreading lies. Unrest ensues. Is Team Jorge behind this campaign? Did its members also use the hacked accounts for this? Davis Chirchir and the allegedly hacked political consultant did not respond to journalists’ inquiries.
Four out of seven members of the election committee refuse to confirm the result after the election, because it is “opaque”. Finally, the Supreme Court must enforce the result. The result: the president’s reputation has been damaged to this day. And many people have lost faith in democracy.
The Swiss banker
With the confirmation of the case from Kenya, the journalists now had to take more seriously the umpteen other stories and anecdotes that Jorge bragged about during his sales pitch. For example, a case in which a Swiss banker was allegedly involved.
According to the report, the president of an Asian country called because one of his ministers was blocking his reform plans, and without the reform, his re-election would be at risk. However, the troublemaker came from another party with which he cooperated. So he couldn’t just fire him. Jorge: “He told us he needed this bastard.”
According to the Israelis, the following happened: Team Jorge hacked the stubborn minister. They found out that, first, he wanted to resign soon to live in the warm south. Secondly, they discovered in his inbox an e-mail from an employee of a well-known Swiss bank. In the e-mail, the Swiss thanked the Minister for the great food in Singapore. But unfortunately, his bank could not open an account for him because he was a politically exposed person.
The case shows how quickly a Swiss bank can get caught up in an international corruption case.
If the account of the Israelis is correct, the Swiss bank acted absolutely correctly. But for the Israelis, this was a steep template. Team Jorge allegedly forged an email from the bank to the minister. In it, the Swiss banker thanked again for the food, but this time he promised the politician to open an account. But only if he pays 50 million. Not only the minister, but also the Swiss bank would probably have violated money laundering rules on a large scale.
Team Jorge then gave this email to the customer, the president of the Asian country. For him, this is a godsend. According to Jorge, he showed it to his recalcitrant minister and claimed that this mail had been given to him by the secret service. It is the perfect means of exerting pressure. In the end, the president also offered the minister an ambassador’s post in a warm country to get rid of him.
Jorge does not name the country in which the episode is said to have taken place. Which Swiss bank was involved, he does not reveal. This is not the way to check the case. But at least it shows how quickly even a Swiss bank can get into an international corruption case through such operations.
Demonstration of power with a bird
Kenya, South America, the Swiss bank: these are just three of the many cases that Jorge mentions in his presentation and at the meeting with the undercover journalists. As in passing, projects in Nigeria, Indonesia and other countries are also mentioned.
If these are all genuine attacks by Team Jorge, the force would be a hitherto unknown political force, which, according to its own statements, has been carrying out targeted political manipulations worldwide for more than 20 years, sometimes with considerable effects – and all this for a fee. This still seems more like a conspiracy theory.
The number ‘11’ that could verified on the hacked account is thin evidence. Another clue comes from leaked documents showing that Team Jorge also exchanged views with the British scandal company Cambridge Analytica when it was involved in the Nigerian presidential election campaign in 2015.
But in order to catch the Israelis in the act, the consortium of journalists is trying to entice Team Jorge into a show of force.
At the time of the exchange with Team Jorge in the summer of 2022, an emu from Florida named Emmanuel has just become a TikTok star. Now the supposed new customers of Jorge demand that his team let the news go viral that Emmanuel has died – although the bird is of course still alive. The hashtag is supposed to be #rip_emmanuel. RIP stands for “rest in peace”.
On July 29, 2022, just one day after the order, – #rip_emmanuel – spread out of nowhere on the Internet. First, the term trendes on Twitter, then it jumps over to other social networks. Clicks on an Emmanuel video increase by over three million as if by magic.
Finally, an employee from Emmanuel’s farm has to intervene and assure everyone that the bird is fit and healthy and is still waiting for “cuddles”.\
Fans of the Emmanuel emus are horrified by the news of his death. But that was fake news from Team Jorge, …
… the supervisor finally had to put this right.
Foto: Forbidden Stories
An analysis quickly shows that a network of fake and misused social media accounts, so-called avatars, which spread the news of the death, was used. Exactly these ghost accounts were active in about 20 other campaigns, not only in Africa, but also in France or Canada.
The avatars of the Israelis who announced Emmanuel’s demise, for example, also advocate the continued operation of nuclear power plants in California. Some even attack Governor Gavin Newsom under the hashtag #gonuclear. For U.S. energy companies, billions of dollars are likely at stake. Did they hire Jorge?
“Influencers on steroids”
The Israeli does not talk about his customers. During the video conferences, he tells in detail where he gets his avatars from. He proudly presents the astonished journalists with a kind of perfect social media manipulation machine.
At the push of a button, sophisticated avatars can be created on your own interface. You not only have a picture of a real person and a long history, but also a valid e-mail address and apparently even a working mobile phone number.
In a menu you can choose where the wrong profiles should have an account everywhere. “We have avatars with Airbnb, Wechat, VK, Viber, Twitter, Tinder, Grinder, Tiktok, you name it,” Jorge brags. On the program interface there is a number: 31’726. So many profiles seem to belong to Team Jorge’s fake armada.
Those who hire Jorge can use the profiles, for example, for attacks on targets, manipulation of debates, political agenda setting and so on. The program is so good that Jorge has already sold it to various secret services. “This is an influencer on steroids. This is only for, uh, only for secret services,” says Jorge during a presentation. His presentation seems credible. The avatars can not only be created at the push of a button and automatically registered anywhere. You can also use them to distribute posts snowball-like, programmed to a specific date and time. In doing so, “human behavior” is imitated.
In a small menu you can also select in which country these profiles are then generated. Among them are not only countries in Africa or the USA, but also: Switzerland.
“I don’t know the present case, but I would believe it immediately,” says Nicolas Mayencourt, founder and managing director of the world-renowned IT security company Dreamlab Technologies in Bern. “Such activities are undoubtedly a real threat to democracy.”
He cannot comment on the specific case. But even at Dreamlab one finds that manipulation and even the hacking of politicians or entire election campaigns worldwide “exponentially” increase. And Switzerland is clearly a destination.
“We have leading industries in pharmaceuticals and electronics and one of the largest financial centres in the world. As a commodity trading market, we are practically number one globally. At the same time, we are one of the most important host countries in the world: for the UN, sports federations such as FIFA and IOC, for the World Economic Forum. These are all very attractive goals,” says Mayencourt, “also for exerting influence on the political stage.”
The fact that this is not just theory is shown by various ransomware attacks on Swiss municipalities such as Neuchâtel in the last two years. Hackers captured sensitive data from tens of thousands of Swiss people. “The criminals captured extremely sensitive data. There are AHV numbers in it, passport, tax and even health data,” says the security specialist.
The problem: If the criminals can no longer use the information for blackmail, then they usually make a kind of secondary use. “The data from Switzerland is then simply sold on to state actors who are interested, such as certain secret services. And they then use the Swiss data to pursue their very own goals,” explains Mayencourt.
It’s hard to imagine what happens when groups like Team Jorge get hold of such data.
The man behind Jorge
But who is this Jorge really? What is certain is that the man’s real name is not Jorge. And neither does George. Only after extensive research did the consortium finally succeed in identifying the members of the team.
The bald man who called himself Max is a veteran of Israeli intelligence, according to Israeli sources who know him. When asked, however, he categorically denied that he is or was connected to Team Jorge. He had never heard of it. He had been an employee of the Israeli government until 2006 and then “retired”. Since then, he has focused on “coaching, training and consulting services”.
And Jorge turns out to be the 50-year-old T. H. (name of the editors known). He was also in the special forces of the Israeli military. Last week, the consortium of journalists sent a lot of detailed questions to Team Jorge. T. H. then says: “To be clear, I deny any wrongdoing.”
frank: How can it be that Israeli ex-agents with such extensive skills could not unmask three journalists?
The fact is: The three journalists of the consortium were introduced by informants and have meticulously prepared their camouflage. In the end, they were able to deceive the grand masters of deception themselves. Obviously, Team Jorge drastically underestimated the journalists – or it became careless after all these years in the business. In any case, it did not want enough real evidence that the reporters were actually who they claimed to be.
In one of the video calls, the reporters once asked whether Jorge was not afraid of being exposed. Perhaps the US secret service could find him, the Israeli explained. But one could be sure that they will not be caught by a few “middle-class journalists”.
Undercover-Team: Gur Megiddo («The Maker», Israel), Omer Benjakob («Haaretz», Israel), Frédéric Métézeau (Radio France). Mitarbeit: Roland Gamp.
Inside the manipulation factory
Oliver Zihlmann is co-head of Tamedia’s research desk. His focus is on in-depth research. He is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and received the Zurich Journalism Prize with his team. More info
Very bold of you to share this information. The pro- Israel lobby in Canada is active in attempting to suppress any criticism of the Israeli state, as you may already know.
This article is not about Israel, which is in the midst of its own destabilizing…