Financial Disclosures Reveal Jen Psaki was Employed by an Israeli Spying Firm

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by blueapples
Friday, Sep 24, 2021 - 10:10

In July, the exposure of the Israel-based NSO Group's Pegasus spyware shined new light on the scope of the Israeli government's vast spying network. The State of Israel itself licensed the sale of the spyware to foreign governments, private enterprises, and criminal organizations alike. This licensing enabled the impact of Pegasus covert surveillance to target journalists, foreign governments, and elected officials. To put its impact into perspective, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was revealed to have used Pegasus to spy on Jamal Kashoggi preceding his execution in Turkey, Mexican drug cartels employed it to target journalists exposing their crimes, and its use by the Moroccan government led to the revelation that they successfully targeted French President Emmanual Macron by tapping into a cellphone he has used since 2017. In total, leaks exposing the extent of Pegasus use disclosed that over 600 government officials from 30 different countries were targets of the Israeli-backed spyware. This revelation shined new light on the scope of the state of Israel's spy network, in particular its operations against political allies but did far from a painting a complete picture on those operations.

In the wake of the Pegasus revelation, the extent of the network of private company involved in Israeli spying operations has recently been extended into the Biden Administration itself. Financial disclosures included in response to a financial disclosure request made to the White House by Chicago-based media outlet The Electronic Intifada show that NSO Group is far from the only Israeli-backed spyware company with connections to foreign governments. A Public Financial Disclosure Report contained in the documents unearthed by the media outlet uncovered a record of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki's previous employment with another suspect Israeli spying enterprise, AnyVision Interactive Technologies. The Israeli company produces multitudes of spyware technology, including biometric facial recognition software which can be easily installed in surveillance cameras that weren't even previously designed to deploy the program.

According to the financial disclosure, Psaki was employed by AnyVision as a "crisis communications consultant" following her departure from the White House from her position as communications director which she began in 2015 that concluded at the end of the Obama Administration in January of 2017. Shortly thereafter, Psaki began working at CNN as a political commentator in February of 2017 among other consulting positions including her work with AnyVision included in the aforementioned Public Financial Disclosure Report. Quite ironically, Psaki's work with AnyVision chronicled in the report follows another consulting role she held with the Center for Humane Technology.

Although the report offers no definitive time frame to clarify the duration of Psaki's consultancy, the context of her role does offer some degree of insight. In 2019, AnyVision came under scrutiny when it was revealed that the company was supplying the Israeli military with its facial recognition software for deployment as part of an alleged mass surveillance in the West Bank to monitor Palestinian residents. This strategy is comparable to what human rights groups alleged that the Chinese government uses facial recognition software to target Uyghur ethnic minorities with the aid of technology made by heavily-sanctioned telecommunications company Huawei. This controversy also revealed AnyVision's close ties to the Israeli government, particularly its military and intelligence sectors. The company's president, Amir Kain, formerly headed the security department of the Israel Ministry of Defense and the company's advisory board was headed by Tamir Pardo, who served as the 11th Director of the Mossad from January 1, 2011 - January 5, 2016 under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fallout from the revelations connecting AnyVision to pivotal figures who once headed the Israeli intelligence and defense apparatus created a public relations nightmare for the company. In response to the outcry made by human rights groups against AnyVision, the company attempted to put a positive spin on its conduct by declaring that it only sells its facial recognition software to democratic nations with established human rights records. AnyVision also disclosed its company's formal policy not to do business with the Chinese or Russians, as well as forbidding the sale of its software to African governments. This public relations tactic of vilifying the Russian government to absolve any wrong doing has certainly been deployed by Psaki in her role as White House Press Secretary, though it is unclear if her consultancy work was utilized by AnyVision in this particular instance.

Despite the best efforts of whatever crisis communications consultants who were behind crafting that response, they weren't enough to prevent huge divestment from AnyVision. Microsoft had invested in the company through its venture capital division M12 in 2019. Yet, by 2020, Microsoft divested itself entirely from the Israeli spyware company. The impetus of this deicion followed an audit of the AnyVision conducted by another former Obama Administration official, former Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder's law firm Covington & Burling conducted the audit, concluding that AnyVision's spyware programs were a crucial component of the surveillance technology used at border crossing checkpoints between Palestinians and Israeli territories. Though the Holder-led firm's audit dismissed any use of the technology in any larger-scale mass surveillance programs, its ties to the Mossad make it difficult to gauge the viability of that finding.

Though the tenure of Psaki's consulting work with AnyVision was limited to a short duration based on the small sum of $5,000 in compensation that she received, this financial disclosure highlights the tremendous influence of the Israeli government's spying network. That influence has permeated into governments across the world, mass media corporations, and multinational technology companies through investment and employment of individuals who have served as advisors to companies enveloped in its network. As the revelations regarding NSO Group and AnyVision Interactive Technologies show, the scale of this influence is far from being completely uncovered. As far as Psaki's involvement is concerned, perhaps her work with AnyVision was what got her tapped for the role of White House Press Secretary to begin with. After all, dealing with the calamity of Biden's term in office thus far has required a masterclass in crisis communications.