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How An Israeli ‘Mossad For Hire’ Firm Manipulated A Small Town’s Local Election

Israeli private intelligence firms have been increasingly in the spotlight, revealed as the suppliers for Harvey Weinstein’s “army of spies” and as creators of apps that repressive regimes can use to spy on activists and journalists.

Now, a New Yorker article is detailing how another firm — Psy-Group — used its intelligence expertise to manipulate a local election in a California town of 64,000 people.

Read a brochure from Psy-Group here.

Psy-Group was hired by Yorai Benzeevi, a doctor in Tulare, Calif., to create fake social media opposition to a grassroots campaign organized to remove him as head of a local hospital. The target was a local hospital board election, where activists hoped to unseat the man responsible for putting Benzeevi in charge of the hospital. Community members had accused Benzeevi of letting a hospital slide into bankruptcy while pocketing large management fees for himself.

Psy-Group told Benzeevi it would mount “a coordinated intelligence operation and influence campaign,” using fake social media profiles and creating fake webpages to target “the opposition candidate.”

The group created the site Draintulareswamp.com, posting pictures of Senovia Gutierrez, the candidate running to unseat Benzeevi’s supporter, asking “Who Is Pulling Senovia’s Strings?” That site later published the Gutierrez’s bankruptcy filings from 2003.

The election was a landslide — against Psy-Group’s client.

The Forward has previously reported how Psy-Group, based outside Tel Aviv, proposed a campaign to target proponents of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement against Israel on college campuses.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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