26 October 2020

Reality goes beyond fiction. Even within the secrete services

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James Bond and Q. Espionage and innovation. Two characters, one who is a well-known secrete agent and, the other, the expert who was providing him with technology, suggested also by the name of the venture capital company, In-Q-Tel in … intelligence.

Image source: Profimedia

I was previously writing about In-Q-Tel, the first risk capital company sponsored by the US government to extend the R&D efforts of the CIA in the private sector and provide innovative technological solutions to support the CIA’s missions and the US intelligence community’s in general.

Following the In-Q-Tell model, the Israeli and British intelligence are already enjoying the Libertad and NSSIF.

It is a quite recent alliance between risk capital professionals and the secrete intelligence services. Is it a partnership that provides the governmental agencies with new technologies, a reveal of the security structures or just the expression of adapting to the 21st century realities?

Libertad – a bridge between the intelligence and the innovative technologies

At last year’s cyber week conference at the Tel Aviv University, Yossi Cohen, the Mossad’s chief, was defining the intelligence collection in the cyber space as “one of the main tools used by intelligence organizations in the fight against terrorism”, in a world wherein everything becomes increasingly connected and the intersection between the cyber and the physical sphere “creates vulnerabilities at an unprecedented scale”, where the cooperation between governments, companies and societies is essential.

“We want to consolidate the technological arm of the organization, extend its actions and encourage the mutual advantageous cooperation with the high-tech industry”.

The hedge fund for technology and innovation, Libertad, will stay between “the covert Mossad and the open world of technology” (Yossi Cohen).

Libertad was created in June 2017 to be the “strategic investments arm of Mossad”, announcing to give grants up to 2 million shekels (around 600.000 dollars) for a project.

The name Libertad refers to “the freedom of companies and entrepreneurs in the startup nation to create frontier and breakthrough technologies”, but also to the name of the ship that carried, in 1940, Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria to Israel.

Since its foundation, it successfully invested in many companies, in entrepreneurs and “promising start-ups, focused on border visionary technologies” and has established “extended contacts in the ecosystem”.

On its presentation platform, Libertad encourages companies to “develop in strategic issues”, but, unlike its older brother, In-Q-Tell, Libertad does not reveal the names of the companies that is investing in, being “fully dedicated to confidentiality and mutual discretion”.

Since the moment it was created, Libertad extended its fields of interests: fintech, robotics, drones, remote personalized analyses, big data, language processing, 3D scan, smart cities tech, analysis and vocal processing, AI, ML, synthetic biology, blockchain and online privacy.

The Libertad’s CEO, whose name is not public due to security reasons, was stating, last year, that the fund got a lot of applications, and it has developed “strategic and high-tech investments”, whose benefits have been already seen by the Mossad and he was calling on additional companies and entrepreneurs to approach them.

The investment into the companies is made on an equity-free basis, meaning that the stakes of entrepreneurs and other shareholders are not diluted. And the investment also does not endow the Mossad with any rights regarding developments made after the research and development period is over. In return for its investment, the fund gets access to the intellectual property developed during the R&D period, and a non-commercial, non-exclusive license to use it.

Tied relations between the private capital and the intelligence services

A year after Mossad founded Libertad, the Israel Security Agency (ShinBet) launched an advance program for technological start-ups, called The Xcelerator, and the Israeli defence entrepreneurs, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd. and ELTA Systems Ltd., an Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd branch, announced that they will join a program which focuses on the connection of well-known companies and the national security agencies with local Israeli start-ups.

The internal security service’s program was dedicated to AI entrepreneurs, mainly the language processing technologies and big data, offering grants worth of 50.000 dollars for a project, with no restrictions or personal capitals.

According to calcalistech.com, an environment full of foreign threats and increasing salaries in the technological field have pushed Israel to a new path towards building its cyber power. Israel is “blurring the line” between the Defence field and the cyber security companies, externalizing the activities related to the cyber space in its national defence body to the private companies.

Projects related to intelligence and the cyber fields, which were previously done internally in the Israeli Armed Forces and the intelligence agencies in Israel, are now being transferred towards companies which, in some cases, have worked already for the Defence Ministry or, in some cases, were precisely created for that. The personnel involved in the internal projects can have jobs in the private sector, and the compensation increases a lot.

It is noteworthy mentioning that the article wrote by calcalistech.com was “reviewed by the Israeli military censor”. The two authors or the article, Orr Hirschauge and Yoav Soler, say that “veterans of technology units in the Israeli military, among them veterans of Israel's Unit 8200, the equivalent of the NSA and British GCHQ, are in high-demand in the local industry, a result of the appreciation of the technical and managerial skills they acquire during service”.

It is also mentioned that the “Israel’s Defense Army’s has  made a lot of efforts into cultivating service people and keeping highly qualified talent in service” and “projects development managers in the Israel Defence Army and the intelligence were encouraged to create their own companies”, one of them being B.C. Strategy Ltd, also known as Black Cube.

As I was saying, unlike In-Q-Tel, the companies that the Israeli intelligence is normally investing in are not that famous, but, there are some notorious cases, which are seen as the example of the tied relation between the private capital and the intelligence services.

One of them is the NSO group, a provider of spyware products, investigated by the FBI for the possible involvement in the hacking activities over American companies and residents, as well as for collecting intelligences on different governments.

Founded back in 2010, by Israeli citizens Omri Lavie, Shalev Hulio and Niv Carmi, the NSO was created with funding from veterans of the 8200 intelligence Unit of the IDF.

NSO became famous for providing sophisticated spyware products to governments to offer mobile phones’ monitoring in investigations, but the use of company’s products was never researched. The group says it sells its software only to government clients and all its exports are following the laws of the Israeli state.

However, there were cases of company’s spyware programs’ use on civilian activists, journalists, science people and politicians.

For example, the Pegasus soft, a spyware which, once installed, can access the camera and microphone of the smart-phone to record, in real time, what is happening and can also monitor messages, calls, e-mails and different apps (FaceTime, Facebook, Skype, Viber, etc.).

The company that’s headquartered in Herzliya, Israel, and the Pegasus soft, that the company says it delivers to the intelligence services and the defence structures in the entire world, only for good purposes, targeting terrorism and crimes’ combat are, for a long time now, monitored by the organizations dedicated to human rights observance, like Citizen Lab, from the Toronto University, R3D, Privacy International, EFF and Amnesty International.

Carbyne911 is another unusual tech company, connected with the elite Israeli military intelligence division, the 8200 Unit, which became increasingly famous, yet unwelcomed, after the death of American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

According to its own platforms, Carbyne911 is a “global leader in public safety technology, allowing the emergency communication for citizens and the emergency communication centers”, and it is led by “a team of entrepreneurs and tech experts”. The company offers “advanced IP communication options, proactive assistances, 24x7x365, AI improved response functions, IoT capabilities and ultimate call solutions”.

Founded in 2014, by veterans of the Israeli military intelligence services, Carbyne911 has started by providing a solution for improving the intelligence obtained in case of mass-armed attacks in the US, then developing management and identification capacities of emergency calls in various countries, including the US.

Shortly after Jeffrey Epstein’s death, it was found out that the Carbyne911 Israeli company was substantially funded by the American business man and his friend, former prime-minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, as well as by Peter Thiel, whose company, Palantir, dedicated to intelligence management, had the CIA’s support, through In-Q-Tel.

If Carbyne managed, before, to create itself a name through its services, which were a response to the “911 old-fashioned systems” in the US, then, after the American billionaire was arrested, the company was placed in the middle of many connections with the intelligence area and Carbyne and its products started to raise concerns related to privacy.

MintPress made a huge journalistic investigation which revealed company’s deep connections in the intelligence area, backed by an executive team composed of former members of the intelligence services.

Here are some of the results of the journalistic investigation made by MintPress: Ehud Barak is the president of Carbyne and key-investor (in the meantime, he resigned, in May 2020, from the administration board), Amir Elichai, Carbyne’s CEO, was a former Unit 8200 commander, Lital Leshem, Carbyne’s co-founder, was a former member of Unit 8200 and, then, a Black Cube’s employee, Peter Thiel, founder of Palantir and Trump’s ally is, also a Carbyne investor, Trae Stephens, member of the administration board, is a former employee of Palantir, and the administration board also includes Michael Chertoff, former American secretary of homeland security.

It is not only the connections of the company that started to raise some suspicions, but also its products. The Carbyne’s objective is to interconnect all 911 systems, nationally, through its ultimate platform NG911. This has created some comparisons with the platform used by the Chinese authorities to illegally monitor the Uyghur people, which was revealed by the Human Rights Watch and, similarly to Carbyne, was founded to report on emergency situations.

In the US, Carbyne, partnering with Cisco Systems, wants to manage the emergency calls in a unitary way, as well as to collect data from the 911 emergency calls centers and from the IoT government property (communication infrastructure, smart cities solutions, apps and connected devices).

After the partnership with Cisco Systems, the company also announced a partnership with Google, three days after the Carbyne’s investor, Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in New York, for sex trafficking allegations.

The Carbyne’s connection with Google and Cisco Systems is also raising concerns, given the role Cisco and the former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, had in creating an “incubator” for the Israeli start-ups in the relations with the Israeli military intelligence services, but also with the US National Security Agency. I am talking about Team8, whose CEO and co-founder, Nadav Zafrir, is, also, a former Unit 8200 commander.

Similar cases in Great Britain

In the same year, 2017, when Libertad was being created and offered to the Israeli intelligence, the British spies, who were also aiming at getting something similar to In-Q-Tel and were willing to copy the approach of their friends on the other coast of the Atlantic, got the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF) at their disposal.

“Here in the UK, it is encouraging to see the British Business Bank and the National Security Strategic Investment Fund starting to run similar schemes in a way that is suitable for the UK market and HM Government’s national security mission” (Alexis Long, security director fo the Heathrow airport).

The NSSIF is supporting the long term capital investments in ultimate technologies, which contribute to the national security mission of the british government.

Through a common program between British Business Bank and the British Government, they want to attract private investments from the „global security technology field in Great Britain”, attract „risk and development capital in strategies that will support the national security mission of the government through dual-use technologies investment”, ease British government’s adaptation and rapid use of commercial security technologies bought from the private sector.

Among the NSSIF’s interest fields, there are: cyber-security, data analysis, AI, IoT, technologies that allow the collection, recording and analysis of audio and visual data, technologies to allow the automatic behavioral analysis, quantum technologies, biological and medical technologies with national security implications.

This is a strategic investments fund which, according to The Telegraph, is not similar to the other rish capital funds: these employees do not give interview and many of them do not use social media, and if they do, their online profiled “usually present ambiguous career experiences, like decades spent working for the Defence or Internal Affairs Ministry”.

Most of the technology entrepreneurs in Great Britain have not heard of it and many of the investors are not aware of its existence.

There is one public profile and only a single web page which officially talks about NSSIF and, then, many media comments. For example, Sunday Telegraph saw a presentation held by Amadeus Capital, the hedge fund co-founded by the tech company Herman Hauser, which showed that they were talking with the NSSIF for a 25 million pounds investment.

Sources inside NSSIF, quoted by The Telegraph, say, however, that the fund recently invested in British start-ups, and it was crucial to convince the government to spend 400 million pounds for a participation to OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture of the OneWeb and Airbuse telecommunication companies.

Also inside sources says the fund was more active in 2020, after an additional capital worth of 500 million pounds, announced, since March, by the British chancellor. The government extended the fund, opening the way for direct investments in new companies, but, until now, only one investment was made public: the start-up developing quantum technology, Quantum Motion.


As one can observe, the Q character, who made magnetic watches and pen grenades in the James Bond movies, does not control the technological expertise anymore.

Not a single department (Q branch) has this privilege anymore.

The reality, as we see it, as much as we are allowed to see, seem to have gone beyond Fleeming’s fiction.

Translated by Andreea Soare