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Ronan Farrow’s Black Dice Chronicles, Half I: The Non-public Investigators

That is the primary installment of a three-part sequence. Learn Components II and III on newyorker.com on Tuesday and Wednesday. Join our Every day publication to obtain them in your in-box.

On a chilly day in late 2016, two males sat in a nook at Nargis Café, an Uzbek and Russian restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The place was adorned with tchotchkes from the steppes and ceramic depictions of peasant life: grandmas in babushkas, farmers with sheep. On a tiled wall close by, a blue-and-white evil eye held on a string.

One of many males was Russian, the opposite Ukrainian; each have been born within the disintegrating Soviet Union. Roman Khaykin, the Russian, was brief and trim and bald, with a snub nostril and darkish eyes. The whole lot else about him was pale: his eyebrows have been skinny; his face was cold. He was initially from the town of Kislovodsk, whose title interprets to “bitter waters.” Igor Ostrovskiy, the Ukrainian, was taller and a little bit fats. He had curly hair that received unruly when he let it develop out. He and his household had fled to the US within the early nineties. Ostrovskiy was curious and typically meddlesome. Throughout highschool, he’d suspected that a number of classmates have been promoting stolen credit-card numbers and had helped regulation enforcement disrupt the operation.

Khaykin and Ostrovskiy spoke in accented English enlivened with Russian idioms—“Krasavchik!” Khaykin would typically say, a phrase derived from “good-looking” however used to reward a job effectively completed. Each males have been within the enterprise of subterfuge and surveillance. In 2011, Ostrovskiy, a personal investigator, had discovered himself between jobs. He’d Googled “Russian non-public investigators” after which chilly e-mailed Khaykin, who had an organization known as InfoTactic, to ask for work. Khaykin preferred Ostrovskiy’s chutzpah and began hiring him for surveillance jobs. They have been assembly at Nargis to debate potential work.


Extra within the Black Dice Chronicles

Approaching October 8, 2019.

Approaching October 9, 2019.

As plates of kebab arrived, Khaykin defined that he’d began working as a subcontractor for a brand new consumer, a agency that he wouldn’t title however that was bringing in huge enterprise. “I’m into some cool shit,” Khaykin stated. “Some darkish stuff.” He’d adopted some new techniques, too. He might get financial institution data and unauthorized credit score reviews. He had methods of monitoring a telephone’s geolocation knowledge. He stated that the telephone excessive jinks often price a couple of thousand {dollars}, with cheaper choices for gullible marks and dearer ones for individuals who proved elusive. Khaykin stated that he’d already used the monitoring methodology efficiently, for a case wherein one member of the family had employed him to seek out one other.

Ostrovskiy assumed that Khaykin was exaggerating. However he wanted work. And Khaykin, it turned out, wanted extra manpower to serve his new patron.

In October of 2016, as reporters circled allegations of sexual assault and harassment towards the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein and his legal professionals employed Black Dice, an Israeli private-intelligence company. At first, in line with sources near the Black Dice operation, the company believed that it had been employed to counter a detrimental marketing campaign towards Weinstein, and anticipated that the work would think about his enterprise rivals. However the company quickly started to obtain assignments to spy on girls with sexual-harassment and assault accusations towards Weinstein, and on reporters investigating these accusations. Black Dice, whose employees included former members of Mossad and different Israeli intelligence and army businesses, specialised in deception, together with the usage of entrance firms and operatives with false identities. (Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual intercourse.”)

Hiring the company was solely part of Weinstein’s bigger effort to forestall the disclosure of the sexual-abuse claims. He additionally employed the private-investigation agency co-founded by Jack Palladino, who was greatest identified for working to undermine girls who had accused former President Invoice Clinton of sexual misconduct. As part of its work for Weinstein, Palladino’s agency created dossiers on each journalists and accusers. Underneath the guise of assembling analysis for a guide about his firm, Weinstein additionally employed a few of his former staff to compile lists of targets after which contact the folks on these lists. The lists included reporters at The New Yorker, the Occasions, and New York journal; the actresses Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and Annabella Sciorra; and secondary sources who may have the ability to affirm these girls’s tales.

However Black Dice performed the most important position in Weinstein’s efforts to suppress the tales. Weinstein shared the lists of targets with the Israeli company, which forwarded them to a community of operatives all over the world. The New Yorker beforehand reported that these operatives included a journalist whom the company employed and a devoted spy who posed beneath a number of false identities to realize entry to journalists and accusers. Black Dice additionally employed Khaykin and Ostrovskiy, as subcontractors, and requested them to surveil folks on the goal lists. I wrote a sequence of items on Weinstein and his enablers within the fall of 2017. In the course of the time that I used to be reporting the first of these tales, Khaykin and Ostrovskiy staked out my residence constructing and tailed me to the places of work of NBC, the place I labored as a correspondent, and later to the places of work of The New Yorker. At one level, Khaykin claimed to have efficiently used my cellular phone to observe my location. (A supply near the Black Dice operation stated that the company was unaware of, and didn’t authorize, the cell-phone monitoring.) The 2 males additionally carried out counter-surveillance, ensuring that Black Dice operatives weren’t adopted to conferences, which frequently happened in lodge lobbies or upscale eating places in Manhattan. At these conferences, Ostrovskiy would order meals—a perk of the job—whereas discreetly eavesdropping and recording the encounters. A number of the conferences he monitored have been unrelated to Weinstein and anxious far-flung places, together with Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Russia. For Ostrovskiy, a lot of the work was shrouded in thriller; the layers of command meant that he didn’t know why he was following his targets, or for whom.

Ostrovskiy had spent most of his profession as a personal investigator on extra mundane jobs—digging up dust for custody instances, uncovering proof of insurance coverage fraud, or spying on dishonest spouses. The early months of 2017, after he resumed working for Khaykin, have been dominated by these sorts of assignments, for which he was paid thirty-five {dollars} an hour, plus bills. That summer time, nevertheless, Khaykin started giving Ostrovskiy assignments that got here from the nameless new consumer. Khaykin stated little about these jobs. Typically he would ship screenshots of paperwork that featured the addresses, telephone numbers, start dates, and biographical info of targets. Typically, the screenshots included info on spouses and different relations. Though Ostrovskiy didn’t understand it, the knowledge was pulled from dossiers that Black Dice had compiled for Harvey Weinstein.

In the summertime of 2017, as I used to be chatting with Weinstein’s accusers and colleagues, Ostrovskiy and Khaykin started assembly at daybreak close to my residence constructing, on the Higher West Facet of Manhattan. Some days, they might keep in Khaykin’s automobile, a silver Nissan Pathfinder. Different instances, the 2 would use separate automobiles. Khaykin could be able to observe me if I left the constructing, and Ostrovskiy would keep watch over my residence. When separated, they stayed in contact by textual content.

The investigators had been given images of me and had completed database searches of their very own. They monitored my social-media accounts and people of my pals and relations, making an attempt to trace my actions. The pair sat in entrance of my constructing, chain-smoking and getting bagels from a restaurant across the nook. The surveillance typically dragged on for hours, and there have been few alternatives for lavatory breaks. “I want to make use of a bottle,” Ostrovskiy as soon as texted Khaykin. “When you close by I can wait.” He resigned himself to utilizing the bottle.

Khaykin and Ostrovskiy typically disagreed about how greatest to conduct the surveillance, bickering of their texts and calls. Underneath the impression that I used to be on the “Right now” present one morning, and assuming that I’d be at Rockefeller Heart, the place the present tapes, Khaykin wrote to Ostrovskiy, “Is it value going? To see if we get him popping out?”

“It’s a very busy space, Rockefeller Heart,” Ostrovskiy replied. “We don’t have sufficient folks to cowl all of the entrances and exits.”

At instances, the investigators have been hapless. Someday, Ostrovskiy and Khaykin noticed one in every of my neighbors, to whom I bore a passing resemblance, popping out of my residence constructing. They gave chase. Ostrovskiy adopted by automobile, filming on a Panasonic camcorder, and Khaykin pursued on foot. On a later day, when Ostrovskiy was alone on responsibility, he adopted the identical man once more, drawing close to sufficient to the touch him. Sensing that one thing was mistaken, Ostrovskiy dialled my quantity.

Upstairs, in my residence, I picked up a name from a quantity I didn’t acknowledge. “Howdy?” I stated, and heard a quick exclamation in Russian earlier than the road went lifeless. I put down the telephone confused and unnerved. Downstairs, my neighbor walked on, unaware that Ostrovskiy had been following him.

“Looks like no march,” Ostrovskiy texted Khaykin. “Again at residence now.” In his automobile, he searched Google for higher images of me and made gentle of the error. “Discovered a superb ID pic,” he wrote, and despatched his boss an image of me and my sister Dylan, at round ages 4 and 6, in our mother and father’ arms. “Going off this one we ought to be good.”

“Lol,” Khaykin replied. Later, as if to make it possible for Ostrovskiy was kidding, Khaykin despatched a screenshot from one of many dossiers, displaying my birthday.

I wasn’t the one one Ostrovskiy and Khaykin have been following; additionally they billed a couple of hours trailing Jodi Kantor, a reporter from the Occasions, who was additionally engaged on a narrative about Weinstein, on one event taking images of her as she commuted to work on the subway.

One morning in August of 2017, Khaykin known as Ostrovskiy and informed him that they might be counting on a brand new surveillance tactic: they might use my cellular phone. Ostrovskiy considered Khaykin’s boast, the earlier fall, that he had the means to acquire a telephone’s geolocation knowledge. Shortly after midday that day, Khaykin began sending Ostrovskiy screenshots of maps, marked with pin-drops indicating the latitude, longitude, and elevation of a transferring goal. Khaykin appeared to have discovered a option to observe my telephone.

“It’s the world close to World Commerce Heart,” Ostrovskiy wrote to Khaykin, after receiving the maps. “Heading there now.” After which, “Any additional information the place to anticipate him to return out from?”

“No knowledge,” Khaykin replied.

“Okay will go searching,” Ostrovskiy wrote.

The knowledge that Khaykin despatched to Ostrovskiy was appropriate. That day, I used to be on the World Commerce Heart for my first assembly with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, to debate the reporting on Weinstein that the journal would finally publish. I used to be on edge. Within the previous weeks, I’d begun to suspect that I used to be being adopted. My constructing superintendent had informed me that he’d seen males lurking outdoors. Sources had suggested me to get a gun and transfer out of my residence.

The day of that assembly, a whole bunch of textual content messages flooded my telephone. “(Survey) Ought to Trump be impeached?” they stated, one after one other. “Reply to forged your vote. To unsubscribe from our record . . .” Every got here from a unique quantity. I swiped away the texts, then lastly gave up and responded to decide out, which appeared to not assist. In the identical timeframe, unbeknownst to me, Khaykin was sending Ostrovskiy the maps precisely pinpointing my location.

I left the assembly at The New Yorker feeling anxious. Suspecting that I’d been adopted on the subway up to now, I made a decision to hail a cab. As I made my manner uptown, I went proper by Khaykin and Ostrovskiy, who have been ready close to The New Yorker’s workplace, hoping to intercept me.

In October and November of 2017, The New Yorker revealed the tales on Weinstein’s alleged predation. A kind of tales revealed that Weinstein had employed Black Dice to surveil me, Kantor, and different reporters who have been investigating him. Nevertheless it wasn’t till the summer time of 2018 that I discovered that Black Dice had employed Khaykin and Ostrovskiy. That July, I posted an image on social media of a frying pan marketed beneath the model Black Dice. I jokingly wrote, “Scratch resistant. Might use false identities and shell firms to extract info.”

A couple of weeks later, I received a name on my cellular phone. The caller I.D. learn “Axiom.” Quickly after, I received a textual content: “I’m making an attempt to succeed in you instantly and privately. It’s relating to a Fry Pan that’s Scratch Resistant. Typically I cook dinner and the black coating scares me.”

I wrote again, “Are you able to say extra about who you’re?”

“I can say I do surveillance,” got here the reply. “We might want to meet discreetly and ensure we’re not adopted.”

A couple of days later, I used to be ready at a Brazilian restaurant within the theatre district to fulfill the brand new supply. My telephone rang with an encrypted Sign name. “Axiom” appeared on the display once more and I answered.

“Don’t order,” a person’s voice stated. I regarded round however couldn’t see anybody. “You’re carrying the messenger bag, light-blue shirt, and barely darker denims,” the person stated. He informed me to go away the restaurant after which stroll slowly, including, “Stroll towards site visitors, please.”

Exterior, I craned my neck to look behind me. “Don’t go searching,” the person informed me, sounding a little bit aggravated. He directed me via a mixture of calls and texts: “I’ll be a couple of half a block away, so please cease for 1–1.5 minutes on the intersections. I’m going to verify no similar folks present up there from right here. Don’t look, simply stroll naturally. Towards site visitors.” He informed me to cease at a basement Peruvian restaurant that had no cell reception. “Ask for a desk within the again, all the best way within the again,” he stated. I did as he requested. Ten minutes later, a person sat down throughout from me. His hair was darkish and curly, and he was a little bit gentle across the center. He had a thick Ukrainian accent.

“I’m a involved celebration,” Ostrovskiy informed me. He slid a telephone throughout the desk and motioned for me to swipe via the photographs on it. There was my block, my entrance door, my superintendent. And there was the Nissan, with two males inside: Ostrovskiy, darkish and chubby, and Khaykin, pale and bald. Ostrovskiy informed me that they have been a part of an area private-investigation agency, licensed in New York. “However the work product, the ultimate reviews, Black Dice was placing their title on it,” he stated. Ostrovskiy had learn the article I’d written about Black Dice and acknowledged the outline of the goal record. He had despatched the story to Khaykin after which confronted him about it throughout a stakeout. Khaykin had appeared irritated however finally stated, “Now who we work for.” (A supply near the Black Dice operation stated that InfoTactic was just one “piece of the puzzle” within the agency’s operations, and that it was frequent follow to make use of regionally licensed investigators for surveillance and counter-surveillance.)

Ostrovskiy informed me that the extra run-of-the-mill investigative work he did “won’t be moral, but it surely’s official.” He stated that he felt in a different way concerning the work for Black Dice. “I concern that it could be unlawful,” he informed me. Ostrovskiy described the varied efforts to trace me, in particular person and thru my telephone. He stated that he had objections to the techniques that had been used towards me. And it wasn’t simply me; though the Weinstein operation was over, Ostrovskiy was nonetheless following folks for Black Dice, and he hoped to be taught why.

He learn me an inventory of surveillance targets and the dates and instances of every project. Many of the conferences had taken place at upscale lodge eating places, the place Ostrovskiy had monitored conferences between Black Dice brokers and marks who seemed to be consultants in expertise and cybercrime, notably in new instruments for hacking and monitoring cell telephones. Ostrovskiy stated that the knowledge he was given in every case was restricted and “designed to be traceable again to me.” He was anxious that he was being watched and that Black Dice would be taught that we have been assembly. He had swept the world across the restaurant earlier than getting into.

I used to be additionally turning into extra cautious: I’d requested a colleague to observe a couple of blocks behind me and keep watch over the restaurant whereas the assembly happened. Ostrovskiy and I left the Peruvian restaurant individually, ten minutes aside. A short while later, my colleague known as. A person had apparently adopted Ostrovskiy and me to the restaurant, waited outdoors as we entered, after which lingered by the door for greater than an hour.

At first, Ostrovskiy wouldn’t give me the title of his boss. However there have been sufficient clues within the footage to assist me work out his identification. After I Googled the title that I’d give you, I discovered a promotional video. “I’m the man out within the subject. The action-taker,” a bald man with a Russian accent stated within the video. “My title is Roman Khaykin, and I’m the founding father of InfoTactic Group.”

A techno beat performed. Over footage of buttonhole cameras, a narrator promised purchasers “the most effective high-tech surveillance tools.” Khaykin, doing his greatest impression of James Bond or Ethan Hunt, darted athletically via crowds. It was beguilingly tacky. “After I was younger and first discovered easy methods to learn,” Khaykin stated, “I’d fascinate my mother and father with my capability to memorize the textual content of my favourite guide—Sherlock Holmes.” (Khaykin declined repeated requests for remark. His lawyer initially confirmed particulars introduced to him in a fact-checking name, however then instructed that the knowledge was false, with out providing specifics.)

Within the months that adopted, Ostrovskiy stored passing alongside recommendations on InfoTactic’s operations for Black Dice, and concerning the conferences between Black Dice brokers and expertise consultants. Typically I’d go watch the conferences unfold from afar. Ostrovskiy and I’d meet, too, at hole-in-the-wall eating places—although on some events we would depart instantly and perform our conversations whereas strolling alongside aspect streets. As soon as, Ostrovskiy and I sat within the nook of a lodge foyer and spoke for half an hour earlier than he abruptly excused himself. He got here again frightened, saying that we needed to transfer—he suspected that two males sitting close by have been following us. They regarded like professionals, and so they’d been watching us too carefully. We took a cab, after which one other cab; Ostrovskiy requested one driver to tug over on the shoulder of the West Facet Freeway and look forward to any potential tails to both go by or establish themselves by slowing down.

At one level, Ostrovskiy informed me that Black Dice had requested Khaykin to discover a spy pen able to secretly recording audio, and he confirmed me an image of the pen that they’d procured. It was black, with a silver clip—nothing you’d discover in the event you weren’t trying carefully, however with a couple of distinctive options, together with a slim ring of chrome on its barrel.

In January of 2019, not lengthy after Ostrovskiy had informed me concerning the spy pen, his work for Black Dice went awry. He was requested to tail a lunch assembly between a Black Dice agent and John Scott-Railton, a researcher for the watchdog group Citizen Lab. The Black Dice agent, a middle-aged man with a neat white beard, was pretending to be a person named Michel Lambert and had informed Scott-Railton that he labored for a Paris-based agricultural-technology agency known as CPW-Consulting. The operative claimed that he wished to fulfill about Scott-Railton’s doctoral analysis on utilizing kite-mounted cameras to create maps.

Because the lunch progressed, the agent tried to get Scott-Railton to speak about Citizen Lab, which tracks state-backed efforts to hack and surveil journalists. The group had not too long ago reported that software program developed by an Israeli cyber-intelligence firm known as NSO Group had been used to hack the iPhone of a buddy of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi shortly earlier than Saudi operatives murdered Khashoggi. The revelation had sparked harsh public criticism of NSO Group, which denied that its software program was used to focus on Khashoggi however which additionally declined to say whether or not it had bought the software program to the Saudi authorities. On the lunch, the Black Dice operative began asking about Citizen Lab’s reporting on NSO Group. He requested whether or not there was a “racist aspect” to Citizen Lab’s give attention to an Israeli firm. He pressed Scott-Railton for his views on the Holocaust. As they spoke, he took out a black pen with a silver clip and a chrome ring on its barrel. He laid it down on a authorized pad in entrance of him, with the tip pointed at Scott-Railton. From a desk close by, Ostrovskiy was watching the assembly and taking images.

However Scott-Railton, who had discovered the request for the assembly suspicious, had been taping the Black Dice agent your complete time—and he’d introduced his personal backup. Raphael Satter, an Related Press journalist with whom Scott-Railton had been working, was at one other desk, with a cameraman, who began filming the encounter. Satter then confronted the Black Dice agent, whose cowl had been blown. Ostrovskiy quickly received a name from Khaykin. “Our man received burned!” Khaykin stated. “Get to the foyer instantly! He must get out.”

The Black Dice agent hid in a again room, then ducked out of a service entrance whereas Ostrovskiy retrieved his automobile. Ostrovskiy picked up the agent and his baggage after which drove round, making an attempt to shake potential tails. The agent frantically made calls, making an attempt to guide the primary flight out of New York. Ostrovskiy observed a tag on his baggage with the title Almog and a house handle in Israel on it. The agent had been sloppy. The title was actual. He was a retired Israeli safety official named Aharon Almog-Assouline, who was later reported to have been concerned in a string of Black Dice operations.

Black Dice and NSO Group would later deny any connection to the operation towards Citizen Lab. However Almog-Assouline had been at lots of the conferences that Ostrovskiy had described to me within the previous months, which appeared to focus on figures who had criticized NSO Group or argued that its software program was getting used to hunt journalists.

Black Dice’s management was livid concerning the botched operation and ordered everybody who knew about it to take a polygraph instantly. Ostrovskiy known as me, frightened that it was solely a matter of time till he was uncovered. He wished to speak, and never simply to a reporter. He had already tried to contact the F.B.I., solely to be handed between skeptical brokers, one in every of whom had hung up on him. He requested if I had a greater contact in regulation enforcement, and I despatched him the title of an official on the Southern District of New York. Quickly after our name, Ostrovskiy employed a whistle-blower lawyer and started the method of volunteering to be a witness.

Earlier this 12 months, Ostrovskiy and I reunited, at a French bistro on the Higher West Facet. Ostrovskiy regarded as if he hadn’t slept in days. I requested him why he had determined to contact me, and, later, regulation enforcement. “I like to have the ability to learn the information and never suppose someone’s holding a gun to a reporter’s head, deciding what he writes,” he informed me. “Coming from a society the place the information was managed by these in energy, I by no means, ever need to enable this to occur to the nation that gave me and my spouse and my son an opportunity.”

Ostrovskiy and his spouse had simply had a child boy, a first-generation American. “I occurred to be at this intersection the place we have been following reporters whose tales I learn, who I believed have been doing one thing sincere and good,” Ostrovskiy stated. “If someone needs to assault that, that’s attacking my nation. That’s attacking my residence.”

He informed me that, after he’d refused to take the polygraph check for Black Dice, InfoTactic had stopped sending him jobs. Now he was beginning his personal agency: Ostro Intelligence. He’d nonetheless be a personal investigator, however there could be a public-service angle to his work. Possibly he might assist teams like Citizen Lab. “Transferring ahead, I’m going to attempt to be extra concerned with this sort of stuff, to higher society,” he stated.

He confirmed me a couple of footage of his household on his telephone: his spouse, trying flushed and exhausted after start. His toddler son. A blue-gray cat with intelligent, lamp-like eyes, trying on the new arrival. The cat’s title was Spy.

This excerpt is drawn from “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow, out this October from Little, Brown and Firm.


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