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Ronan Farrow’s Black Dice Chronicles, Half II: The Undercover Operative

In October of 2016, a author named Ben Wallace acquired a name from a quantity that he didn’t acknowledge, with a U.Okay. nation code. Wallace had spent the previous weeks pursuing leads, for New York journal, about rumors of sexual harassment and assault that have been swirling across the film producer Harvey Weinstein.

When Wallace picked up the decision, the voice on the road was that of a girl with a refined European accent. “You’ll be able to name me Anna,” she mentioned. Wallace had lived within the Czech Republic and Hungary for just a few years after graduating from school. He had a great ear for accents, however he couldn’t place this one. He guessed that the girl is likely to be German. Anna mentioned she had heard that Wallace was engaged on a narrative concerning the leisure trade. “I acquired your quantity by means of a pal,” he recalled her saying. “I may need one thing that is likely to be of significance for you.” Wallace tried to think about what pal may need made the introduction. Not many individuals knew about his task.

He pressed the girl for extra data, however she acted coy. Her story was delicate, she defined, and she or he needed to speak in particular person. The next Monday, Wallace met the girl at a espresso store in SoHo. She seemed to be in her mid-thirties, with lengthy blond hair, darkish eyes, excessive cheekbones, and a Roman nostril. She wore Converse sneakers and gold jewellery. Anna mentioned that she wasn’t snug giving her actual identify but. She mentioned that she had a narrative about Weinstein however was grappling with whether or not to inform it. Not lengthy after, Wallace and Anna met for a second time, at a lodge bar. When Wallace arrived, Anna smiled at him invitingly, virtually seductively. She had ordered a glass of wine. “I received’t chew,” she mentioned, patting the seat subsequent to her. “Come sit subsequent to me.” Wallace instructed her that he had a chilly and ordered tea.

Anna was cagey concerning the particulars of her expertise with Weinstein. She mentioned that she first needed to be taught extra about Wallace’s story. A few of her questions appeared unusual. Anna requested what had motivated him to take the task, what number of sources he had, and who they have been. As they talked, she leaned in, conspicuously extending her wrist towards him. Wallace started to suspect that he was being recorded. When Anna finally recounted her story about Weinstein, it was delicate and lacked element. She and Weinstein had an affair that ended poorly, she mentioned, and she or he needed revenge. Anna broke down whereas recounting the story, however her efficiency had a soap-operatic high quality. Wallace instructed Anna that he sympathized together with her, however he thought-about consensual affairs to be Weinstein’s non-public enterprise.


Extra within the Black Dice Chronicles

Approaching October 9, 2019.

Across the identical time, the actress Rose McGowan was planning to go public with a declare that Weinstein had raped her within the nineteen-nineties. (Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual intercourse.”) In October of 2016, McGowan tweeted about her allegation, with out naming Weinstein; in February of 2017, she recounted the story to me for an investigation that I used to be conducting; within the ensuing months, she completed writing a memoir that included the allegation.

McGowan instructed me that she had discovered help from ladies’s-rights activists. In April of 2017, Lacy Lynch, a literary agent who was advising McGowan, forwarded her an e-mail from Reuben Capital Companions, a London-based wealth-management agency that needed to enlist McGowan’s assist with a charitable challenge referred to as Ladies in Focus. The e-mail mentioned that the agency was planning a gala dinner on the finish of the yr and needed McGowan to be a keynote speaker. “We have now taken a eager curiosity within the work Ms Rose McGowan does for the advocacy of girls’s rights and we imagine that the beliefs she strives in the direction of align carefully with these upheld by our new initiative,” the e-mail mentioned. It was signed by Diana Filip, who recognized herself because the deputy head of sustainable and accountable investments.

The next month, Filip and McGowan met nose to nose, on the Belvedere, an ethereal Mediterranean restaurant on the Peninsula lodge in Beverly Hills. Filip had lengthy blond hair, darkish eyes, excessive cheekbones, and a Roman nostril. She had a chic European accent that McGowan couldn’t place. McGowan was usually skeptical of strangers, however Filip appeared to know every little thing about her, and appeared to grasp what she’d been by means of. McGowan started to let her guard down.

In October of 2016, shortly earlier than Wallace’s encounter with Anna, Harvey Weinstein despatched a cryptic e-mail to his authorized group. For years, he had been represented by David Boies, the legal professional who argued for marriage equality earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court docket, and who represented Al Gore within the dispute over the 2000 Presidential election. Weinstein needed Boies’s recommendation on a private-intelligence agency that had been beneficial to him by Ehud Barak, the previous Prime Minister of Israel. “The Black Dice Group from Israel contacted me by means of Ehud Barak,” Weinstein wrote. “They r strategists and say your agency have used them. Gmail me when u get an opportunity.” Run largely by former officers of the Mossad and different Israeli spy companies, Black Dice has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, and affords its purchasers operatives who, in keeping with the agency’s promotional literature, are “extremely skilled and skilled in Israel’s elite navy and governmental intelligence models.”

Later that month, Boies’s agency and Black Dice signed a secret contract retaining the spy company’s providers for Weinstein. Boies’s colleagues wired 100 thousand {dollars} to Black Dice, as an preliminary fee. In e-mails and paperwork associated to the association, Black Dice workers tried to cover Weinstein’s id, referring to him as “the tip consumer” or “Mr. X.” Naming Weinstein, one message warned, “will make him extraordinarily indignant.” Black Dice promised Weinstein “a devoted group of professional intelligence officers that may function within the USA and every other vital nation.” The group would come with a challenge supervisor, intelligence analysts, linguists, “Avatar Operators,” who would create faux identities on social media, and “operations consultants with in depth expertise in social engineering.” The company additionally promised to offer “a full time agent by the identify of ‘Anna’ (hereinafter ‘the Agent’), who will probably be based mostly in New York and Los Angeles as per the Shopper’s directions and who will probably be out there full time to help the Shopper and his attorneys for the following 4 months.” Finally, Weinstein and Boies brokered an settlement with the spy company to acquire a draft of McGowan’s ebook, in order that Weinstein might discredit it, and to help in blocking the publication of reports tales concerning the allegations.

Over the following yr, Black Dice operatives periodically met with Weinstein, in New York and Los Angeles, updating him on the agency’s progress. The company submitted invoices for a whole bunch of 1000’s of {dollars} and requested for big “bonus charges” if it succeeded in its targets. (A supply near the Black Dice operation mentioned that the corporate withdrew from its relationship with Weinstein because it turned more and more clear that the producer needed the agency to focus on ladies with sexual-misconduct allegations towards him.)

Black Dice was based in Tel Aviv, in 2010, by veterans of a secret Israeli intelligence unit. Meir Dagan, the previous director of Mossad, sat on the corporate’s advisory board till his loss of life, in 2016. Dagan as soon as described Black Dice to a potential consumer as a private Mossad. Over time, the company’s workforce grew to incorporate greater than 100 operatives, with thirty languages between them. It will definitely moved its headquarters to a sprawling workplace house in a high-rise tower in central Tel Aviv, behind an unmarked black door. Within the firm’s reception space, every little thing from the plush furnishings to the artwork on the partitions evoked a black dice. Inside, brokers managed false identities and entrance corporations; every workspace had a cubby gap containing as many as twenty cell telephones, tied to totally different numbers and fictional personae.

Black Dice’s work was designed by no means to be found. However its operatives might be sloppy, and, occasionally, one in all them would depart behind too many fingerprints. Within the spring of 2017—because the Trump Administration and its supporters labored to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal—a lot of peculiar e-mails have been despatched to the spouses of outstanding defenders of the deal. Rebecca Kahl, a former program officer on the Nationwide Democratic Institute and the spouse of the previous Obama Administration foreign-policy adviser Colin Kahl, acquired e-mails from a girl figuring out herself as Adriana Gavrilo, of Reuben Capital Companions. Gavrilo claimed that she was launching an initiative on training and requested to satisfy to be able to talk about the varsity that Kahl’s daughter attended. Kahl, anxious that she was “surprisingly a goal of some kind,” stopped responding to the requests. Ann Norris, a former State Division official and the spouse of the previous Obama foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes, additionally acquired an uncommon e-mail, from a girl named Eva Novak, who mentioned that she labored for a London-based movie firm referred to as Shell Productions. Novak requested Norris to seek the advice of on a film, which she described as “ ‘All of the President’s Males’ meets ‘The West Wing.’ ” The movie, she mentioned, would painting authorities officers throughout instances of geopolitical disaster, together with throughout “nuclear negotiations with a hostile nation.” Norris discovered Novak’s request “weird” and didn’t write again.

There have been different examples. In the course of the summer season of 2017, a girl who recognized herself as Diana Ilic, a London-based guide working for a European software program mogul, started calling and assembly with critics of the insurance coverage firm AmTrust Monetary Providers, Inc., urgent them to make self-incriminating statements. (An AmTrust spokeswoman instructed the Wall Avenue Journal that the corporate didn’t rent Black Dice to research critics, however, in keeping with the paper, she declined to say “whether or not its attorneys or others in its service had achieved so.”) Not lengthy after, a girl named Maja Lazarov, who claimed to work for Caesar & Co., a London-based recruitment company, started approaching staff of West Face Capital, a Canadian asset-management agency, and soliciting damaging statements from them. In photographs taken in the course of the conferences, and in profile footage on social-media accounts tied to the suspicious e-mails, the identical face appeared time and again: excessive cheekbones and darkish eyes, framed by lengthy blond hair. Anna, Adriana, Eva, Diana, Maja—they have been all the identical lady, a Black Dice agent named Stella Penn Pechanac.

Stella Penn Pechanac was born between two worlds and belonged to none. “I used to be a Bosnian Muslim, and my husband was a Serbian Orthodox,” her mom as soon as instructed a journalist. “And what was our little Steliza?” In childhood photographs, the lady was not but blond; she had darkish hair and darkish eyes. She was raised in Sarajevo, amid beat-up automobiles and dilapidated tower blocks. When she was a toddler, the Bosnian struggle broke out, turning Serbian Orthodox Christians towards Bosnian Muslims. Sarajevo was cordoned by sect and beset by violence, poverty, and starvation. Pechanac’s mom made grass soup when there was nothing else to eat. Snipers fired on civilians. Mortar rounds landed indiscriminately on metropolis streets. For half a yr, the household lived in a naked, closet-size basement room. When shells began touchdown close by, Pechanac’s dad and mom took in individuals who had been wounded and shared the household’s skinny mattress. “One lady died on it,” Pechanac would later recall. After the shelling, the entryway of their constructing was lined in blood. “There have been water hoses we used to wash with, they usually merely washed all of the blood out the door,” she mentioned. “I bear in mind—seven years outdated.”

A few decade earlier than the Weinstein operation, when Pechanac was in her early twenties, she and her mom appeared in a documentary concerning the struggle. Her mom wept overtly, strolling the streets of Sarajevo and recalling the bloodshed. Pechanac appeared reluctant to take part. She hovered on the margins of the photographs, chewing gum or smoking, trying petulant. Finally, one of many filmmakers cornered her and requested what it was prefer to relive the painful recollections. Pechanac shrugged. “It makes me mad that she needed to undergo this,” she mentioned, referring to her mom. “However, personally, I haven’t felt something for a very long time.”

Pechanac’s Muslim grandmother had taken in and guarded Jews in the course of the Second World Conflict, and the State of Israel had given her an honorific, the Righteous Among the many Nations. In the course of the struggle in Bosnia, a Jewish household returned the favor, serving to the Pechanacs escape to Israel. They settled in Jerusalem and transformed from Islam to Judaism. The younger Stella Pechanac tailored to a brand new id and tradition. “She doesn’t really feel inside patriotic just like the individuals born in Israel,” one one that knew Pechanac effectively instructed me. “All the time, in a single degree, she really feel like a stranger.”

At eighteen, Pechanac joined the Israeli Air Power. After that, she enrolled at Nissan Nativ performing college. She dreamed of turning into a Hollywood actress, however she discovered only some performing alternatives, in performs and in music movies. “In any respect the auditions, all of them seen my accent. All of them seen I used to be totally different,” Pechanac later mentioned. For Pechanac, the job at Black Dice offered an excellent compromise: its operatives have been skilled to conduct psyops—psychological operations designed to control a mark. Like the most effective actors, they have been college students of physique language, of the tics that expose mendacity or vulnerability. They knew easy methods to learn these indicators in others and easy methods to deploy them convincingly themselves. They wore costumes and used know-how straight out of spy thrillers, like digital camera watches and recording pens. “She went to work in Black Dice,” the one that knew her effectively mentioned, “As a result of she must be a personality.”

Though Pechanac’s makes an attempt to elicit data from Ben Wallace went nowhere—Wallace stopped returning her calls—the operation concentrating on McGowan proved extra profitable. Within the months after McGowan met the girl who referred to as herself Diana Filip, the 2 turned shut. They exchanged e-mails and spoke on the telephone. When McGowan travelled between the West and East Coasts, Filip, serendipitously, at all times appeared to be in the identical place. In August of 2017, they’d a women’ evening out, on the Peninsula lodge in New York, and McGowan spoke frankly about her efforts to go public together with her rape allegation. She revealed that she’d been speaking to me. All of the whereas, Filip sat near her, listening sympathetically. (Pechanac has mentioned that she was unaware of most of the allegations towards Weinstein in the course of the operation. “On the time he was actually not a monster,” she instructed Israel’s Channel 12. “He was not the person we all know him to be right now.”)

Quickly after, Filip despatched McGowan an e-mail. “I’m again house, and simply needed to thanks once more for the fantastic night!” she wrote. “It’s at all times a pleasure seeing you and spending time with you :). I sincerely hope I’ll be again quickly and that this time we’ll have extra time!” Then she got here to the purpose. “I used to be interested by Ronan Farrow, who you talked about throughout our assembly,” she wrote. “Looks as if a extremely spectacular and candy man. I learn a bit about him and was very impressed by his work, regardless of the problematic household connection.” She requested whether or not I’d assist with the charity initiative that she was supposedly engaged on, Ladies in Focus. “I used to be pondering that somebody like him might be an fascinating and invaluable addition to our challenge (not for the convention, however the annual exercise by means of 2018), resulting from the truth that he’s a pro-female male,” she wrote. “Do you suppose you could possibly introduce us, to be able to look into this chance additional?”

Filip additionally e-mailed me straight. “I’m very impressed together with your work as a male advocate for gender equality, and imagine that you’d make a useful addition to our actions,” she wrote. She additionally despatched inquiries to a talking agent I labored with, asking whether or not I’d give a speech, and even a number of, at her gala. She answered detailed questions and named the buyers who can be within the room. She mentioned that she would want to satisfy in particular person earlier than her agency might make a ultimate determination. “I hope such a gathering might be organized someday within the coming weeks, in reality I’m planning to be in NY subsequent week so if Mr Farrow is obtainable that is likely to be a great alternative,” she wrote. It was the primary of a number of messages saying {that a} assembly needed to occur quickly. When that failed, she mentioned that she would accept a telephone name.

McGowan and Filip continued spending time collectively. They met at lodge bars in Los Angeles and New York. They took lengthy walks. As soon as, McGowan introduced Filip to the Venice Seashore boardwalk, the place they ate ice cream as they strolled. Filip talked about investing in McGowan’s manufacturing firm. She launched McGowan to a person who recognized himself as Paul Laurent, a colleague from Reuben Capital Companions. Like Filip, he was engaging, with an indeterminate accent. He was curious and attentive. The three talked about attainable collaborations and their shared perception within the significance of telling tales that may empower ladies. McGowan and Filip additionally mentioned how explicitly McGowan was going to publicly describe her allegation towards Weinstein, and underneath what circumstances. They talked by means of what McGowan had mentioned to reporters and what she was writing in her ebook. Throughout one in all their emotional heart-to-hearts, McGowan instructed Filip that there was nobody else on this planet she might belief.

Within the fall of 2017, Weinstein met with three Black Dice operatives within the again room of the Tribeca Grill, in New York. The operatives started the assembly on a triumphant word. “We acquired one thing good for you,” one mentioned, smiling. One of many brokers was a working-level worker who had been deeply concerned within the operation. In a white shirt and blazer, she had an air of crisp professionalism. She was blond, with excessive cheekbones, a robust nostril, and a chic, hard-to-place accent. She was launched as Anna. She was deferential to her colleagues, letting them direct the dialog. After they turned to her, she talked with enthusiasm concerning the many months she’d spent gaining her mark’s belief and secretly recording hours of dialog. Then the Black Dice operatives learn aloud what they mentioned have been passages about Weinstein from McGowan’s forthcoming ebook. As Weinstein listened, his eyes widened. “Oh, my God,” he muttered. “Oh, my God.”

Pechanac wasn’t the one one attempting to befriend sources and reporters on behalf of Black Dice. As a part of its contract with Weinstein, the company agreed to rent “an investigative journalist, as per the Shopper request,” who would conduct ten interviews a month, for 4 months, and who can be paid forty thousand {dollars} for the work. The company would “promptly report back to the Shopper the outcomes of such interviews by the Journalist.” For the job, Black Dice had settled on Seth Freedman, an Englishman who had written for the Guardian. Freedman was a small man with a thick beard and hair that appeared perpetually askew. He’d been a London stockbroker, then moved to Israel, within the two 1000’s, the place he served in a fight unit within the Israel Protection Forces for fifteen months. Later, he turned a whistle-blower, taking to the pages of the Guardian to reveal his monetary agency’s manipulation of wholesale fuel costs. He was finally fired for releasing the knowledge. His articles had a rambling, jocular high quality and have been laced with frank references to a drug behavior. In 2013, he wrote a novel referred to as “Lifeless Cat Bounce,” a few coked-up London-based Jewish finance man who runs away to affix the Israel Protection Forces and will get swept up in a world of espionage and crime, all underneath the guise of being a author for the Guardian. Freedman wrote the way in which a gangster in a Man Ritchie film talks: “The proper mojito is a line of coke. See what I’m saying? Rum, lime, sugar, mint—yeah, yeah, yeah, however belief me, it’s the poor man’s Charlie. The scared man’s snow. The straight man’s chang.”

After being employed by Black Dice, Freedman collected details about the allegations towards Weinstein whereas receiving directions from a Black Dice challenge supervisor through e-mail and WhatsApp. Freedman referred to as Ben Wallace, saying he had heard rumors that Wallace was engaged on a Weinstein story and providing to assist. “He was pumping me for what I had heard and realized,” Wallace recalled. Freedman additionally e-mailed HarperCollins, the writer of McGowan’s ebook, and finally spoke with McGowan. He mentioned that he was engaged on a chunk about Hollywood and was calling from his household’s farm, within the English countryside. He pressed her for details about her ebook and what she deliberate to say in it. McGowan instructed Freedman that she had signed a nondisclosure settlement with Weinstein after the alleged assault, and he replied, “Most individuals I speak to in Hollywood, they are saying, , ‘I’m not allowed to speak about it on report.’ ”

“As a result of they’re all too scared,” McGowan mentioned.

“And in the event that they do say it,” Freedman continued, “then they’ll by no means work once more.” Freedman repeatedly pressed McGowan about whether or not she was speaking to different reporters. “So,” he requested her at one level, “what would make you form of name it quits?”

Zelda Perkins, one in all two former assistants at Weinstein’s firm who, within the nineteen-nineties, reached a joint settlement with the producer over sexual-harassment claims, additionally acquired an odd inquiry from Freedman. So did Annabella Sciorra, an actress who mentioned that Weinstein had raped her within the early nineties. I additionally acquired calls from Freedman, who mentioned that he was working “on a form of collaborative piece with journalists from different papers on a really form of gentle piece about life within the movie trade.” The outline struck me as oddly imprecise. “We’ve come throughout some stuff doing our analysis that we actually can’t use,” Freedman mentioned. “I simply puzzled if what we’ve might be helpful to you, principally.” He provided to attach me to somebody he described as a high-profile supply. I instructed Freedman that I used to be open to leads however couldn’t inform him something about my reporting. He was silent for a beat, seemingly unhappy. “If somebody makes an allegation towards somebody, libel legislation within the U.Okay. could be very strict and nobody will publish in case you say, ‘Ms. X mentioned this about Mr. Y.’ Until you’ve acquired some form of proof to again it up,” he mentioned. “Is it totally different within the States, are you able to publish ‘This particular person mentioned that about another person,’ or would you even have to face it up in a roundabout way?” It gave the impression of a warning.

After chatting with Freedman, I used to be satisfied that he was working for Weinstein or one in all his intermediaries. Finally, Wallace, Sciorra, and Perkins all instructed me about their very own suspicious inquiries from Freedman. Within the fall of 2017, after The New Yorker started publishing my tales on Weinstein’s alleged sample of sexual assault and harassment, I contacted Freedman once more, saying that I needed to speak.

A tumble of WhatsApp messages got here again. “Large congratulations in your reporting,” Freedman wrote. “Have been following carefully.” He appeared to sincerely wish to assist with my reporting. He despatched a screenshot of a doc titled “Listing of targets.” It included practically 100 names: former Weinstein staff, journalists, ladies with allegations. Most of the sources in my reporting have been on it, together with McGowan, Perkins, Sciorra, and a number of other others who had expressed concern that they have been being watched or adopted. Precedence targets have been listed in pink.

A couple of hours after Freedman and I started exchanging messages, I used to be on the telephone with him. Initially, he instructed me that his curiosity in Weinstein was solely journalistic. “I acquired tipped off in about November final yr that one thing was gonna occur, and other people have been trying right into a story about Harvey Weinstein,” he mentioned. As we talked, he revealed extra particulars concerning the “individuals” who had tipped him off. At first, Freedman referred to this shadowy group as “them.” Then he referred to as them “we.” He defined, “We thought this was . . . the traditional form of enterprise dispute you’ve with Oligarch 1 towards Oligarch 2, the equal in Hollywood.” I struggled to make sense of what he was saying. Freedman instructed me that, when the main target of his work turned to McGowan and different ladies, he started to develop uncomfortable. “It turned out that it was really about sexual assault,” he mentioned. “We pulled again and we mentioned there’s no manner we’re getting concerned with this. How will we extricate ourselves? As a result of he’s employed us.”

I attempted to guess who Freedman may need been working for, who Weinstein might have employed. “Are we speaking about non-public investigators?” I requested.

“Yeah,” he mentioned, cautiously. “I used to be within the Israeli Military,” he continued. “I do know lots of people concerned in Israeli intelligence. That needs to be sufficient to provide you a information to who they’re with out me telling you who they’re.”

I pressed him yet one more time. “Are you able to identify any of the people on this group or the identify of the group?”

Lastly, he mentioned, “They’re referred to as Black Dice.”

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


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