September 07, 2011, 2:00 PM — Analysts at an Israeli company that infiltrates online forums to identify terrorists often claim responsibility for attacks to bolster their credibility, according to a recently-leaked cable from the U.S. Department of State.
The March 2008 cable -- part of a massive release this month by Wikileaks -- described a meeting between staff at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and executives of Hazard Threat Analysis (HTA), a private firm that specialized in Internet-based counter-terrorism intelligence gathering.
HTA renamed itself Terrogence several years ago.
Many of the company's analysts are former members of Unit 8200, a signal intelligence group in the Israeli Defense Force, the country's armed forces, the cable noted.
"[The] staff is employed by HTA to develop online identities (avatars) in discussion groups used by potential terrorists to actively solicit information useful to their clients," the cable stated. "Some of these identities have been maintained for as long as two years."
The cable also said that HTA analysts make bogus assertions on those discussion groups to gain the trust of true terrorists.
"HTA analysts often claim responsibility for recent terrorist attacks as a means of establishing credibility in online groups, using technical knowledge of such events in the region," the cable said, citing a separate conversation between U.S. officials and an analyst with the Israeli Defense Intelligence (IDI), the military's own intelligence service.
The founder of HTA/Terrogence, Gadi Aviran, is a former military officer with IDI.
So is the current CEO, Aviram Halevi, who briefed U.S. officials in 2008 about the company.
According to Halevi, HTA/Terrogence maintains a database of private video and photographs posted on blogs and discussion groups from target countries.
"Halevi said that in many cases, the data is removed by government censors within minutes, but the footage remains accessible forever to HTA researchers," the cable said. "HTA analysts recently used video footage posted on Hamas internet chat groups to prepare a report for IDI Research on rocket capacity in Gaza."
Halevi also claimed that HTA was providing reports to the U.S.-lead multi-national military task force in Iraq, but in the leaked cable, the State Department said it was not able to independently confirm that.
The cable was marked "Secret" and was distributed to several U.S. agencies, including the CIA and the Department of the Treasury.
That department was copied on the cable because Halevi told embassy officials that HTA/Terrogence research often uncovered links to terrorist financing efforts, including fundraisers, credit card numbers and PIN codes.
Terrogence did not immediately reply to a request for comment.