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Israeli ‘21st-century mercenaries’ spied for DR Congo’s Kabila, report says

Luis Tato, AFP | President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila casts his vote along with his family at the Institut de la Gombe polling station during general elections in Kinshasa on December 30, 2018.

An investigative report by Israeli TV programme Uvda claimed on Thursday that Israeli private intelligence agency Black Cube was hired by DR Congo’s then-president Joseph Kabila to spy on his opponents.

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In late 2015, Black Cube’s director Dan Zorella met Joseph Kabila in the first of several meetings that gave birth to Operation Coltan, a project to gather intelligence on the then-president’s many detractors, Uvda reported.

“Kabila wanted to know everything that was going on at opposition meetings,” an anonymous former Black Cube employee told Uvda. “He wanted to know who was there and who criticised him. He wanted to know if any of his relatives betrayed him in those meetings – and there were indeed such traitors.”

As part of Operation Coltan, Black Cube – which is mainly composed of former members of Israel’s military and intelligence services – even went so far as to make an entire floor of a Kinshasa hotel the headquarters of their unofficial intelligence operations.

In response to these allegations, Black Cube filed a defamation lawsuit in a British court against Uvda and its journalist Ilana Dayan, demanding £15 million (€16.8 million) in damages.

For their part, several Congolese opposition figures responded with outrage to the Uvda report. “It’s outrageous,” said Eve Bazaiba, general secretary of the opposition Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), as quoted by FRANCE 24’s sister radio service RFI. “During all this time [Joseph Kabila] has been concerned with keeping his regime in power instead of worrying about his people’s concerns,” she continued.

Olivier Kamitatu, a former minister under Kabila who became an opponent of the then-president in September 2015, added that the fruits of Uvda’s reportage did not come as a surprise: “We know very well that in the Democratic Republic of Kabila’s time, the word ‘Democratic’ was nothing more than an adjective.”

“In Israel we now have a lot of twenty-first century mercenaries, as it were,” Yossi Mekelberg, an Israel specialist at Chatham House think-tank and Regent’s University London, contextualised it in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“The country’s technology sector is growing rapidly and many of the people who are building it come from a military background,” he continued. “When they leave military service, they look to make money from this technology – and they have many opportunities to do so, seeing as the nature of warfare is changing dramatically, a lot of it is about surveillance, and there’s big demand for such technology from very nasty dictatorial regimes, to use it against opponents."

This is not the first time Black Cube has been accused of nefarious actions. In May 2018, The New Yorker reported that the Israeli private intelligence firm used fake identities to collect information on former Obama administration officials in a bid to discredit the Iran nuclear deal. In November 2017, the same magazine reported that Black Cube was hired by disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein in an attempt to prevent the publication of abuse allegations.

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