Former Canadian ambassador to Israel worked for Black Cube, an Israeli intelligence firm
Controversial private sector company composed of ex-members of the Mossad, other Israeli intelligence agencies
Vivian Bercovici, Canada's former ambassador to Israel, worked for the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube after her diplomatic tenure ended, Radio-Canada has learned.
Black Cube is a controversial private sector company composed of ex-members of the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies.
Messages addressed to a potential Black Cube client from Bercovici in 2019, obtained by Radio-Canada/CBC, contain references to her former occupation as an ambassador.
Black Cube made headlines in 2017 when it was discovered that Hollywood film executive Harvey Weinstein had hired it to dig up information on the women accusing him of sexual assault, and on the journalists pursuing the story.
In Canada, Black Cube has been criticized by an Ontario court for attempting to discredit a judge by trying to get him to make antisemitic comments in secretly recorded meetings.
Bercovici was appointed ambassador by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in January 2014. She was removed from her post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June, 2016.
In one of the messages Bercovici sent a potential Black Cube client in 2019, she says she can provide a wide range of services, such as undercover surveillance, finding hidden information about third parties' personal lives and tracing bank accounts and assets.
In other messages, she writes that she works for Black Cube, that she would be one of the people personally supervising all operational matters and that Black Cube believes it can help the client achieve their objective. Although she was not ambassador at the time, the messages make it clear she had held that position.
Radio-Canada/CBC has chosen not to reveal the contents of all the messages to protect the identity of the person who shared them.
These messages were provided to Radio-Canada/CBC as Bercovici and some of her supporters — including Sen. Linda Frum, a personal friend — were accusing Radio-Canada/CBC of antisemitism in previous reporting on the former ambassador.
Bercovici, who lives in Israel, did not provide answers to our questions — even at the end of a deadline extended at the request of her lawyer William McDowell of the Toronto law firm Lenczner Slaght.
Radio-Canada/CBC has asked Bercovici, among other things, when she started working for Black Cube and if she's still working for the company.
Through its lawyer, Black Cube denies that Bercovici has ever worked for them.
"Black Cube has never employed Ms. Vivian Bercovici, whether directly, as an employee, contractor or consultant, or indirectly, through any subsidiary or third party," wrote their lawyer, Jonathan Abrams, of the U.K. law firm Gregory Abrams Davidson Solicitors.
"We would stress that Black Cube's operations and methodologies are backed by highly respected expert legal opinions in every jurisdiction in which it operates, ensuring that Black Cube's activities are in full compliance with applicable laws in those jurisdictions," Abrams added.
Black Cube has offices in Tel Aviv, London and Madrid.
Black Cube also threatened to sue Radio-Canada/CBC if it published this story.
Targeting a judge
Black Cube has carried out controversial operations in Canada in the past.
One was an undercover sting operation to discredit a Toronto judge who had ruled against its client, Catalyst Capital Group, a private investment company. Radio-Canada/CBC has no indication that Bercovici participated in this operation.
In 2017, Catalyst hired Tamara Global Holdings, an Israeli investigation and security firm, which in turn retained the services of Black Cube and Psy Group, an Israeli intelligence firm that no longer exists.
Those companies were hired to assist Catalyst in its legal dispute with a rival company.
One of the goals of the vast undercover operation they organized was to attack the reputation of Judge Frank Newbould, who had rendered a decision against Catalyst in a commercial legal dispute.
Using a false identity, a Black Cube agent met with Judge Newbould and tried to get him to make anti-Jewish comments during secretly recorded meetings.
"Basically we're trying to prove that he's a racist, a depraved anti-Semite, and trying to find information that could paint him in as negative a light as possible," wrote a Psy Group agent to a Black Cube agent, according to an Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling that was made public in March 2021.
The recent court decision revealed new details about the activities of these intelligence companies in Canada. But the fact that Tamara Global Holdings acted as an intermediary between Catalyst, Black Cube and Psy Group has been public knowledge since at least 2018.
Black Cube's ethical standards
Tamara Global's principal is Yossi Tanuri, a former commander of an elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, according to his biographical notes.
Tanuri was also director general of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA from 2004 to 2019.
Asked if it was aware of Tanuri's involvement with these intelligence companies while he was its director general, the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA did not respond. Tanuri also did not reply to Radio-Canada's emails.
Radio-Canada also reached out to Sen. Frum, who has been a member of the board of directors of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA since 2017. When Tanuri left the organization in 2019, his going-away party was held at Frum's house.
Frum said she was not aware of Tanuri's involvement with Black Cube while he was director general of the organization. She said she had no reaction to his involvement with Black Cube and Psy Group, as described in the recent court ruling.
Asked if she knew that Bercovici has worked for Black Cube, Frum replied, "I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about."
"Black Cube is dangerous because it does not abide by ethical rules," said Avner Barnea, an academic and expert in private-sector intelligence.
Reached in Israel, Barnea said Black Cube "does not even come close" to the ethical standards established by the international association Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, which he serves as an advisory board member.
On its website, Black Cube presents itself as "a select group of veterans from the Israeli elite intelligence units that specializes in tailored solutions to complex business and litigation challenges."
Barnea said that some of Black Cube's activities might be permissible for a government intelligence agency — but are unacceptable for a private business.
The mysterious letter
Radio-Canada/CBC's inquiry into Bercovici and Black Cube started with a mysterious letter.
In January 2021, Radio-Canada/CBC reported on a letter signed by Bercovici and addressed to a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter named Alan Bender.
In that November 2019 letter, Bercovici offers to drop her lawsuit against the Government of Canada as a way of thanking Bender for saving her life.
The letter was sent by an anonymous source, but Radio-Canada was able to confirm it was written by Bercovici.
In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her diplomatic appointment and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.
The lawsuit has now been settled and is covered by a non-disclosure agreement.
In a phone interview with Radio-Canada in January, Bender, an international mediator, said he was asked by important political figures — including one from Israel — to intervene to help Bercovici.
Bender said he did save Bercovici's life — along with her professional and personal reputation — but didn't want to give any details. Bercovici declined to comment at the time.
Radio-Canada reached out to Bender again to ask if the alleged threat on Bercovici's life had anything to do with her Black Cube activities. Bender would not comment.
Some of Bercovici's decisions and expenses during her tenure as an ambassador raised eyebrows in the Department of Foreign Affairs — something she herself acknowledged in her lawsuit.
Bercovici had insisted on renting private office space outside of the embassy, a move deemed highly unusual by high ranking officials. Radio-Canada/CBC is not naming these sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
The rental of office space at 22 Rothschild boulevard in Tel Aviv was approved by Foreign Affairs, as Bercovici's lawyer has previously noted.
Bercovici, Sen. Frum and others, including some Jewish organizations, have criticized Radio-Canada/CBC for quoting unnamed sources in its reporting, saying the sources were smearing Bercovici with the antisemitic canard of dual-loyalty.
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations is one aspect of antisemitism cited in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism, which was adopted by the Government of Canada in 2019.
However, the concerns raised by the officials Radio-Canada spoke to were related to the nature of some of the former ambassador's behaviour and decisions, which they said were highly unusual for a senior diplomat. During those interviews, none of the officials demonstrated any antisemitic sentiment.