Israeli Spy Companies Show Critical Link Between Flynn, Deripaska, and Senate Intelligence Committee Target Walter SorianoJune 16, 2020 12:24 pm
Walter Soriano, a target of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into foreign election interference in 2016, appears to be a key middle-man connecting a network of Israeli hacking and surveillance firms to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and former Trump National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Under the umbrella of technology conglomerate NSO Group, two business entities appear critical to understanding the relationship between Soriano, Russian oligarchs, and Flynn. OSY Technologies and Circles.
Soriano’s connections to those firms deepen a mystery around the former Israeli intelligence officer and raise questions about American government officials who may have been involved with his activities.
Documents reviewed by Forensic News show that OSY Technologies is currently engaged in a contract with a law firm known for its work for the sanctioned oligarch, Deripaska. Sources familiar with the matter say the law firm is standing in for Deripaska in the contract, and report that the work related to the engagement involves Circles, the OSY subsidiary hacking firm. These details generate concern about American individuals who have contracted with OSY Technologies, NSO Group, and the related firms.
One of the American officials involved in this web is Lt. Gen. Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump who was convicted of lying to the FBI at the onset of the Trump Administration. Public financial disclosures show that Flynn advised OSY Technologies from mid-2016 to January 2017. OSY Technologies (sometimes a stand-in name for the NSO Group conglomerate) is primarily a consortium of cyber-spy companies run by former Israeli intelligence officers. It is funded in significant part by enormous loans, at least one of which was issued by the bank Credit Suisse.
Several of Flynn’s aides and associates also work with other firms connected to Soriano. The Trump Department of Justice is controversially moving to drop Flynn’s guilty plea, an effort that has been met with skepticism by career prosecutors and the federal judge overseeing the case. Some uncharged conduct relating to Flynn’s work for Turkey appeared in his guilty plea as a representation of the Government’s leniency toward Flynn, but none of that information related to his work for Israeli-based intelligence companies.
The other company, a Bulgarian and Cyprus-based hacking and surveillance firm called Circles, is also an offshoot in the NSO Group corporate family. Its ties to Soriano run through his personal lawyer and his longtime business partner, demonstrated by filings related to the firm.
Circles has quietly been selling its services to governments around the world. It offers robust hacking and surveillance capabilities. Their software can be used to penetrate phones, read text messages, listen in on live phone calls, and track any user, all at a client’s request. As an NSO Group affiliate, Circles has tethered itself to malign actors, like the Saudi government, who have used its services to spy on private citizens, including journalists and political opponents. NSO Group is currently under criminal investigation by the FBI.
Now, Forensic News can reveal that Circles’ direct parent company, OSY Technologies–the firm for which Flynn worked–is actively contracted to work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is notably an associate of Paul Manafort who was personally sanctioned by the US in 2018 for his proximity to the Kremlin after its invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Sanctions on his major companies, however, were removed by the Trump Administration in 2019.
Circles, OSY Technologies, and NSO Group aren’t the only Israeli intelligence companies with unexplained ties to Trump campaign officials and Russian oligarchs. Other Israeli firms, including data analytics and social media manipulation firms such as Psy Group, reportedly offered the Trump Presidential campaign election assistance in 2016. That company is under criminal investigation in California regarding an election influence operation that was conducted on behalf of a local businessman.
Sources tell Forensic News that Psy Group was also contracted to work for Deripaska and another Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev. Soriano has also reportedly worked for both men. These connections emerge as U.S. investigators have focused on whether these Israeli intelligence companies operated as intermediaries for alleged coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has for over a year attempted to interview Soriano regarding potential foreign election assistance offered to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. His connections to the Israeli intelligence firms, discovered through a maze of public and private documents compiled by Forensic News, suggest Soriano is more deeply involved in entities connected to Deripaska than previously understood.
The Committee sought information from Soriano to explain those connections and other activities related to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In recent weeks, Forensic News has spoken to multiple sources who indicate Soriano and Deripaska have a closer relationship than what has been publicly reported, and that the Committee’s interest in Soriano was not a mere coincidence.
The sources–who provided details to supplement public documents and existing reporting–paint a picture positioning Walter Soriano at the center of a large, international web connecting hackers and private spies to Russian oligarchs, high-profile Israelis, and Trump administration officials.
Soriano is a businessman and former Israeli military intelligence officer. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which recently submitted its report on foreign interference in the 2016 election for a declassification review by the intelligence community, sent a letter to Soriano’s London address in 2019 asking for any and all communications he had with Deripaska and other figures.
The letter requested information about correspondences between Soriano and Deripaska’s associates, Israeli private intelligence companies like Psy Group and Black Cube, Michael Flynn, and other Trump-world figures.
Forensic News acquired the letter sent to Soriano, seen below:
In February, Soriano told the Telegraph that he never received the letter. But, according to sources, Soriano did receive it, and thought it was a fake. Forensic News understands that Soriano instructed his Washington-based attorney to contact the Senate Intelligence Committee in order to find out whether the document was authentic. The Committee affirmed that it was and that they were serious about pursuing their investigation and his testimony.
The Telegraph article reports Soriano’s lawyers called the Senate to discuss the letter’s contents just days after it was sent. “The bi-partisan committee of US senators remains keen to interview Mr. Soriano,” the publication noted.
Soriano operates behind the scenes and actively avoids appearing in photographs, sources say, but his client list is eye-popping. Through another company he personally owns and manages called USG Security, he has worked for a number of Russian government-connected entities and oligarchs including Deripaska, Dmitry Rybolovlev, and Roman Abramovich.
Soriano’s circle in Israel is perhaps even more elite than in Russia. He is reportedly close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and allegedly surveilled members of the police force who were investigating the Prime Minister for corruption, a charge that ended in an indictment for the embattled Israeli leader. Soriano unequivocally denies those allegations.
Other Israeli associates of Soriano include Netanyahu’s close confidants, Isaac Molho and Ari Harow. Harow served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff before he was convicted of fraud and breach of trust.
Soriano never responded to the Senate letter.
The 2020 Firms: FloLive & Circles
Forensic News reported in April on deep ties between FloLive, a London-based IT “connectivity and security” company, and Circles, a spyware affiliate of NSO Group. NSO Group is an Israeli spyware firm that has sold surveillance software to Arab and Western countries which have then spied on dissidents allegedly including Jamal Khashoggi. FloLive and Circles shared principal shareholders and employees. At one point, both companies were owned by the same offshore corporate entity.
The two founders of Circles, Boaz Goldman and Nadia Ropleva, are now leaders at FloLive. That move is striking, as the missions for the two companies couldn’t be more divergent. Circles develops tools to hack and surveil; FloLive is involved in cybersecurity and connectivity. FloLive explicitly claims it offers protection against the exact type of hacking that Circles exploits, an intrusion referred to as “SS7” hacking.
Numerous employees from Circles have made the jump to FloLive, and vice-versa. FloLive even posted a picture on their Facebook page showing employees playing a game of soccer with staff from Circles.
But publicly, the two firms have not acknowledged any official ties.
What worries security experts is the nature of the divergent work. As FloLive works with clients in the U.K. and elsewhere to set up “connectivity protections,” it could be acting as a front group for hackers at Circles to have better access to those same networks. The more clients FloLive is responsible for protecting against cyberattacks, the more information could be passed to Circles in furtherance of its hacking efforts in Europe and around the world.
Now, Forensic News can reveal that two associates of Walter Soriano have ownership stakes in the London company, FloLive. Soriano, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family and a security operative who has worked for multiple Russian oligarchs, has reportedly kept distance between himself and operations to which he oversees.
Documents from the United Kingdom show that Walter Soriano’s personal lawyer, Shlomo Rechtschaffen, as well as Soriano’s business partner, Doron Cohen, are both shareholders of FloLive. Rechtschaffen and Cohen also work for Soriano’s real estate business in London. Cohen separately partnered with Soriano in another real estate venture in Florida.
In a statement to Forensic News, Rechtschaffen denied that Soriano himself was affiliated in any way with FloLive, saying, “clients of my firm are not related to one another. As a matter of fact, Mr. Soriano had never heard the name Flo or any of the other names mentioned below, prior to your email. As to Mr. Doron Cohen, as a matter of fact, he did acquire the shares mentioned below, long before any engagement with Mr. Soriano, which was prior to his meeting Soriano.”
But Mr. Rechtschaffen’s statement regarding Soriano and Cohen appears demonstrably false. According to incorporation documents filed with the state of Florida, Soriano partnered with Cohen in their Florida business venture in July 2016. That was months before Cohen obtained his shares in FloLive in December 2016, making the assertion that Cohen acquired his stake in FloLive before meeting Soriano impossible.
- Note: Walter Soriano via Rechtschaffen has previously threatened to sue Forensic News, stating, “We see no alternative left but to issue proceedings. We put you on notice that we will rely on any further publications or articles as seriously aggravating the damage caused by the original Article and will invite the Court to increase the award for libel to reflect the malicious and calculated nature of your campaign against our client.” To date, no lawsuit has been initiated.
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The UK documents below indicate that Soriano’s connections to the hacking and surveillance firm Circles run deeper than publicly known.
Perhaps unintentionally, Rechtschaffen confirmed that FloLive has “involvement” with Circles. “I am Mr. Soriano’s lawyer and not his business partner, as wrongly stated by you… I have also provided legal advice for another client of mine, a company of the Flo Group (not the one mentioned in your email), long before their involvement with Circles,” he said.
He denied that Soriano had anything do with FloLive or Circles and didn’t explain why legal advice to a company would result in the lawyer receiving a large shareholder status in the firm.
Michael Flynn and Walter Soriano
Soriano’s connections to Circles via his lawyer and business partner are of critical importance. Gen. Michael Flynn worked for the parent company of Circles, OSY Technologies, in 2016 and 2017. As previously mentioned, the Senate Intelligence Committee sought communications between Soriano and Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Adviser and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador.
OSY Technologies is managed by the directors of NSO Group, some of who are former members of the elite Israeli military signals intelligence, identified as Unit 8200. Circles is directly owned by OSY Technologies, according to documents acquired from Cyprus.
Another intriguing connection between Flynn and Soriano is Richard Frankel, a former U.S. intelligence official who left his position in the federal government to join Soriano’s private security firm USG Security in early 2016.
Frankel was a senior aide to Michael Flynn. One news report by ABC News–where Frankel is now a contributor–described Frankel as a “friend” of Flynn’s. It’s unclear if Frankel still works for USG Security, though a January 2017 book on cybersecurity listed Frankel as a “Managing Director” for that Soriano company (p. 15).
Frankel did not respond to a list of detailed questions. It is unclear whether Frankel’s departure from the U.S. intel community to join Soriano’s operation–around the same time Flynn began advising the Trump 2016 campaign and OSY Technologies and the same time Soriano’s USG began work for Rybolovlev–is related to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request for communications between Soriano and Flynn.
Other connections between former Flynn aides and work they may have completed for Circles are also being explored. A spokesperson for the Senate Intelligence Committee did not respond when asked about the status of their investigation into Walter Soriano. Sidney Powell, an attorney for Michael Flynn, did not respond to questions about Flynn’s work for OSY Technologies.
Rechtschaffen denied that Soriano has ever had a relationship with Flynn stating, “Walter Soriano has never met, had not and does not have, any relationship whatsoever (directly or indirectly) with Mr. Flynn, hence no messages directly or indirectly have been required or ever passed.”
Walter Soriano & Oleg Deripaska
Walter Soriano has associated with Deripaska for a number of years. Forensic News reported in 2019 that Soriano was hired by Deripaska’s company, Basic Element, to provide security for the 2014 Olympics at the airport in Sochi, Russia. The contract stipulated that Soriano’s USG Security had “direct control” of operations at the Sochi airport, which is majority-owned by Basic Element.
Parts of a subcontract for the Sochi deal reveal strict stipulations regarding Soriano and Deripaska, as seen below.
Deripaska continues to contract with Israeli security firms for secretive work.
Forensic News has exclusively reviewed an invoice paid to OSY Technologies from a Moscow-based law firm known for its work for Deripaska and the Russian government. The invoice cited work the intelligence company, OSY Technologies, completed as recently as 2019, but began in early 2018. Sources involved with the matter told Forensic News that the law firm is a stand-in for Deripaska and there are indications in the invoice that the work began earlier than 2018.
The invoice shows that a project was paid for by the law firm, Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners (EPAP or EPAM in Russian). The document—on OSY Technologies letterhead—stated that funds were to be paid to a bank account at UniCredit Bulbank in Bulgaria controlled by OSY Technologies – the NSO Group offshoot. Included in the documents were bank account numbers for OSY Technologies.
Forensic News understands that the payment was for services completed by OSY Technologies’ subsidiary hacking company, the Bulgaria-based Circles, though the name Circles does not appear on the documents.
The invoices were sent to the head of the law firm’s Moscow branch, Elena Kuznetsova. A LinkedIn profile for Kuznetsova shows that she previously worked for Deripaska’s aluminum company, Rusal. The founder of the law firm, Dmitry Afanasiev, has worked for Deripaska’s companies for at least 14 years and even held a coveted position on the board of Rusal before stepping down when U.S. officials demanded Deripaska’s allies cede control of the company in exchange for lifting sanctions.
Forensic News is currently unable to publish the document, as the sources who provided the invoice feared that they could be in danger if it were released to the public. In a series of emails, Tom Clare, an American attorney representing Deripaska, flatly denied that his client has ever hired OSY Technologies or Circles, and rejected the claim that Deripaska has any relationship with the principals of Circles or that the Russian oligarch worked with Walter Soriano in any capacity after the 2014 Sochi Airport deal.
EPAP, the Moscow-based law firm, is also a close partner of the Russian state and has even worked for Russian President Vladimir Putin in an individual capacity. Nikolai Egorov, one of the name-sake founders of the firm, was classmates with Putin at Leningrad State University in the 1970s. He later went on to teach and was a professor to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Mendvedev.
The other name-sake founder, Stanislav Puginsky, was handpicked by convicted Russian agent Maria Butina and her handler Alexander Torshin to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, chaired by newly-minted President Trump. Butina was recently deported to Russia after serving prison time on espionage-lite charges.
EPAP has been a successful endeavor for Egorov, and a deep-dive into the law firm by Law.com in 2007 stated that it acts as “a regular adviser to Putin’s government.”
But the firm’s U.S. ties raise more questions about connections between Trump associates and Deripaska. Records show EPAP’s U.S. branch represented Deripaska in a joint effort with Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz in a U.S. lawsuit filed by one of Deripaska’s companies. Kasowitz represented Trump in his personal capacity during the Mueller Investigation and has reportedly represented Trump and his businesses for decades. The shared representation of Deripaska and Trump made headlines in mid-2017.
Most remarkable about the contract between EPAP and OSY Technologies is that it puts Gen. Michael Flynn squarely in the middle of multiple figures that are still of interest to investigators. As mentioned, Flynn worked for OSY Technologies through January 2017. The agreement seen by Forensic News between EPAP and OSY Technologies began in 2018, though the full nature of the relationship is unknown.
Neither the Mueller Report nor any other public investigative report has detailed Flynn’s payment from foreign firms that also receive money from Deripaska. While Flynn’s plea agreement involved admissions that he conducted foreign work for Turkey in violation of laws about lobbying disclosure, the document made no reference to Flynn’s work with Israeli technology firms—a curious omission, especially in light of further revelations that Mueller examined whether George Papadopoulos (a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor) was an unregistered agent of Israel.
Flynn is not the only name with tenuous connections to Deripaska and Trump advisers. Georgiy Oganov, one of the aides who sources told us briefs Deripaska on information obtained by Circles and OSY Technologies, was mentioned in the Mueller Report. The Special Counsel documented a January 2017 meeting in Spain between Oganov and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Another thread tying the three together: Manafort, Deripaska, and Oganov were all caught up in a controversy about recordings made by a Russian escort, Nastya Rybka, in 2016. Forensic News has learned that Walter Soriano may have been involved in that controversy as well.
Soriano, Oganov & Deripaska’s Mistress
Rybka, a Belarusian escort and self-described “sex coach” who had a relationship with Deripaska, claimed in 2018 to have audiotapes showing coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia after her monthslong affair with Deripaska in mid-2016 and early 2017.
She was arrested in Thailand in 2018 after she famously published a video taken in August 2016 of Deripaska discussing U.S. relations on a yacht with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko. The woman claimed to have other video and audio recordings connecting Deripaska to Paul Manafort, and allegedly recorded Deripaska discussing election interference activities.
During the Mueller probe, the FBI unsuccessfully sought to speak with Rybka. She was later extradited back to Russia, where she was forced to publicly apologize to Deripaska at the Moscow airport.
An Intelligence Online report in late 2019 stated that Walter Soriano was involved in the Rybka affair at the behest of Deripaska, aiding in Deripaska’s effort to obtain the sensitive materials possessed by Rybka. Two sources familiar with this episode confirmed that Soriano was indeed involved, directly or indirectly, in attempting to silence Rybka. Rechtschaffen denied these claims.
Russian agents told Rybka to keep quiet about Deripaska, and the other audiotapes she claimed to have in her possession have never been published. Social media posts indicate that Rybka now resides in Moscow and runs an “online school for seduction.” Reached by Forensic News via the messaging app WhatsApp, Rybka declined to comment on anything political, stating that she would only speak about her commercial activities.
Russian opposition leader Alex Navalny revealed more of Rybka’s audio in 2019. Recordings make clear that Deripaska’s associates–including Georgiy Oganov–plotted the arrest of Rybka. “What we are interested in is that these people be kept in jail,” Oganov can be heard saying to an unknown lawyer named William.
Given Oganov’s reported service as Deripaska’s intermediary to Soriano and the inclusion of his name in both the Mueller Report and the Senate’s letter to Soriano, his discussion of silencing Rybka adds credence to allegations Soriano was involved in Rybka’s plight.
The US government has since determined that Oganov is a critical intermediary for Deripaska. As noted above, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election detailed a meeting between Paul Manafort and Oganov. The meeting took place in January 2017, after Russian efforts to interfere on Trump’s behalf had been revealed. The European connection was initially denied by Manafort, but U.S. investigators were not convinced.
Mueller reported that the men were slated to discuss “recreating the old friendship” between Deripaska and Manafort at the January meeting, which allegedly took place in Madrid. That Manafort was willing to meet with Oganov after his own expulsion from the Trump campaign as well as recently-published allegations of improper ties between Trump and Russia suggests Oganov was a person of critical importance to Manafort. The meeting was also arranged by Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged Russian agent who acted as a go-between for Manafort and Deripaska during the campaign season:
Allegations that Oganov is both a critical intermediary between Deripaska and Manafort and Deripaska and Israeli intelligence firms have significant consequences. Manafort’s transmission of voter and polling data to alleged GRU-agent Kilimnik in 2016 looks more compelling in light of this new information. Mueller’s team was unable to determine (V. 1, p. 131) what happened to the polling data after Manafort gave it to Kilimnik.
It is notable that the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Chairman Richard Burr and Democratic Ranking Member Mark Warner, requested information from Soriano on his communications with many of these individuals. The Committee finalized the last section of its investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 Presidential Election just weeks ago, as Burr was forced to step down amidst allegations of insider trading.
The final section was submitted for declassification review on Burr’s last day in his role as Committee Chair. The Republican-led Committee has been known for its quiet, bipartisan work throughout the Trump Administration: its Republican majority notably issued a subpoena to Donald Trump, Jr. in June 2018, despite fierce opposition from President Trump.
The final section of the report, reportedly approximately 1000 pages, is said to detail a counterintelligence investigation conducted into the Trump Campaign’s connections with foreign actors. Such an investigation may be more extensive than the criminal investigation conducted by Robert Mueller, as counterintelligence investigations typically have a wider scope than criminal ones.
The Senate Intelligence Committee Report is slated to be released publicly–with redactions–in the coming weeks.
When asked whether Walter Soriano features in the upcoming report, both Senators Burr and Warner declined to comment.
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