“Team Jorge”: this is how the factory capable of creating thousands of false accounts to manipulate elections around the world works

The “Team Jorge” factory operated in different countries creating disinformation campaigns to damage public images and influence electoral results (Shutterstock)

A team capable of creating thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, LinkedIn, Gmail and Youtube. But not one of those that are easy to detect due to their unusual @Carlitos8474738737 and zero posts. No. You have real names, real photos, and for a while they tweet and participate in networks expressing their opinions naturally on different topics. Until one day they begin to do it ferociously for a certain purpose: destroy the reputation or track record of an official, politician, government agency or business. They are not one, five or ten. There are up to 30,000 false avatars that work in coordination in a gigantic campaign with a specific purpose to sink with fake news anyone’s prestige.

The service is available to whoever can pay for it and offers it Such Hanana former Israeli special forces operative who uses the pseudonym Jorge and has performed with his team “Team George” in elections around the world in recent decades.

We have intervened in 33 presidential campaigns, 27 of which were successfulHanan boasted to journalists from Guardian, Der Spiegel and the world who talked for six hours with him in his office in an industrial park on the outskirts of Tel Aviv posing as clients interested in his services as part of an investigation coordinated by the consortium Forbidden Stories 30 European media participated in it.

Hanan explained to reporters that his services, which some describe as “covert operations”, were at the disposal of intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies that wanted to secretly manipulate public opinion. He claimed that they had been used in Africa, Central and South America, the United States, and Europe.

Tal Hanan - Team Jorge
Tal Hanan, alias Jorge, captured by the hidden camera of the journalists who interviewed him posing as potential clients (RFI /)

The star product of the intervention package in electoral contests or communication campaigns offered by “Team Jorge” is the software Advance Impact Media Solutions (AIMS), able to control the army of fake avatars (some of them even have Amazon or Airbnb accounts with credit cards on file so no one doubts they are real people!)

During the long talk with the journalists, “Jorge” and his team told some of the strategies they use to embarrass political campaigns. In one country, they assured, they sent him through Amazon a sex toy to the house of a candidate so that his wife would suspect that he had a mistress.

Another case: in October 2020, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a British government office dedicated to administrative control, ruled that the names of a series of companies that appeared to have won contracts as suppliers of the government through a special channel for companies with political contacts. Within a few days, on Twitter and other social networks, harsh criticism against ICO began to appear: “It does everything to destroy the government”; “Another Desperate ICO Act”; “It’s a waste of time”, : “A shame”. The responses to the messages were transforming into threads where false accusations of corruption and bribed ICO officials were flying.

One of the Twitter users who started with the criticism, “canaelanHe seemed like a normal guy. “I had tweeted about everything from basketball to Taylor Swift to Tottenham Hotspur football club to the price of a KitKat. The profile shows a friendly-looking blond man with a stubble and glasses who he says lives in Sheffield,” he described. Guardian. But Canaelan is nothing more than a bot from the “Team Jorge” army. The photo of him, according to the journalists, belongs to Tom Van Rooijen, a Dutch freelance reporter. Thus, the journalists in charge of this investigation managed to detect some two thousand of the AIMS bots on Twitter and Facebook.

“This is our own semi-automated avatar creation and network deployment system,” Hanan explained, adding that it could be used in any language and was sold as a service, although the software could be purchased “if the price is right”.

“Jorge” Hanan also demonstrated to undercover journalists how he could access the Gmail or Telegram accounts of the person he was targeting. “Today, if someone has a Gmail account, it means they have much more than an email account,” he said, showing them emails, speech drafts, contacts and files of what he said was a man who is the “assistant of a major kind” in the upcoming Kenyan general election.

“In some countries they believe that Telegram is safe. I’m going to show you how safe it is,” he told reporters before showing them a screen scrolling up and down the Telegram contacts of a Kenyan strategist who works for william ruto, the candidate who ended up winning the presidential election. “I’m not just seeing everything,” she warned, before typing “Hi, how are you dear?” and apparently send that message from the strategist’s account to one of his contacts.

“One of the most important things is to put sticks between the right people, you know?” he said. “And I can write to him what I think of his wife, or what I think of his last speech, or I can tell him that I promised him that he would be my next chief of staff, is that clear?”

Next, Hanan showed how, having read the message, he could “delete” it to cover his tracks. But he made a mistake and forgot to delete a number “11 ″ that he had sent to one of the accounts he had hacked. A few days later, one of the journalists managed to contact that person and was able to verify that he had “11 ″ on the phone hacked by “Teaam Jorge”.

Tal Hanan - Team Jorge
One of the Telegram accounts hacked by “Team Jorge” (RFI/)

The team is made up of “government agency graduates,” with experience in finance, social media and campaigning, as well as “psychological warfare,” operating out of six offices around the world, Hanan boasted.

Hanan suggested to reporters that some of his hacking methods exploited vulnerabilities in the global telecommunications signaling system, SS7, which has been considered by experts as a network weakness for decades. “Of course there is nothing illegal about what we do,” he defended himself.

From tracking his internet activity, the research team identified his involvement in what appeared to be primarily trade disputes in some 20 countries, including United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Panama, Senegal, Mexico, Morocco, India, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Ecuador.

The analysis revealed a wide range of bot activities, with fake social media profiles of AIMS involved in a California dispute over nuclear power; a #MeToo controversy in Canada; a campaign in France involving a Qatari UN official; and elections in Senegal.

Tal Hanan - Team Jorge
“There is nothing illegal in what we do,” says Halal, who says he only takes advantage of hackers in computer systems (RFI /)

Links with Cambridge Analytica

The story goes back to 2018, when the scandal of the British company broke out. Cambridge Analyticawhich collected, analyzed and used for political purposes the personal data of almost 87 million Facebook users, without their knowledge.

Despite being accused of manipulating numerous elections, contributing to the victory of Donald Trump in 2016 and Brexit, its actors still remain in the shadows. In particular, the mysterious Israeli subcontractors, experts in hacking and whose existence and methods were revealed by the British company itself, but not their identity. She only used one name, surely a nickname, to designate the head of this ultra-secret Israeli structure: “Jorge”.

For more than six months, journalists from Forbidden Stories they investigated and followed the trail of “Jorge”. They found him posing as a potential middleman for an African leader eager to postpone or even cancel elections in his country.

The mysterious Israeli “consultant” – who continues to use the same moniker and sell his influence and manipulation services to the highest bidder – is now using artificial intelligence to write his viral posts.

Team Jorge tentacles in Mexico and Spain

In Mexico, the company would have intervened in favor of Thomas Zeron, a former Mexican official investigated for the disappearance of 43 students in 2014, says the Forbidden Stories website.

Zerón, head of the Criminal Investigation Agency from 2013 to 2016, is accused of kidnapping, torture and manipulation of evidence in the case of the disappearance of the young people from Ayotzinapa (Warrior status).

And in Spain, “Team Jorge” would have intervened in the referendum, not recognized by the Spanish government, organized by the Catalan separatists in 2014, adds the consortium.

With information from The Guardian and RFI