The journalist who broke the story about the Labour Party hiring Israeli former-spy Assaf Kaplan has spoken exclusively to The Canary. And he pointedly said that if Jeremy Corbyn had done something similar, the establishment corporate press would have had a field day.
Meet Assaf Kaplan
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor at the Electronic Intifada. On Tuesday 19 January, he broke a story about Keir Starmer’s Labour Party hiring an ex-spy. As Winstanley wrote:
Kaplan will work in the office of Labour leader Keir Starmer…
Kaplan was in Israeli military intelligence for nearly five years, an officer in Unit 8200, its cyberwarfare branch.
He noted that:
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kaplan was in the Israeli army’s military intelligence division from May 2009 to November 2013.
He was a Unit 8200 intelligence analyst and later an officer.
But as Winstanley told The Canary, Unit 8200:
is the Israeli military intelligence. They’re essentially their cybercrime outfit…. And I say that in the pejorative sense of perpetuating cybercrime. They carry out mass surveillance against Palestinians. And… they’re well documented… as carrying out blackmail, extortion against Palestinians… there was a letter that whistleblowers released in the Guardian in 2014, where this was quite well documented. So this is who the Labour Party has chosen to hire.
You can watch The Canary‘s full interview with Winstanley at the bottom of this article.
The Guardian reported in 2014 that the letter, signed by 43 Israeli Unit 8200 veterans, alleged:
that the “all-encompassing” intelligence the unit gathers on Palestinians – much of it concerning innocent people – is used for “political persecution” and to create divisions in Palestinian society.
The largest intelligence unit in the Israeli military, Unit 8200 intercepts electronic communications including email, phone calls and social media in addition to targeting military and diplomatic traffic.
The signatories say, however, that a large part of their work was unrelated to Israel’s security or defence, but appeared designed to perpetuate the occupation by “infiltrating” and “controlling” all aspects of Palestinian life.
Now, Kaplan has a new role in the Labour Party.
Spying for Labour?
Winstanley wrote that:
His full job title is “Social Listening and Organizing Manager.” A relatively new trend in public relations, “social listening” is a way for organizations to monitor online conversations about their “brand.”
But a more blunt way to think of it would be surveillance.
Kaplan’s LinkedIn states he has experience using a “digital monitoring platform” as well as “human analysis” to keep tabs on voters in Israeli elections.
The UK Labour job listing shows that Kaplan is now responsible for leading efforts at “challenging disinformation online” about the party, as well as helping it win elections.
It should be noted that Kaplan also worked for Israel’s Labor Party as deputy head of its 2019 election campaign. The party suffered a collapse, gaining just six seats in that election.
The conscription issue
People have been criticising Winstanley’s article on Twitter. They have pointed out that Israel operates conscription. So, essentially, Kaplan may not have had a choice but to serve in Unit 8200.
But Winstanley told The Canary:
First of all, Israeli conscription only lasts… two and a half years. And Kaplan was in military intelligence for almost five years. So you know… this was something he clearly enjoyed doing. And secondly, in reality, Israeli conscription is not really compulsory… the actual figures for Israelis who… enlist in reality is as low as 35%, depending on which figures you look at. Because it’s very easy to escape the so-called compulsory conscription, you just have to basically get a doctor’s note to say that, you know, you’re mentally unable to. … So it’s wrong to say that… he had no choice to do this.
As Winstanley wrote that his:
Facebook profile shows he is “friends” with both Shai Masot and Michael Rubin. After publication of this article, his Facebook settings were changed to restrict access to his friends list. But it is still possible to view a “like” he has made for Masot’s consulting firm.
Masot was the Israeli embassy agent ejected from the UK in January 2017 after being exposed for plotting against British ministers and lawmakers.
Masot also interfered in British politics by trying to secretly engineer the creation of a pro-Israel youth group within the Labour Party.
Unit 8200’s work is classified. As the website Security Alliance wrote, it:
serves as the main central intelligence collection service in Israel and specialises in electronic warfare and code decryption. Communications data is gathered from the EMEA region using an array of satellite dishes spread across Israel.
Although the offensive cyber operations of Unit 8200 will evidently remain a closely guarded secret, a former commander of the unit was quoted in Forbes, stating that: “there isn’t a major operation, from the Mossad or any intelligence security agency, that 8200 is not involved in.”
So essentially, you have a former security agent, presumably with knowledge of the classified operations of a foreign power working for a UK political party. This should spark serious questions for Labour. But there are also questions over what Kaplan will be doing in his new job of “Social Listening Manager”?
Part of his role includes being the:
Lead on challenging disinformation online and empowering our leaders, members and supporters to be equipped to deal with it effectively.
Does that mean countering negative news stories about the party? Or monitoring criticisms from members as part of the current Labour “purge“? It’s currently unclear. But as SKWAWKBOX noted, the Labour Party has form on the latter:
During Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election, the Labour right – still in control of the party machine – purged thousands of party members based on innocuous social media comments, even when the accounts those members were using were anonymous and used email [addresses] that were not used for party communications.
The Canary asked the Labour Party for comment. But it had not responded at the time of publication.
But perhaps the biggest issue is surrounding the fact that, turn the clocks back 18 months, and a story like this would have played out very differently.
Shoes on other feet
Winstanley said to The Canary:
if Jeremy Corbyn had hired someone from the… former Russian intelligence, it would have been in all the mainstream newspapers’ front pages the next day… there’s no doubt about that. It would have been massive.
He summed that up by saying:
it does show the hypocrisy of the so-called mainstream media that they’re not paying attention to this story as they should be.
I expect Labour to come back with nothing; to ignore my request for comment. Because that’s habitually what they do. And yeah, I do think he’ll keep his position… The Labour Party under Keir Starmer wants to signal how friendly they are to Israel. And Keir Starmer, as you know… supports British intelligence carrying out crimes against British civilians. So why wouldn’t you support Israeli intelligence carrying out crimes against Palestinians and other civilians around the world?
Already, Winstanley has reported that Labour is trying to kill the story running in the Guardian. So it appears it’s down to independent and foreign media to report the story. This is another vital reason why outlets like The Canary need the public’s support. And overall, the story shows yet another concerning move by a party that’s becoming a shadow of its former self.
Watch The Canary’s full interview with Wistanley:
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