Harvey Weinstein assembled an army of private investigators including a corporate intelligence firm run by former spies from Mossad and other Israeli agencies as he tried to silence women accusing him of sexual assault, according to a new report into the tactics he used as journalists closed in on his secret.
In an account published by The New Yorker magazine Ronan Farrow reveals how Mr Weinstein's defence team used agents to pose as reporters or female victims to gather information about who was talking to the press.
Their aim was to stop the publication of stories alleging that the multimillionaire movie mogul had raped, abused and harassed actresses for years.
Rose McGowan, who accused Mr Weinstein of rape, was among those who said she was targeted.
Starting in the autumn of 2016, Mr Weinstein’s legal team hired two companies to gather information: Kroll, a corporate intelligence firm, and Black Cube, which claims on its website to be run by veterans from “Israeli elite intelligence units”.
"Weinstein had the agencies 'target,' or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focused on their personal or sexual histories," Mr Farrow wrote in The New Yorker. "He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating."
Ultimately the effort failed. During the past month, following revelations in the New York Times and The New Yorker, dozens of women have come forward describing abusive treatment by Weinstein.
Police in New York are gathering evidence after receiving what officers said was a “credible” account of a rape in 2010.
And on Tuesday the Television Academy — which presents the Emmy awards — imposed a lifetime ban on Weinstein, the latest in a string of industry bodies to do so.
However, Mr Weinstein’s efforts show the shadowy tools and tactics available to the rich and powerful trying to protect their reputations. The firms were hired by the producer’s lawyers in an effort to conceal the relationship behind attorney-client privilege, according to Mr Farrow.
Mr Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. In response to allegations of a cover-up, his spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister, told The New Yorker: “It is a fiction to suggest that any individuals were targeted or suppressed at any time.”
But the report describes how Ms McGowan, who last month said she was raped by Weinstein, was approached by a woman named Diana Filip who claimed to be launching a group to tackle workplace discrimination against women.
“The two talked at length about issues relating to women’s empowerment,” wrote Mr Farrow. “Filip also repeatedly told McGowan that she wanted to make a significant investment in McGowan’s production company.”
The same woman approached a reporter working on a Weinstein story. He became suspicious when she probed him for information and, during their second meeting, asked him to sit closer to her, which led him to suspect she was trying to record their conversation.
In fact, “Diana Filip” was an alias for a former agent of the Israeli Defence Forces who was working for Black Cube, according to Mr Farrow’s sources.
The firm was set up by two former Israeli military intelligence officers in 2010 and its website says it specialises in “out-of-the-box thinking” in white-collar investigations. Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad who died in 2016, is listed as honorary president.
In a statement, the company said it always complied with the law wherever it operated.
“It is Black Cube’s policy to never discuss its clients with any third party, and to never confirm or deny any speculation made with regard to the company’s work.”
Mr Farrow himself said he was contacted by Ms Filip when Ms McGowan told her he was working on a story.
Another journalist on the magazine suspected he was under surveillance at a time he was working on negative articles about the powerful Hollywood producer.
Other actresses and reporters were contacted by a freelance journalist who later communicated with Black Cube in what appeared to be another attempt to find out who knew what.
The work was arranged by Mr Weinstein’s lawyers, including David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election dispute.
One contract, obtained by The New Yorker, stated the aim was to "provide intelligence which will help the Client's efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper".
In all Black Cube invoiced the law firm for $600,000.
For his part, Mr Boies said he was only aware of the work done investigating Ms McGowan’s allegations. He said it was entirely appropriate to look into what his client was accused of doing.
“In general, I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to pressure reporters,” he said. “If that did happen here, it would not have been appropriate.”
Actress Asia Argento, who has accused Mr Weinstein of rape, reacted with horror to the latest revelations and said they explained why it took so long to expose the producer.
“Why didn't I, @rosemcgowan, @RoArquette @AnnabellSciorra speak up earlier? We were followed by ex-Mossad agents,” she tweeted. “Isn't that terrifying? Very.”
As well as New York, police in London and Los Angeles have launched investigations after around 100 women accused Mr Weinstein — who until recently was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood — of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape.
Meanwhile, industry publication Variety said the Television Academy is reviewing its code of conduct after voting to expel Mr Weinstein for life, saying, "The Academy supports those speaking out against harassment in all forms and stands behind those who have been affected by this issue. The unfolding and widespread examples of this horrific behaviour are deeply disturbing to the Academy's leadership.
"We are determined to play a role in protecting all television professionals from predatory harassment, ensuring they are able to practice their craft in a safe environment."