Iranians who leaked Mossad chief info allege baseless Israeli assassination plot

The hacker group, Open Hands, tried to frame the Mossad for the failed assassination of Khazakstan's president.

Hackers and cybersecurity (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hackers and cybersecurity
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Iranian-affiliated hacker group The Open Hands on Tuesday alleged, with no evidence, that the Mossad was behind a recent failed assassination attempt against Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – which Kazakhstan has until now attributed to an anti-Russian activist.

The hacker group gained notoriety on March 16 when it leaked personal information about current Mossad Director David Barnea, seemingly from an old cell phone which had belonged to his wife.

On their Telegram account, Iran’s hackers said that: “In the light of Israeli counterproductive presence and breaching national dignities in the region, esp. the Mossad’s latest attempt to assassinate Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Open Hands will publish an exclusive documentary about Israeli destructive presence in Kazakhstan.”

The Open Hands did not say what evidence they had to support the allegation that appeared to contradict reports from the Kazakhstan government, none of which have mentioned Israel or the Mossad.

They also did not say when the alleged documentary evidence would be produced.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Mossad chief David Barnea meet at the Prime Minister’s Office last June. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Mossad chief David Barnea meet at the Prime Minister’s Office last June. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Taunting Israel and the Mossad, they also wrote, “To Israeli Prime Minister’s Office: Are you sure that the only breach is from Mr. Bernea’s [sic] wife email account? Do you still deny that your national security is damaged? Wait for our new episode.”

This statement appeared to be a reference to the PMO and the Mossad’s portrayal in mid-March of the hackers as having failed to gain a foothold on any current intelligence or anything of real value jeopardizing Israeli national security.

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the personal information of Barnea that was disclosed was old and mostly irrelevant data.

At the same time, Yatom warned that the incident shows that an increasing number of government officials who are not in the defense industry – and might have less protection from hacking – could soon be in the crosshairs of Israel’s enemies.

So far, it appears that “there was no harm because the material was old and not sensitive,” he said. “But it is possible that in the future, hostile actors will succeed in obtaining information from the cellphones of senior officials – not from the Mossad [who may be better protected] – which could harm” Israel.

Created hours before the leak was published to some 30 followers, the channel is reportedly linked to Iranian groups.

A video released in the leak claims the documents and photos shown are a product of an extensive surveillance campaign targeting Barnea.

According to the leakers, this campaign dates back to 2014, when Barnea was head of Mossad’s Tzomet department, responsible for the activation of the agency’s international agent network.

The surveillance campaign not only targeted Barnea but several other senior Israeli officials in the defense establishment, Iranian Nour News reported at the time.

Barnea was targeted along with other Mossad officials as a possible future head of the establishment, according to the report.

Some of the files shown in the leak include personal photos of Barnea with his family, plane tickets he purchased, tax documents and a satellite image of what is claimed to be his house, located in a city in central Israel.

One document shows a notice sent to his wife, Roni, to pay a five-figure sum in tax debt. It said further information gathered on the Mossad chief will be released soon.

The photos and documents shown in the Telegram group could not be authenticated, but the Prime Minister’s Office only denied that the documents came from a hack of Barnea himself and did not reject their authenticity.

Despite the sensational headlines, none of what was disclosed contained any current operational information, let alone any current information related to Barnea’s job itself.

Although those disclosing the information claimed that the 2014 flight showed how long they have been watching him, it would be just as likely that they only targeted him more recently but failed to get any current information.

In that case, the claim that they have been watching him since 2014 would be a cover for their inability to get more current information.

Likewise, the rest of the information was vague – and information could be publicly obtained by hacking the files of airlines, tax authorities and others who may have interacted with Barnea and his family, without hacking the Mossad chief himself.