Ex-Mossad head launches new firm to win the influence war

Ex-Mossad chief Danny Yatom has a new company to shape voters’ hearts and minds.

(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

It’s been less than a year, but CIY Global, the latest company founded by former head of the Mossad Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Danny Yatom, has already scored several wins.

The company, based in central Israel, provides a unified solution to clients by using a wide variety of tools in order to influence campaigns and business development.

“We act as a one-stop shop. We provide all services, including graphics, video content. We have holistic capabilities,” Yatom, president of CIY, told The Jerusalem Post at the company’s office.

“We act as a one-stop shop. We provide all services, including graphics, video content. We have holistic capabilities.”

Danny Yatom

Yatom served close to 30 years in the IDF and ended his time in the military as OC Central Command. He also served as military secretary to Yitzhak Rabin, first when he was defense minister in 1983, and then prime minister in 1992. He then served under Shimon Peres and as chief of staff for prime minister Ehud Barak from 1999 to 2001.

He headed the Mossad from 1996 to 1998 and also served as a Knesset member for the Labor Party between 2003 and 2008.

Danny Yatom, leader of the newly formed Veteran's Party. (credit: GIDON BALTZAN)Danny Yatom, leader of the newly formed Veteran's Party. (credit: GIDON BALTZAN)

Yatom explained that he founded the company after he ended his campaign run in 2021 as the head of the Veteran’s Party, where he met Nevo Cohen and Ofer Inbar, who later joined him and his son Omer to found CIY Global.

CIY Global

A political campaign agency, CIY Global has run dozens of campaigns, both in the political and business worlds, in Europe, North, Central and South America. Though many of the campaigns have been under the radar, some clients have understood the power that using an Israeli company might provide.

It is jointly owned by Yatom, his son Omer, who handles business development, Cohen, who serves as CEO, and Inbar, who is communications director.

The team also includes Dr. Liraz Margalit, who specializes in behavioral design and decision-making and acts as the team’s behavioral scientist and hires local teams during their campaigns.

Whether it be for political campaigns, business development, investments or even the military sectors, the strength of CIY Global is to help clients persuade, convince and influence target audiences.

“We are in the mind-setting business. We are an influence company,” said Cohen.

“Our belief is that propaganda or influence should be the next big thing,” he said. “There is an understanding, now more than ever, that governments and defense bodies must have the capabilities to influence on a much bigger scale. The strategic ability to influence is on a scope we’ve never seen before.”

When working on a political campaign, the company meets with the candidate in order to help him shape the messages and identify hot spots that may be relevant. They break down the situation on a daily basis in order to provide the required influence.

CIY is very data-oriented and analyzes big data and deep nano targeting tools in order to identify potential voters and a target audience.

“We need to be ahead of the others in assessing and understanding what the story of the day is. We create all the tools for the candidate, with all the right slogans and messages on various platforms in order to lead the attitude of the public the way we want it,” Cohen said.

“We are a content box which wants to win the content war daily. We want the other side to be reactive.”

Cohen explained that social networks have changed how governments and militaries can cope, especially in democratic countries, where freedom of speech is a right. And, with a rise in fake news, the company has identified that the possibility of regime change in democratic countries is not something that can be ignored.

“The strategic vulnerabilities, especially of democracies, [to] forces [that] manipulate the general public through these kinds of influence operations [are] on a scope that we never saw before,” he said. “The influence of social networks can strategically change the way that nations compete in the commercial, diplomatic and military arenas.”

Democratic countries are beginning to understand that, Cohen said. But “this kind of arena involves lies and deception. And democracies cannot lie and deceive.”

While the risks posed by propaganda warfare are high, governments have allocated only small amounts of funds toward funding the war against it.

Yatom, who has decades of experience in both the military and politics, explained that, in military language, propaganda warfare is “psychological warfare.”

WHILE THE core clients of CIY Global are involved in political campaigns, with Yatom’s significant history in Israel’s security establishment and Cohen’s deep knowledge of persuasion, the company also supports clients that deal with security issues.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, the company has also been approached by governments and other bodies – including countries that do not have any official ties with Israel – regarding their influence capabilities, “to understand how they can use their knowledge, experience and capabilities as part of their arsenal, not just the digital side but the strategic side as well,” Cohen said.

But it’s not only Ukraine. Israel has also long faced an uphill battle regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and while it has the military might, it has not been able to win the hearts and minds of the international community.

“The world of deception and lies is similar to online propaganda terror. And it’s not being met by the right tools. It’s an uneven playing field,” Cohen said. “Our enemies are in a boxing ring, while we democracies are playing by the rules of the opera. And that’s a problem”

According to Yatom, deception has long been part of warfare.

“It didn’t start with computers and high-frequency media. There have always been ways [to influence], including by mechanically spreading leaflets and the radio,” he said. “Persuasion, influence and narrative is a strategic part of the military.”

Though Israel has gone through numerous wars and military operations, the conflict last May, Operation Guardian of the Walls, “was ignited by social media,” Yatom said.

The war began after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem after a rise in violence on the Temple Mount and the hot spot neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Arab families faced possible eviction.

The 11 days of conflict, which saw rockets fired from south Lebanon, violence in the West Bank and inside Israeli cities, along with over 4,000 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza, also saw intense operations on social media by both the IDF and Palestinians.

While Israel said it won the war by achieving strong deterrence against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it’s clear that the IDF and the state did not win the war of influence.

According to Cohen, Israel needs to be proactive in influencing the international community during its military operations, and even before. “We need to lead the agenda on the proactive side regarding our enemies, both for the general public and international actors.”

Though CIY does not work with the IDF or other security bodies in Israel, Yatom explained that the IDF has what to learn from the company.

“We aren’t magicians. When dealing with this sort of operation [of influence winning], you need to start weeks in advance. Israel has to build a strong plan and needs to be proactive in providing explanations in order to gain legitimacy. But we are not ready for that battle.”