The Israel-sponsored covered influence campaign. And who is its shadowy contractor

The Canadian federal Government has announced it corroborated "elements" of an Israeli misinformation campaign targeting politicians and citizens. It came after revelations that the Israeli Government was involved in influence operations orchestrated by an Israeli political marketing company. In the United States, the response from Congress has been equally forceful, with bipartisan concern over the implications of foreign influence operations. Meta and OpenAI disrupted the campaign in May. The Israeli Government has responded with half-truths, while the political marketing firm has been struggling to erase any evidence of its activity.

Ordered and paid for by the Israeli Government

A private intelligence firm based in Israel has been at the center of a major controversy following reports that the Israeli Government contracted for and paid for its large-scale influence campaign. The secretive operation, which primarily targeted US and Canadian lawmakers, was aimed at advancing Israel's geopolitical interests by destabilizing adversarial regions and influencing foreign policy decisions in target countries.

According to reports in the New York Times and Haaretz, the Israeli Government dedicated around $2 million to the campaign and hired Stoic, a Tel Aviv-based political marketing firm, to carry it out.

The campaign began weeks into the Gaza war, in October 2023, and it was still active at the beginning of June 2024. Stoic used a combination of fake social media accounts, AI-generated content, and targeted disinformation to disseminate pro-Israel content. The campaigns were designed to appear grassroots and authentic, increasing their effectiveness and reducing the likelihood of detection.

Deep fake, fake news, misinformation

The campaign was flagged earlier this year by the independent researcher Marc Owen Jones (in February), and by FakeReporter, an Israeli misinformation watchdog, and The Digital Forensic Research Lab, a project run by the Atlantic Council (in March). In May, Meta and OpenAI disrupted the campaign.

In its threat report released on May 29, Meta said it had removed more than 500 accounts tied to a propaganda operation linked to Stoic, "a political marketing and business intelligence firm" based in Israel.

Meta said Stoic operated a network of fake accounts and pages, often using AI-generated profiles to appear legitimate. These accounts were used to amplify divisive content and disinformation.

ChatGPT was used to generate many of the posts and to create fake news sites featuring pro-Israel articles. On May 30, OpenAI published its own report on misinformation campaigns. The report said Stoic extensively used AI tools to generate persuasive and realistic content, including deepfakes, misleading articles, and social media posts that mimic genuine discourse.

OpenAI said Stoic had created fictional personas and biographies meant to stand in for real people on social media services.

Who is behind "Stoic"

The Israeli Government denied involvement in the campaign and said it had no "connection or collaborative activities with the company Stoic." This is a half-true statement. Apparently, there is no company called "Stoic" in Israel. The brand belongs to S.T.S.P. SOFTWARE SERVICES LTD, a company incorporated in Tel Aviv in August 2022.

On its website, Stoic says it was founded by a team of political and business strategists and calls itself a political marketing and business intelligence firm in 2017. This is also doubtful. Stoic's website was launched in 2022.

Ido Stossel, Stoic's founder and CEO, is a relatively known Israeli political consultant. Stossel served as a consultant in political campaigns both in Israel and abroad. Ido Shapira, CFO and product developer, is a former manager of the Cyber Education Center, an institution co-founded by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Stoic's vice-president, Yigal Achtenberg  (Igal  Nevo), is a former parliamentary assistant and lobbyist. Maria Murashova, Stoic CTO, is a former Big Data expert of the Likud Party. Chaim Greidinger, Stoic's media adviser, is a former journalist and media advisor with Israel's Ministry of Health. Other Stoic's employees are Jonathan Frid (Graphic Designer and Front Developer), Amir Shadmi (Customer Success Manager), Zoe Levornik (Political Analyst), Daniel Edlshtain (QA Engineer), Tomer Mutitsa (Quality Assurance Specialist), Bar Loya (Product Designer).