Thursday 18 April 2013

Former Israeli Intelligence Operatives Now Working For Hedge Funds

A company staffed with former operatives of Israel’s top intelligence agencies and founded with the help of the former head of the Mossad is being used by hedge funds looking for an edge in the financial markets.

Kela Israeli Intelligence has increasingly become a popular service on Wall Street.

 The firm employs about 40 former intelligence operatives and analysts, most of them ex-members of the Israeli army’s secretive 8200 unit, which is often described as Israel’s equivalent to the National Security Agency and believed to be behind the Stuxnet computer worm that attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kela also employs former agents of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and the company was founded with the help of Shabtai Shavit, the director general of the Mossad from 1989 to 1996, who sits on Kela’s advisory board.

Founded in 2009 with an eye toward harnessing the intelligence talent in Israel for use in the corporate sector, Kela does work for insurance companies, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, but it has found its services are greatly in demand by hedge funds. Some 80% of its business is currently coming from hedge fund managers in New York, London and Hong Kong, according to Yigal Naveh, Kela’s chief executive officer and co-founder.

“We are focused on hedge funds, mostly activist hedge funds, and long/short hedge funds,” Naveh said in an interview. “They are trying to find fraud, not only on Chinese companies but companies around the world, Europe, where the business situation makes more companies cut corners and do less legitimate things.” Added Naveh: “We get a scope, we get a series of questions and we try to help.”

The world of corporate intelligence is not new, producing large companies like Kroll, a private investigations firm for big corporations that has been called a “private CIA.” Hedge fund managers, always hungry for information and looking for a leg up in the markets, have for years dabbled with these kinds of services.

 For example, Business Intelligence Advisors, based in Boston, has been staffed with former, and sometimes active, CIA officers and has reportedly worked for the likes of Goldman Sachs and SAC Capital Advisors, the big hedge fund run by billionaire Steve Cohen. Among its services, Business Intelligence Advisors reportedly teaches money managers so-called “deception detection” techniques to identify when corporate executives might be lying on conference calls.

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