Ronan Farrow on His Black Cube Whistleblower

Ronan Farrow - H - 2019

The double agent used a ProtonMail account with the name Sleeper1973, which Farrow took as a reference to his father Woody Allen's 1973 film 'Sleeper.'

The New Yorker on Wednesday morning published a third and final excerpt from Ronan Farrow's new book, Catch and Kill, in which the journalist details how Black Cube spies monitored him as he was working on his reports about sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, published in the fall of 2017.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

In the final excerpt on The New Yorker's website, Farrow writes about how he learned in October 2017, while reporting on sexual-assault accusations against Weinstein, that the movie producer had hired the private intelligence agency "to surveil his accusers and the journalists trying to tell their stories." 

Writes Farrow: "I had obtained a list of marks suggesting that the spy agency’s operatives had approached the actress Rose McGowan, the writer Ben Wallace and me. But I needed confirmation, and that would require an insider outraged enough to risk leaking the full details of the operation."

How did Farrow find that whistleblower or double agent? He recounts talking to two men "close to the Black Cube operation" who promised to send him documents that would "disprove any claims that Black Cube had followed accusers or reporters." 

One of the men said that "we’ll use a one-time e-mail or one of our servers." Farrow says that he then received a message with attached documents via encrypted-messaging service ProtonMail and another message from a different email service, Zmail, with more documents. "I assumed that both messages were from the two men close to the Black Cube operation, though the ProtonMail message had an unusually intimate tone," Farrow writes. "'Hello mutual friend,' it said. 'Attached you’ll find new information concerning the HW&BC affair. Best, cryptoadmin.' The ProtonMail account it came from bore the name Sleeper1973."

That email contained what Farrow called an "extensive record of Black Cube’s work for Weinstein," including their first contract and a revision, which "directed the spies 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,' a reference to reporting on Weinstein by the Times. The contract also directed them to obtain a copy of a memoir that McGowan was writing, which was described as 'a book which currently being written and includes harmful negative information on and about the Client.'" 

When he had another call with the two men close to the operation, he mentioned that contract sent from a second email account, but one of them replied: "The only thing we sent you yesterday was from Zmail."

Farrow recalled how his editors asked him to try to learn more about the new inside source, whom they called Sleeper. "Sleeper1973 is possibly a Woody Allen reference," Farrow says he wrote to his editors, a reference to his father's 1973 film Sleeper. And he adds in the book excerpt about the double agent: "Someone with a dark sense of humor, then. (I’d publicly criticized my father after my sister accused him of sexual assault. He has denied the allegation.)"

The new inside source wasn't willing to reveal their identity, Farrow writes. "Sleeper rebuffed my pleas for an encrypted call or an in-person meeting. "'I can understand your editors’ concern although I’m afraid to reveal my identity. Every online method can be monitored these days ... its hard for me to trust it wont come back at me,' Sleeper wrote."

But Farrow adds: "Sleeper continued sending information from the encrypted email address, and it always proved accurate." And he writes he got "a hint about motive" from the source who wrote to him: "I’m an insider who is fed up with BC’s false and devious ways of obtaining material illegally," adding: "Moreover, in this case, I truly believe HW is a sex offender and I’m ashamed as a woman for participating."

Farrow writes that he never found out more about the whistleblower. "That, in the end, is all that I can tell you about Sleeper, and about the risks that she took to uncover something vast. She was a woman and she’d had enough," he says in the book excerpt.