Aides to President Donald Trump reportedly contracted an Israeli private security firm to collect dirt on Obama administration officials and discredit the Iran nuclear deal.
The operation to 'get dirt' on Barack Obama's former staffers Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl was launched last May, according to unnamed sources and documents cited by UK newspaper The Observer.
The sources said that officials linked to Trump's team contacted Israeli investigators just days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago, his first foreign trip as US president.
The goal was apparently to discredit the Iran nuclear deal framework, which Trump has repeatedly threatened to scuttle ahead of a key May 12 deadline for certifying Iran's compliance.
Investigators contracted by the Israeli intelligence agency were instructed to dig into the personal lives and political careers of Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and Kahl, a national security adviser to the former vice-president Joe Biden, according to documents cited by the Observer.
'The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the [Iran] deal, making it easier to pull out of it,' said an unnamed source quoted in the report.
Among things the investigators allegedly examined were personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and whether the Obama aides had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal.
The private investigators were also allegedly instructed to contact prominent Iranian Americans as well as pro-deal journalists to determine whether Rhodes and Kahl had violated rules by leaking.
Rhodes famously said in a 2016 New York Times profile that he relied on inexperienced reporters to create an 'echo chamber' to helped sway public opinion in favor of the deal.
The investigators were said to be examining Rhodes and Kahl's contacts with the New York Times, MSNBC, the Atlantic, Vox website and Israeli newspaper Haaretz, among others.
It is unclear how far along the project to uncover dirt progressed, or what became of any of the information discovered on the two aides.
Rhodes told the Observer: 'I was not aware, though sadly am not surprised. I would say that digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do.'
Israel has lobbied heavily against the Iran deal, which lifts economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a 10-year freeze on the country's nuclear weapons program.
Last week, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to have evidence that Iran 'lied' about its weapons program. Iran is an arch-nemesis of Israel.
Although the name of the firm allegedly contracted by Trump associates is not clear, Israel is well known for its abundance of private intelligence and security firms.
In November, the Israeli private spy network Black Cube made news when it was revealed that disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein hired the firm to squash articles about sexual misconduct he was accused of.This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.