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2021 Whistleblower of the Year Candidate - Alex Vlasov

Posted  December 3, 2021

Hollywood’s world of fictional fame and fortune produces few real-life whistleblowers; Alex Vlasov is an exception.  But he doesn’t work for a film studio, music company, or media conglomerate.  For nine years he worked in private security, for a company called Black Box Security in Woodland, California.  With a client roster of Hollywood personalities, “staffed by former elite members of the Israeli military,” you could call Black Box “muscle to the stars.”

During Vlasov’s tenure, Black Box’s biggest client was Britney Spears.  Sort of.  Black Box didn’t work for Spears, but for her father, in connection with the conservatorship that famously controlled Britney’s life for thirteen years and was only recently dissolved.  While Britney’s father called the tune, Britney’s fortune paid the bills.

No one thinks the private security industry is governed by Marquess of Queensberry rules.  But even in that rough and tumble world Black Box’s actions in connection with its work for Spears, as revealed by Vlasov, are shocking.

According to Vlasov, Black Box blatantly and illegally surveilled Spears for years in connection with the company’s retention for the conservatorship.  Hacking her phone, tapping her calls, and generally spying on her without her knowledge or permission.

Vlasov says Black Box had a recording device hidden in Spears’s bedroom, taping 180 hours of conversations including those with her boyfriend and children.  They also recorded calls with her personal attorney.  Black Box hacked Spears’ phone and figured out how to monitor most of her personal conversations, including text messages, FaceTime calls, notes, browser history, and photographs.  All without her knowledge or permission.

The intrusions were not only electronic.  According to Vlasov, a security team “tailed her boyfriends in a continuing effort to look for incriminating behavior or other evidence that they might be a bad influence on Ms. Spears.”  Suitors were required to sign strict non-disclosure agreements and were prohibited from posting about Spears on social media without her father’s written approval.

When a “Free Britney” movement arose to protest the restrictions of Spears’ conservatorship, Black Box allegedly placed undercover operatives in the crowd and prepared dossiers on some attendees.  The firm used its intelligence to draft a threat assessment report, all of which was charged to the Spears conservatorship and funded by Spears.

Vlasov worked directly for the leader of this massively intrusive effort, the founder and owner of Black Box, Edan Yemini.  For years, Vlasov admits that he personally executed Yemini’s directions and went along with this elaborate surveillance.  Over time, however, Vlasov began to have doubts about the legality of Black Box’s actions.  Although Yemini insisted that the conservatorship court was aware of and approved the surveillance, as the measures became ever more intrusive Vlasov found this claim increasingly implausible.

In April 2021, Vlasov finally decided to leave Black Box.  In an exit interview, Yemini told Vlasov that he’d heard Vlasov disapproved of the company’s methods.  According to Vlasov, Yemini, a former Israeli Special Forces member, then pulled out an unloaded gun and placed it on the table.  For most would-be whistleblowers, that would have been a sufficient deterrent.  Not Vlasov.

In June, after hearing Spears complain publicly about the conservatorship, Vlasov approached New York Times reporter Liz Day with his story about Black Box and its gross intrusions into Spears’ private life.  Based on Vlasov’s whistleblowing, Day broke the story as a major Times exclusive.  Simultaneously, the Times released a hugely popular documentary about Vlasov’s allegations, “Controlling Britney Spears,” in which Vlasov is prominently featured.

This intense media exposure unleashed by Vlasov and others about Spears’ treatment eventually led to the dissolution of the Spears conservatorship.  Even more importantly, it also sparked a wider debate about the potential abuses of conservatorships.  That topic had not previously received much scrutiny, especially among young people such as fans of Britney Spears, who likely viewed conservatorships as a distant and improbable destination for them or those close to them.

That public airing comes at a price for Alex Vlasov.  Having done the right thing, he risks potential physical threats from Black Box and legal threats from powerful elements of the Spears media empire who were content with the status quo, as described in detail in the Times documentary.  For his bravery in sounding the alarm about the gross abuse of the Spears conservatorship and for shining a light on that otherwise obscure life-changing institution, we nominate Alex Vlasov for Constantine Cannon’s 2021 Whistleblower of the Year.

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