Murphy's Law: The Israeli Incentive Program

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August 12, 2015: Israel currently exports over $6 billion worth of Internet and computer security hardware and software a year. That makes Israel the largest source for such items on the planet. This is amazing because Israel has a population of only 8.3 million. What Israel lacks in numbers it makes for in education and motivation. That last item has to do with their Moslem neighbors increasingly (since the 19th century) violent attitude towards Jews (and non Moslems in general). To many Israelis the situation is very simple, they must innovate or die. In the case of Internet security and all forms of electronic communications Israel has an edge in protecting its secrets and getting to those of its enemies. Israel has been very good at monitoring the communications of its Arab neighbors and that has been a major reason why several major efforts to carry out terror campaigns inside Israel have failed. Even attempts to kidnap or kill at Israelis (or Jews in general) outside of Israel have failed because Israeli intelligence detected the attack plans.

While most Israelis see all this electronic surveillance as a matter of life or death, not all Israelis agree. For example in early 2015 Israeli officials expelled several reserve soldiers from the top secret Israeli intelligence Unit 8200 because of their public criticism of how the unit operates. Unit 8200 is the Israeli equivalent of the American NSA, and much more besides. The dismissal from Unit 8200 was triggered by a September 2013 incident in which an open letter to the government and the Israeli public by 43 current or former members of Unit 8200 denounced tactics (eavesdropping, blackmail) used to recruit Palestinian informants. Shortly after the open letter appeared the Israeli Defense Minister was ordered to charge the 43 Unit 8200 veterans with a criminal offense for disclosing details of intelligence operations. That was eventually dialed back to a reprimand and removal from any contact with classified security work.

It turned out that most of those who signed the open letter had either never worked on those surveillance operations while at Unit 8200 or had but were not currently doing so. The only ones recently dismissed where those few who were still liable for mobilization. Unit 8200 relies on a large reserve of former members who are still in the computer security business and willing to be brought in for an emergency.

Meanwhile those who signed the open letter were criticized because the techniques they condemned were no secret and generally accepted as necessary to keep Israelis safe. As a result the open letter brought forth an overwhelming reaction, mostly negative, against the 43 reservists. In response to the open letter hundreds of other Unit 8200 members issued their own open letter denouncing the 43 for being attention seeking political opportunists who did not know what they were talking about, or didn’t care.

In was only in 2011 that Israel first revealed details of Unit 8200, which has long handled cryptography, computer hacking and electronic warfare in general. Formed in 1952 Unit 8200 first specialized in cracking codes for the government. Over 20,000 soldiers have served in Unit 8200 so far and were all sworn to secrecy. Despite that it did become known that Unit 8200 existed and was involved in some very secret stuff. Eventually it was assumed that Unit 8200 had something to do with communications and security. This came about because so many men who had served in Unit 8200 went on to start companies specializing in cryptography (coding information so that no unauthorized personnel can know what the data is) and other aspects of high tech.

Unit 8200 is crucial for supplying information about planned attacks on Israel, especially terror attacks on Israeli territory or against Israelis and Jews in other countries. These counter-terror efforts rely on fresh intelligence and lots of speed in carrying out raids and attacks against terrorists. The objective is simple; catch the terrorists before they can attack Israelis. This intel network often picks up information about assassination plots against officials in neighboring countries. If such a leader is on good terms with Israel, he will be warned in time. This helps maintain the few alliances Israel has with its Moslem neighbors.

A key source of intelligence is an extensive informant network in Gaza, the West Bank and many Arab countries. Israel was able to build and maintain such a network in Arab areas because they have so many police and military intelligence personnel who speak Arabic and often work for Unit 8200. A large segment of the Israeli population even looks like Arabs because they are descendants of the half a million Jews expelled from Arab countries in the late 1940s. These Israelis can easily pass as Palestinians or, by learning the right dialect, other Arab nationalities and often do when collecting intelligence. The methods Unit 8200 was criticized for employing have been in common use for centuries, if not millennia. The revelations were no surprise to most Israelis, or Arabs.

 

 


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