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Haaretz Promo for IDF Cyber-War Unit 8200

I’ve chronicled over the past few months a serious promotional campaign on behalf of the IDF’s cyber-war Unit 8200.  It includes a slew of flattering profiles of Israel’s top computer warriors which examine the Unit’s mission from various angles as to the benefits they offer to Israeli society.  Matthew Kalman wrote this shameless puff piece for The Guardian that boasted of the technological innovation and business start-ups generated by 8200 veterans.  Now Inbal Orpaz has generated yet another portrait that examines the career success stories of those who served there.

flame virus

Flame virus code: this too is the bounty of Unit 8200

If you read her story, you won’t find a single fact that illuminates what Unit 8200 does.  Not a whiff about its fearsome offensive capabilities in wiping out enemy enemy computer infrastructure or telecommunications capacity (as it plans to do should Israel attack Iran).  Nothing about the most aggressive, destructive computer viruses ever unleashed on the world: Stuxnet and Flame.  Nothing about the ongoing relationships between the Unit and its veterans in terms of ongoing intelligence operations which exploit civilian cover.  Or the computer programs produced by Unit veterans which enable political repression in African dictatorial regimes; and the surveillance-monitoring activities of the NSA.  Somehow, Inbal forgot about what is actually newsworthy about the Unit, focusing instead of the glossy Polaroid displaying its warm and fuzzy side.

There were several unintentionally astonishing admissions in the article.  Among them that the chief scientist of the economics ministry, who not just admits, but proudly affirms that he continues recruiting for a “classified” division of 8200.  His cooperation with his former comrades doesn’t stop there:

Hasson, the chief scientist…is involved in the classification process in the unit [8200].

The former CEO of Israel’s Channel 2 News unironically informs the interviewer that Israeli army cyber-intelligence prepared him wonderfully for a media career:

Adin agrees that his service in the unit exercised a dramatic effect on his career. “Without a doubt, service in 8200 opens doors,” he says. “I never imagined that I would become the CEO of a news and media company, but the truth is that service in an intelligence unit prepared me optimally for work in a news company.

Neither of these individuals has the least awareness that serving in military intelligence, specially promoting Israel’s cyber-war capabilities, might compromise their independence and objectivity in their civilian jobs.  In fact, there is no separation between the two in Israeli society.  National security and civilian service bleed into each other.  If you advance the former, you advance the latter.

Can you imagine the chief scientist in the Treasury Department recruiting NSA agents as part of his job?  Or participating in debates about the mission of the agency or its classification of intelligence data?  Can you imagine the chief of the CBS news division or Google chief technologist proudly noting his service in the NSA?

Inbal’s profile trumpets the wonderful alumni network that guarantees those departing from the cyber-intelligence service will have a “soft landing” in the civilian world.  There is a Good Ol’ Boys network which relentlessly champions insiders.  I’ve written about one such alum, Uri Leventer-Roberts, who is the Israel director of the UJA Federation of New York.  As part of his job, he promotes both American Jewish philanthropy and business opportunities in Israel.  One wonders whether he too may be recruiting from his lay leaders for those who may aid Israel’s cyber-intelligence gathering network.

The Network doesn’t include many Israelis from what the article euphemistically calls “the periphery” of the country, that is the north and south.  In other words, 8200 recruits from the well-educated Ashkenazi elite living in Tel Aviv and environs.  There are far fewer recruits from the disadvantaged regions where more Israeli Palestinians and Mizrahim reside.  The reporter notes this as a social problem, but doesn’t call it by its real name: racism.  Educational opportunities and infrastructure are far more developed in Tel Aviv, where the oligarchic elite, and the professional-entrepreneurial classes live.  Few expect much of the poor and the outliers in Israel.  That’s reflected in the social, economic and geographical background of those serving.

The IDF has established several technical high schools, which again reinforce this geographic-class-ethhnic bias, from which it does its technology recruiting.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Maggie April 21, 2014, 10:09 AM

    Richard, I have my own server and internal network and am constantly bombarded by nerdowells and others to the point that I’ve had to block most of the world from reaching my server. So I understand the increased need for cybersecurity. But most companies and governments cannot block the entire world from reaching their public sites. War by other means has gone cyber which can affect millions of civilians, i.e., the power grid might be turned off and the country would go dark for a time. My question to you is since we live in a world that is becoming more and more dangerous, divided and hateful, is not war through cyberspace less damaging than a WWII-like war where bombs actually kill millions of civilians? Example: Since most of the world does not want Iran to get nuclear weapons, would not the stuxnet and flame viruses, done through US and Israel cooperation, be a better way to stop Iran or slow them down than Israel and/or the US having to use bombs and possibly nukes to stop them? The only thing the stuxnet and flame did was damage some centrifuges used by the Iranian government. There were no actual deaths caused by this. Of course it would be nice if we lived in the garden of eden but we don’t. Sometimes the best defense is a good (and strong) offense!

    • Richard Silverstein April 23, 2014, 4:56 PM

      The serious error in your assumption is that computer viruses & cyber-war cannot hurt anyone. Of course, it can hurt people in the thousands, tens of thousands and even millions depending on what the target is. It can cause plane and rail crashes, melt power plant nuclear cores, destroy communications capabilities. Cyber war is not play. It is not benign. It is war. Just because it hasn’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean it couldn’t and won’t if we keep this up.

      • Maggie April 25, 2014, 1:29 AM

        Thanks for your reply. I’m new to your blog.

        I did mention that cyber warfare can hurt millions of people. It can turn the entire country dark for a certain amount of time. That can cause some people to die from the cold, from the heat, from traffic accidents due to traffic lights going down, from all sorts of things. And yes, nuclear power plants can melt down if the power is off for an extended period of time. Hopefully the plants have backup generators. All that can be (and is) caused by natural disasters. I’m just saying that bombs, atomic bombs, emps, etc., are more destructive to all life. An emp can cause lights out and everything to stop for years, millions eventually dead and civilization gone. If I had to choose I would choose cyber over bombs.

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