IDF Unit 8200: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You
The U.S. Army ad slogan may be: “The Army needs a few good men.” But IDF Unit 8200’s slogan is: “The IDF needs a few good hackers.” Actually not a few, more like hundreds if not thousands.
As I’ve reported here, Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent to the NSA, is undergoing a massive expansion. Recent events–including Stuxnet, Flame, the sabotaging of Syria’s air defenses during the 2007 attack on that country’s purported nuclear facility, and the recent take-down of Sudan’s telecommunications system an hour before Israel’s recent attack on a munitions plant there–have proven how effective cyber-warfare can be in pursuit of Israeli interests. Just like in Hollywood, where success breeds endless imitation, Israel’s military strategic planners are stampeding after the latest cyber-war capabilities. Their thinking, as hot-rodders used to say, “let’s see what this baby can do.”
Yediot’s military correspondent published a story today noting that Unit 8200 recruiters aren’t satisfied merely to find the best computer minds Israel has to offer. No, they’re going to be coming to the high school, university or computer club near you (if you’re in the Diaspora). They want the best that the galut (Diaspora) has to offer too. They’ll be no zilzul ha-galut (“dissing the Diaspora”) here. Not if Israel can pluck the finest minds and whisk them away to protect the Jewish state.
Here are some of the most telling passages from the story:
Many of the Jewish youth who make aliyah seek to enlist in [elite] battle-field units. But in this era, when a computer virus can cause more damage than a missile, the army needs fighters of a different sort: young computer geniuses which the IDF attempts to identify in Jewish communities around the world.
In the IDF, they’ve understood for some time that future wars will take place not only on the field of battle, but also via the internet. In the past year, it has dramatically increased the resources it’s investing in cyber-capabilities, which are subsumed under Unit 8200. With the support of the chief of staff, the Aman [military intelligence] chief, Gen. Aviv Kochavi added to the multi-year budget a special 2-billion shekel ($500-million) allocation for development in this field.
But for military recruiters there is an insufficient number of suitable candidates…The army sifts through Israel’s high schools seeking such computer geniuses and persuading them that cyber-warriors have a critical role to play in protecting the nation. But because flight school is still the preferred track for many of Israel’s best young people, the recruiters seek to identify the army’s future cyber-warriors from among those living abroad, especially in Jewish communities of North America and Europe.
“Because we’re aware that our manpower needs will rise exponentially we need to seek solutions not just in Israel but in the world at large,” explained an IDF recruitment officer…”In the first go-round, we seek in the Jewish communities [abroad] young people who suit the task. Our representatives who operate in these places will go through candidates and sort and classify them.” Those who make the grade will be invited to make aliyah and serve as cyber-warriors.
“We’re speaking of a Zionist national project,” emphasized the officer. “I hope that in the footsteps of these young men and women who make aliya that many of their families will follow.”
Even if we label this as a half-baked exercise in hasbara, the Zio-puffery in this piece is amazing. It never ceases to amaze me how Israel can deliberately conflate the issue of its own national interests with those of the Jewish world (when it suits). Of course, when it doesn’t suit, and Israel hears statements from the Diaspora it dislikes, then it can angrily dismiss them as the work of busy-bodies who have no business sticking their noses where they weren’t invited.
All this means that there will be IDF intelligence computers hanging out on the Stanford campus hoping they can divert the next Sergey Brin from starting the next Google, and transform him into the next David who slings his computer code at some Arab Goliath. If you’re on an Ivy League campus, in Silicon Valley or at high-tech companies like Microsoft, Google or Apple, chances are you’ll meet charming young men speaking suave Hebrew-accented English. They’ll speak gushingly of Israel as a place where you can make your mark professionally while doing a tremendous mitzvah on behalf of the Jewish people.
They won’t tell you that you’ll likely be participating in cyber-war, killing Israel’s enemies, laying waste their towns and cities, and making the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it already is. If you do meet such people, you’ll know what they’re after and it will be your choice how to respond.
12 thoughts on “IDF Unit 8200: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I don`t think you are wrong here. People need to understand that Israel will go to any length to ensure its survival as long as it perceives it is in danger. The cyber arena is the “new war zone” and because, luckily for it, Israel has acquired general superiority in the field it is understandable that it would want to take advantage of that. It has the advantage of being “neat”, not as the “messy” bombing and killing of the past, and can be pinpointed against specific targets within countries (so lessen impacts for the innocent). It also presents a big problem for those, especially rogue entities, that at long last reached capabilities in those “old” ways of fighting but has little clue and experience to draw upon about this new emerging tool.
“…perceives it is in danger.” Somehow that is always the case, isn’t it? Always on the verge of being snuffed out. The ’67 war is case in point. Billed as an existential threat despite the sure knowledge of victory both in Israel and the US. (Israel took a day longer than the Pentagon expected!) There is always a threat to the state’s existence. But, by whom? There’s no entity capable of doing this deed. I think this business of an existential threat is a case of bad national conscience.
(But then the Pentagon had not expected the assault on the Golan.)
I want to address what you said:
“…hanging out on the Stanford campus hoping they can divert the next Sergey Brin from starting the next Google…”
In Israel, it works the other way around.
conscripts who “graduate” from service in unit 8200 often create new start-up companies, or join existing ones.
This way, the Israeli IT industry (and the individual 8200 graduate) profits from experience gained during the military service – unlike a tanker, for example, that has almost nothing to do with what he learned during his years in service.
So: Israel bombs a munitions factory far from Israel (and earlier shuts-down the communications system there), all because arms manufactured there will be transferred to Gaza. What argument can there be — in light of this — against EU and others refusing to import anything made by Israelis in the OPTs (or, for that matter, in pre-1967 Israel), given the general understanding that Israel is committing violations of international law by its settlements project and that the settlements (and things grown or manufactured there) are generally illegal?
Why, in other words, is a violent and probably illegal Israeli act of war privileged over a principled, legal, arguably mandated-by-treaty act of law enforcement? Can it be that the EU buys  the argument that the settlements promote Israeli security or  promote peace? Both so preposterous as not to be spoken outside Israel?
What’s the big deal? Programs bringing Jewish kids to serve in the Israeli army have been around for a while, and are oversubscribed (more applicants than places). Whether I agree with such programs or not, the kids who come here definitely have a clear idea of what they are getting into. It’s naive to think that the Israeli army somehow has to hoodwink these kids to get them to serve.
Well what should the countries whose citizens are recruited to serve in a foreign army think about this. Recruited simply because of his/hers religion. Should the Finnish army train a Jewish young Finn interested in computers on “the cyber sectors” or put him/her to take care of the watch dogs or pealing potatoes in the kitchen during their mandatory army service. If we “support” our Jewish youth to serve in the religiously motivated Israeli Army, can we say no to the Finnish Muslims wanting to serve in their “second passport” armies with skills and knowledge learned here. (Finland’s readiness in cyber defense is considered to be one of the highest in the world. During the years 2004 to 2007 Finland was the second in missile technology export to Israel (data from a parliamentary question to the government))
Besides a very aggressive army Israel has a large military industry eager to minimize their own R&D costs by “lending” technology also from friendly countries. By publicly reaching out non-Israeli Jews Israel sends a clear signal to everybody, not only to Israel’s neighbors. Lets not whine about anti-Semitism if and when Jews around the world are offered less critical roles in the defense “systems”.
Israel recruiting computer science engineers is a danger for the middle east.
Then Iran developing nuclear weapon is what? Right, danger only because Israel is trying to stop it. Otherwise it’s a peaceful act.
Richardson, don’t let the facts get in your way.
RE: “We’re speaking of a Zionist national project,” emphasized the officer.
MY COMMENT: Dear G_d, please help us! ! ! I fear this new “Zionist national project” might well be an “existential threat” to the rest of us.
This is not entirely baseless. The obsession with Israel and the implicit desire of many, in the Islamic world and in certain European quarters, to see it undone can indeed this time around come with broader risks. In the past huge destruction could have been inflicted upon Jews and the others perhaps repented, regretted or not, but never paid real price. In our globally connected world (“local issues” have global effects) and technology advanced conditions (all are “within reach”) that may have indeed changed.
Israel taking big risk as some of these “whizkids” are probably working for their country of birth
Veterans of unit 8200 do not need to go to college.
Their military service opens the doors to just about any tech company in the world.
Most non Israelis would not get security clearance to get into the unit anyway. Generally 5 years of citzenship and residency in Israel is the requirement for them to even begin starting the security clearance process. Although occasionally the requirement is waved, but requires a very good reason to do so. Not just that a person has the skill sets.