IDF Unit 8200: Coming Soon To A Theater Near You – OpEd

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.”

Israel
Israel

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.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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