“In intelligence, you can’t work only by rules.”
– Rami Efrati, Israeli businessman and former member of Unit 8200.
Israel is marketed in the ‘West’ as a ‘start-up nation’ and technology developed by Israeli companies are used in propaganda against boycott of Israeli occupation.
The idea in the latter is that somehow the development of technology both negates the occupation while making its users de facto participants in the occupation who should not oppose it, because it benefits them. What is left unsaid how close the ties between Israeli tech companies, Israeli-led Silicon Valley companies and Wall Street to the occupation are – and how methods used to keep up the occupation are used to support other authoritarian regimes.
The connections are Israeli occupation forces’ Unit 81 and the signals intelligence’s branch, Unit 8200. We will concentrate on Unit 8200 in this article. Unit 8200, based on Zionist group Shin Mem 2 spying on Palestinians during the British Mandate, has a staff of 5000 and spies on Palestinians who have no legal protection against the spying – living under Israeli occupation or in occupation, they are not protected by law in Israel. Unit 8200 can hack and crack their devices and personal communication, files and accounts without any negative consequences.
This feeds a feeling of impunity in those who serve in the Unit 8200. When they leave the occupation forces, they have learned to spy but they have not been taught moral or legal limits to spying. Instead they have been taught that everything is permissible and are told that they should not care about how their work is used. If people are killed as a result, it’s a decision made by those who use the information they have gathered, and they should not burden themselves with a bad conscience.
This inter-unit ethos got rare public appearance when 43 reserve members of Unit 8200 refused to participate in the 2014 attack on besieged Gaza Strip, which killed around 2200 Palestinians, and the Unit 8200 needed justification and positive publicity in Israel and the ‘West’. This led to a lot of positive, clearly propaganda-oriented media attention to Unit 8200 and it ties to tech companies.
When these people move to private business, they have contact networks of their fellow unit members to mine and prestige in the eyes of Israeli and ‘Western’ companies and investors as a result of their connection to Unit 8200. ‘350 Israeli-controlled high-tech firms’ operate in New York City alone, employing hundreds of former Unit 8200 members.
According to Haaretz, 700 former members of Unit 8200 are working in United States in New York City, Silicon Valley and Boston alone. These members help each other to advance in the US’ corporate world according to the same source – and quite successfully, as in 2017 Israeli or Israeli-founded cyber-security firms alone raised one billion United States dollars in outside funding.
When the former Unit 8200 go found ‘start-up’ tech companies, these companies ethos is that which they learned in serving the occupation: Everything is permissible and how their services are used by their customers is solely an issue for those customers. In 2016 there were 27 Israeli surveillance companies, highest per capita in the world. As comparison, United States had 122 surveillance companies and the world overall had 528.
Unsavoury customers like Hungary’s far-right government are as acceptable as any other, and when a customer like it wants to target non-governmental organizations critical of the government, this is as non-existent as a moral quondary as whether the information collected by Unit 8200 will lead to a family home full of people being blown up.
But there is also another problem: Many former Unit 8200 members are now in leading roles, sometimes as founders and/or CEOs, in cyber-security companies and in Wall Street, firms which finance cyber-security companies. Israeli companies have 7 % of the world-market, compared to United States’ 69 %. The question is, are people whose former job involved breaking cyber-security and spying on people without care of their privacy (or survival) reliable when it comes to protecting people from cyber-criminals, intelligence agencies – or their own former employer, Unit 8200 and other branches of Israeli regime it works with?
Are former spies the right people to protect individuals, companies and governments from spying – or are they foxes guarding hen-houses? Will a spy ever really stop being a spy?
Can it be trusted that the cyber-security companies led by former Unit 8200 members don’t work with Unit 8200 and its allied intelligence services against their clients? Can it be trusted that no backdoors are built into their products and services, especially as Silicon Valley tech companies have been under pressure from the US government to do so? Former spies might see it an easy decision to make, especially if doing so will open more doors for their companies.
This is not idle speculation – the ties of Silicon Valley companies to United States intelligence agencies like NSA have been proven to be very close, to the point that many companies actively aid the spying on their customers. Why should we expect companies founded and/or lead by former members of Unit 8200 to behave any different when it comes to Israeli and US intelligence services?
Tech companies who have been founded by members of Unit 8200:
Adallom, founded by Ami Luttwak, Assaf Rappaport and Roy Reznik.
Argus Cyber Security, founded by Ofer Ben-Noon, Yaron Galula and Oron Lavi.
Check Point Software Technologies, founder Shlomo Kramer, Marius Nacht and Gil Shwed.
CyberArk, founded by Udi Mokady.
CybeReason with Lior Div, Yossi Nar and Yonatan Striem-Amit.
FST Biometrics, founder IDF / IOF Major General Aharon Zeevi Farkash.
Hyperwise Security, founders Aviv Gavni and Ben Omelchenko.
Imperwa, co-founder Shlomo Kramer.
Logz.io with Tomer Levy.
Narus, now owned by Boeing.
NSO, founder Shalev Hulio.
Palo Alto Networks, founder Nir Zuk.
Wix with co-founder Avishai Abrahami.
Other companies with Unit 8200 members:
Avaya Israel with Gad Gadnir.
Blumberg Capital with IDF / IOF Brigadier General Ehud Schneorson.
Bio Catch with Lev Kadyshevitch.
C. Mer Industries with Nir Lempert.
Julius Baer bank with Yariv Nornberg.
Sequioa Capital with Gili Raanan.
Companies which had Unit 8200 members in the past:
Apple Israel with Aharon Aharon, now leading Israel Innovation Authority.
PHOTO by Israel’s occupation forces via Nikkei Asian Review.