Unit 8200

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Unit 8200
יחידה 8200
Founded1952
Country Israel
Allegiance Israel Defense Forces
Branch Military Intelligence Directorate
TypeMilitary intelligence unit
RoleClandestine operations
Collecting signal intelligence and code decryption
Counterintelligence
Cyberwarfare
HUMINT
Intelligence assessment
Military intelligence
Strategic intelligence
Surveillance
SizeClassified
DecorationsChief of Staff Medal of Appreciation (2)

Unit 8200 (Hebrew: יחידה 8200, Yehida shmone matayim "Unit eight two-hundred") is an Israeli Intelligence Corps unit of the Israel Defense Forces responsible for clandestine operation, collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption, counterintelligence, cyberwarfare, military intelligence, and surveillance. Military publications include references to Unit 8200 as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, and it is sometimes referred to as Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU).[1] It is subordinate to Aman, the military intelligence directorate.

The unit is composed primarily of 18–21 year olds. As a result of the youth of the soldiers in the unit, and the shortness of their service period, the unit relies on selecting recruits with the ability for rapid adaptation and speedy learning.[2] Afterschool programs for 16–18 year olds, teaching computer coding and hacking skills, also serve as feeder programs for the unit.[3] Former Unit 8200 soldiers have, after completing their military service, gone on to founding and occupying top positions in many international IT companies and in Silicon Valley.[3][4]

According to the Director of Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, "Unit 8200 is probably the foremost technical intelligence agency in the world and stands on a par with the NSA in everything except scale."[5]

Overview[edit]

Unit 8200 is the largest unit in the Israel Defense Forces, comprising several thousand soldiers.[6] It is comparable in its function to the United States' National Security Agency and is a Ministry of Defense body just as the NSA is part of the United States Department of Defense.

Subordinate to Unit 8200 is Unit Hatzav (Hebrew name for Drimia (Hebrew: יחידת חצב)), responsible for collecting OSINT intelligence. The unit monitors and collects military intelligence–related information from television, radio, newspapers, and the internet. The translation of various items accounts for part of what is termed "basic intelligence", which is collected by the units.

The IDF's most important signal intelligence–gathering installation is the Urim SIGINT Base, a part of Unit 8200. Urim is located in the Negev desert approximately 30 km from Beersheba.[7] In March 2004, the Commission to investigate the intelligence network following the War in Iraq recommended turning the unit into a civilian national SIGINT agency, as is in other Western countries, but this proposal was not implemented.[citation needed]

Unit 8200 is staffed primarily by 18–21 year old conscripts. Selection and recruitment to the unit usually occurs at age 18 through the IDF screening process after high school. However, the unit also scouts potential younger recruits through after-school computer classes.[3] These after-school computer classes, teaching 16–18 year olds computer coding and hacking skills, sometimes act as feeder programs for the unit, with students receiving invitation letters from the IDF.[3]

The 18-year-olds selected for the unit are primarily chosen for their ability to teach themselves and to learn very quickly as the unit will only have access to their services for a short time before their military service period ends.[2]

History[edit]

Unit 8200 was established in 1952 using primitive surplus American military equipment. Originally, it was called the 2nd Intelligence Service Unit and then the 515th Intelligence Service Unit. In 1954, the unit moved from Jaffa to its current base at the Glilot junction.[8]

According to Peter Roberts, the Director of Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, "Unit 8200 is probably the foremost technical intelligence agency in the world and stands on a par with the NSA in everything except scale. They are highly focused on what they look at — certainly more focused than the NSA — and they conduct their operations with a degree of tenacity and passion that you don't experience elsewhere."[9]

Activities[edit]

On 11 September 2013, The Guardian released a leaked document provided by Edward Snowden which reveals how Unit 8200, referred to as ISNU, receives raw, unfiltered data of U.S. citizens, as part of a secret agreement with the U.S. National Security Agency[10]

In 2010, the French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique wrote that Unit 8200 operates a large SIGINT base in the Negev, one of the largest listening bases in the world, capable of monitoring phone calls, emails, and other communications, throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as tracking ships. Unit 8200 also reportedly maintains covert listening posts in Israeli embassies abroad, taps undersea cables, maintains covert listening units in the Palestinian territories, and has Gulfstream jets equipped with electronic surveillance equipment.[7]

Ronen Bergman says in a 2009 book that a Hezbollah bomb, disguised as a cell phone, was picked up by agents, and taken for investigation to Unit 8200's headquarters in February 1999. Basic safety protocols were neglected. The device never underwent the necessary x-ray procedures meant to ensure it was explosives-free. Inside the laboratory the cell phone exploded. Two Unit 8200 soldiers were severely injured, one losing a hand.[11]

In 2010, The New York Times cited "a former member of the United States intelligence community" alleging that this unit used a secret kill switch to deactivate Syrian air defenses during Operation Orchard.[12]

In 2014, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 signed a protest letter decrying what they called the electronic surveillance unit's abusive gathering of Palestinians' private information.[13][14][15] In response, 200 other reservists signed a counter-protest letter.[16][17][18]

According to The New York Times, the Unit 8200's hack of Kaspersky Lab allowed them to watch in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for American intelligence programs.[19] Israelis who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion of US systems.[19]

2023-2024 Hamas attack[edit]

In the failure to forecast the 2023-2024 Hamas attack on Israel by Israel's intelligence agencies, Unit 8200 was blamed for having underestimated Hamas activities.[20] Unit 8200 is alleged to have stopped listening to Hamas's handheld radios in 2022, deciding it was a "waste of effort". Monitoring that radio network might have helped the Shin Bet realize a few hours before the attack that the unusual activity they were seeing on the Gaza border was not just another military exercise by Hamas, Times of Israel noted.[21] The New York Times reported in November that a veteran analyst in Unit 8200 had warned in July that Hamas were preparing for a cross-border attack and that the analyst's concerns were dismissed by senior military leadership as "totally imaginative".[22]

The "Spotters", known as tatzpitaniyot, are female members of the IDF who observe the barriers along the border and activate complex technological systems to prevent the enemy from penetrating into Israel. Their responsibilities have been described as a "difficult, cognitively and emotionally demanding job that entails hours of closely monitoring surveillance cameras, with the knowledge that missing even the slightest unusual event along the border could have disastrous effects on the entire country" but "[t]hey didn’t miss Hamas' preparations for the October 7 attack"; one was quoted as saying, "We were all seeing Hamas militants training for exactly what happened: We saw them training to crash the fence, training to kill civilians, training to take back hostages" and another stated "We knew this would happen. We warned the higher ups. But they ignored us. They told us that they know better, even though this is our job—we have to know every tree, every tent, every pothole in our section, and especially to know when something unusual is happening. And we do."[23][24][25] Only two of the tatzpitaniyot on duty on 7 October 2023 evaded death or abduction.[26]

Duqu[edit]

Duqu is a collection of computer malware discovered on 1 September 2011. It is alleged[by whom?] to be the creation of Unit 8200.[27][28]

Companies founded by alumni[edit]

Former soldiers of Unit 8200 have gone on to found many high-tech companies, among them:[29][30][4][31][32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ בן-חורין, יצחק (11 September 2013). חשיפה: ארה"ב העבירה ל-8200 מידע סודי. Ynet (in Hebrew). Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b "8200 graduates aren't like 23 year-olds in Texas or Norway" 5 Jun, 2017, Tali Tsipori
  3. ^ a b c d Inside Israel's Secret Startup Machine Richard Behar , CONTRIBUTOR, MAY 11, 2016
  4. ^ a b From The Israeli Army Unit 8200 To Silicon Valley Posted Mar 20, 2015 by Idan Tendler
  5. ^ Unit 8200: Israel's cyber spy agency, Former insiders and whistle-blowers provide a view of the formidable military intelligence outfit JULY 10, 2015 by John Reed, Financial Times
  6. ^ "IDF Record Book 2010". Bamahane (in Hebrew). No. 3052. September 8, 2010. p. 83.
  7. ^ a b Le Monde Diplomatique, 2010 September, "Israel’s Omniscient Ears: Israel’s Urim Base in the Negev Desert is among the most important and powerful intelligence gathering sites in the world. Yet, until now, its eavesdropping has gone entirely unmentioned". http://mondediplo.com/2010/09/04israelbase
  8. ^ Amir Kidon (1 September 2008). "Unit 8200: In the Beginning". Israel Defense Forces. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009.
  9. ^ Unit 8200: Israel’s cyber spy agency, Former insiders and whistle-blowers provide a view of the formidable military intelligence outfit JULY 10, 2015 by John Reed, Financial Times
  10. ^ Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill (September 11, 2013). "NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans' data with Israel". The Guardian. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
  11. ^ "Hezbollah got inside MI's inner sanctum", Ynet.com, 13 September 2009.
  12. ^ Stuxnet Worm is remarkable for its lack of subtlety, by John Markoff, New York Times 27 September 2010
  13. ^ Bamfordset, James (September 16, 2014). "Israel's N.S.A. Scandal". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-09-17.
  14. ^ Williams, Doug (12 Sep 2014). "Wiretaps against Palestinians are wrong, Israeli ex-spies tell Netanyahu". Reuters. Retrieved 12 Sep 2014.
  15. ^ Beaumont, Peter (12 Sep 2014). "Israeli intelligence veterans refuse to serve in Palestinian territories". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 Oct 2017.
  16. ^ "Counter-Letter Published Against Leftist Soldiers - Inside Israel". Israel National News. 12 September 2014.
  17. ^ Netanyahu backs intel unit, as Ya'alon slams intel officers' letter Ynet, 13 Sept 2014
  18. ^ IDF condemns objectors, promises ‘sharp’ punishment Times of Israel, 14 Sept 2014
  19. ^ a b Perlroth, Nicole; Shane, Scott (October 10, 2017). "How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2023.
  20. ^ Israeli military stopped listening to Hamas handheld radios a year ago, timesofisrael.com. Accessed 29 January 2024.
  21. ^ Isaac, David (30 October 2023). "IDF stopped monitoring Hamas handheld radios, among other intel failures". JNS.org. Retrieved 8 November 2023.
  22. ^ Bergman, Ronen; Goldman, Adam (1 December 2023). "Israel Knew Hamas's Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  23. ^ The Women Soldiers Who Warned of a Pending Hamas Attack and Were Ignored, haaretz.com. Accessed 29 January 2024.
  24. ^ For Israeli Women the IDF War Room's Glass Ceiling is Constantly Reinforced, timesofisrael.com. Accessed 29 January 2024.
  25. ^ IDF Spotters: The Men Ignored US and We All Paid Dearly, momentmag.com. Accessed 29 January 2024.
  26. ^ Surveillance soldiers warned of Hamas activity on Gaza border for months before October 7, timesofisrael.com. Accessed 3 February 2024.
  27. ^ NSA, Unit 8200, and Malware Proliferation Jeffrey Carr, Principal consultant at 20KLeague.com; Founder of Suits and Spooks; Author of “Inside Cyber Warfare (O’Reilly Media, 2009, 2011), Medium.com, Aug 25, 2016
  28. ^ Cornish, Paul (2021-11-04). The Oxford Handbook of Cyber Security. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-252101-9.
  29. ^ "The Unit". Forbes.
  30. ^ "Beyond Israeli Army Unit 8200". Archived from the original on 17 May 2019.
  31. ^ a b Leichman, Abigail Klein (2017-10-15). "12 Israelis making a mark on Boston's tech scene". Israel21c. Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  32. ^ הישראלי שמכר שלושה סטארט־אפים ביותר ממיליארד דולר מסתער על חברה חדשה - ומגשים חלום [The Israeli who sold three startups for more than a billion dollars attacks a new company - and fulfills a dream]. TheMarker (in Hebrew). 25 April 2019. Retrieved 2020-06-26.
  33. ^ Wolman, Yisrael (2019-06-07). "The 'Iron Dome' for mosquitoes". Ynetnews. Retrieved 2022-08-22.
  34. ^ "A CLEAR CAPSTONE STRATEGY: IN CONVERSATION WITH URI LEVINE". Wingman. Retrieved 2020-08-20.

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