It’s difficult to overstate the gravity of the recent leak of classified information from a unit in Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, not just because of the damage to national security, but mainly due to the ease with which sensitive information can be passed from mouth to ear, from individuals with security clearance to civilians and then to the entire world via social media.
The affair was only made public after the classified information appeared on social media, which various media outlets then used as a source for their own reports. The Shin Bet managed to solve the case in short order, and three individuals were arrested: an IDF reservist from an intelligence unit, a soldier currently serving in the unit and a civilian who is a minor slated to enlist in the near future.
During their questioning, the suspects revealed they had regularly gathered classified information and published it on social media sites. This information was collected within the framework of their jobs or from other soldiers and reservists in the intelligence unit, who acted in good faith. The civilian suspects were indicted on Monday, and the soldier will likely be indicted in accordance with a hearing in a military court next week. The other soldiers who were investigated on suspicion of transferring information could face disciplinary action.
The investigation refuted suspicions that the three had acted on behalf of a foreign intelligence service or received payment for the information. As crazy as it sounds, it appears they did what they did for no particular reason at all—just for the sake of it or just for fun. The damage they caused apparently did not trouble them at all. Nor did the fact that they knowingly perpetrated a long list of security-related offenses despite knowing full well that their actions contravened orders and protocols.
The Goal: Tighten Field Security Regulations
This affair cannot be allowed to end with indictments. Military Intelligence Directorate head Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva did the right thing by appointing an internal committee to investigate the Directorate’s field security procedures and regulations. This type of investigation should have been ordered over a year ago following the case of “Capt. T,” who was arrested on suspicion of committing grave security offenses and later died in military prison.
That affair led to the IDF’s current partial transparency, but this isn’t enough. The committee formed by Haliva must investigate the disconcerting ease with which information is transmitted within and between the Directorate’s various units and external elements. These units are heavily dependent on reservists, who rejoin their units for a short period of time, are exposed to sensitive information and then return to their civilian lives. Until now, this transition has worried the IDF mainly in terms of technological know-how making its way to companies in the private sector, but the military should be just as concerned about the exploitation of intelligence information.
This is a complex challenge. These units, chief among them Unit 8200, work to foster the expression and development of thought and opinions through an environment of teamwork in which information is shared. The aim is to cross boundaries and break down obstacles in technology, operations and intelligence. This rationale has been copy-pasted on to the Israeli high-tech sector and is one of the main reasons for Israel’s status as a global technological powerhouse. The Directorate must continue upholding this standard of excellence while taking greater pains to ensure the safety of this information, which often comes from its partners in the Shin Bet and Mossad.
The Directorate’s committee will be asked to discuss how soldiers with sensitive security clearances use social media. Many of these soldiers have social media profiles on various sites and the army will now have to redefine what is permitted and what isn’t, who is privy to information and who isn’t and under what conditions. While this is a security-intelligence issue, it also involves matters of privacy and liberties—particularly among reservists who often use social media for business purposes.
In conclusion, the committee and the other elements investigating this affair need to ask themselves what they don’t know about leaks from the Directorate in these times of mass information and effortless social media publication. The investigation indicates that the three suspects leaked information for an extended period of time before their arrests. The fact that they did this without getting caught constitutes a giant, flashing warning sign, and obligates the powers-that-be to make sure no more undetected sources of unauthorized information exist.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.