Unit 8200

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While Israel’s success story in developing state-of-the-art technology, the Israel Defence Force (IDF), in which service is mandatory for most Israelis, is a useful path for wannabe entrepreneurs.

It provides young Israelis with the opportunity to develop a wide array of skills and contacts in an environment where creativity is highly appreciated and encouraged.

One unit, the secretive Unit 8200, is seen as a hothouse for Israel’s cyber wizzkids.

It is the technology intelligence unit of the IDF’s Intelligence Corps and reports suggest that the high-tech industry in Israel is run by its alumni.

From company founders to junior or senior executives, they have led the nation’s technological revolution. While the unit is known to have a base in the Negev desert, details about its main installations remain secret.

Unit 8200 (Hebrew: יחידה 8200‎, Yehida Shmoneh-Matayim) is responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption. It also appears in military publications as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps.

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.

Unit 8200 is the largest unit in the Israel Defense Forces, comprising several thousand soldiers. It is comparable in its function to the United States’ National Security Agency, except that it is not a separate civilian (i.e. Ministry of Defense) body. Unit 8200 is led by a Brigadier-General whose identity remains classified.

Subordinate to Unit 8200 is Unit Hatzav (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 corps’ units. According to media reports, the unit provides over half of the overall intelligence information for the Israeli Intelligence Community.

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.”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.

Ronen Bergman revealed in a 2009 book that a Hezbollah bomb, disguised as a cell phone, exploded at Unit 8200‘s headquarters in February 1999. Two officers were injured.

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.

Unit 8200 has been suspected of being the originator of the Stuxnet computer worm that in 2010 infected industrial computers, including Iranian nuclear facilities.

Alumni of 8200 have gone on to found leading Israeli high-tech companies, among them Check Point, ICQ, NICE, AudioCodes, Gilat, and EZchip.” (source)

In 2010, the media reported that Israel had given thousands of Israeli hackers the choice between prison or working for the state as part of the Unit 8200, in an effort to become even more efficient on cyber warfare. Thousands of hackers were said to have joined the forces.

Israeli “networks” are often based on relationships from the army service (“he and I ate from the same mess tin … ” or “you can count on me brother, after all, we slept in the same boot camp tent … “). In Israel, graduates of elite units are held at higher esteem and gain preferred terms in the business world. But when it comes to high-tech jobs, nothing can help you more than the sentence, “I’m an 8200 alumnus.”

(more about Unit 8200 at Forbes)

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