How exactly does the Shin Bet fight its discreet battles? At a Herzliya high-tech conference Tuesday, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin revealed how working for the secret service could be just like working in a James Bond-style technology lab, creating technologies to combat terrorists and hackers.
Diskin's lecture, titled "the security and technology challenges facing the Shin Bet," opened with the technological revolution the secret service underwent over the past few years, since the internet and cellular technology infiltrated the market.
"Our journey began at a significant organizational low point," Diskin said. "If I go back in time 17 years, on the eve of the Oslo Accords, the Shin Bet prepared a comprehensive project, in which we went through and scanned every element in the organization that we estimated would be affected by the current events. There was only the problem that they were unlike any previously encountered scenario."
"The staff project was excellent, but the reality did not cooperate with it in the slightest. The ink was not yet dry on the Accords papers, and we were witness to the wave of suicide attacks. There was a heavy wave of suicide attacks which the security service struggled to deal with. The most colossal strategic failure of the organization was the [Yitzhak] Rabin assassination in 1995. We entered 1996 with every single system element failing. The organization was at its lowest point in history. At the start of 1996 Carmi Gilon resigned and Ami Ayalon was parachuted into the service. Under Ayalon's leadership, the Shin Bet entered a long series of painful and difficult inquiries, aimed at locating the root of its malfunction."
"At the time, another revolution was taking place – the technological surroundings in which the security service worked," Diskin added. "the internet and the cellular phones were introduced. Simultaneously, the generation also changed. A new generation of youth, who grew up alongside the new technological changes, entered the scene and the previous generation struggled to close the technological gaps. Sometime towards the end of 1996 we found ourselves reaching several significant conclusions about ourselves, which were not very flattering."
"The conclusions we reached were that the organization was not suited to the changes in the surroundings in which it works, and that it needs a new doctrine. We also realized that the organization needs information technology. These conclusions lead to a revolution in all areas."
Diskin described the decision to promote technologies over all other departments. "We allocated most of our cash and we started to see the fruits of our toils in 2000."
The situation today is that the Shin Bet heads the top technological project on all scales. "It demands those involved to be at the forefront of the business. The technological departments are required to respond fast at paces that sound illogical to technology people," Diskin said. "But there is pay."
"The technologist is able to see how the fruit of his work reduces terror which motivates them to continue to serve the organization despite the external temptations and despite the salary rates you [high-tech] offer employees," Diskin said, adding that "Those who know the James Bond and Mister Q movies, well we have an entire department like that. High-tech people who visited with us said we have enough technology for dozens of startups."
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