Classified plans and maps were left outside a guard post at an army base, available for all to see, during Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip in November.
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On November 17, a few days after troops converged on Gaza for a possible ground operation, the documents were left outside a base used by the Gaza Division. They included army plans and maps bearing the code names used over the Israel Defense Forces’ communications network.
The documents were discovered by an officer; they were then collected by the division’s information security officers. The soldiers responsible were put on disciplinary trial, but the IDF Spokesman’s Office declined to discuss their punishments.
“During Operation Pillar of Defense, major emphasis was placed on maintaining information security, therefore supervisory and preventive activity was conducted to minimize leaks,” the IDF said in a statement.
Army regulations normally forbid officers and soldiers from removing classified documents from secure locations. Under field conditions, when obeying this rule may not be possible, the regulations state that such documents must be kept under “constant guard and strict supervision.”
During Pillar of Defense, soldiers in the field were even given leaflets warning of the dangers of violating information security, and hundreds of text messages were sent to officers on the subject.
“The enemy has observation and visual information-gathering capabilities along the length of the border and deep into [Israeli] territory,” the leaflets said. “The enemy is listening this isn’t a slogan! The enemy has the ability to listen to all unsecured means of communication used by our forces, as well as cellular telephones. Collaborators monitor the activities of IDF forces and transmit information to the enemy.”
The leaflets also discussed media activity during the operation, warning that “Israeli and foreign civilian media outlets are transmitting reports, information and pictures directly from the field in live broadcasts.”
It’s not clear how much the media’s activity affected the army’s information security. But IDF sources said the classified documents, which were found “thrown down by the guard post,” as the army’s inquiry put it, could have significantly hampered IDF activity in Gaza during the operation.
On Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz issued a circular about “leakage of information” and warned that punishments would be stiffened.
“At the present time, we are in a ‘campaign between wars’ and are dealing with a variety of security challenges, among them ‘soft’ combat a war of consciousness and a war of information,” he wrote. “Over the years, information supremacy has been a significant component of the IDF’s ability to win various campaigns. An important advantage is concealed in our ability to create a high-quality intelligence picture about the enemy while thwarting his ability to obtain information of value about the IDF.”
Gantz focused on the dangers of using smartphones and social networks. As an example, he cited the Second Lebanon War of 2006, when “the nonadherence to the rules of communications security and the imparting of classified information to unauthorized parties were well known.”
The leaks were so numerous that then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz launched multiple investigations against officers suspected of talking with journalists. In some cases, officers faced disciplinary sanctions.