Army Chief Censor in Talks to Join Controversial Israeli Cyber Attack Firm NSO Group

Brig. Gen. Ariela Ben-Avraham plans to leave the army for a private sector cyber job amid rising tensions between IDF and cyber attack firms

IDF chief censor Brig. Gen. Ariella Ben-Avraham at a panel for journalists in Eilat, May 26, 2019.
Yaniv Cohen

The Israeli military’s chief censor, Brig. Gen. Ariella Ben-Avraham, is in the midst of negotiations to join cybertechnology firm NSO Group Technologies, which has recently been under scrutiny for its alleged role in persecuting human rights activists.

Ben-Avraham asked to resign from her military post six months ago; about three months later, she received an offer from the controversial company. The IDF Spokesperson said that she was due to end her term this year in any case, after serving for 32 years, the last four as chief censor. The NSO position Ben-Avraham has been offered is not yet fully defined, but is related to communication and regulations.

NSO Group, an Israel-based cyberattack company, sells a product called Pegasus that allows those using it complete access to the target's cellular phone. The company has been widely criticized in recent years by the public and media over its sale of this powerful tool to dictatorships and its use against innocent victims, journalists, human rights activists and opposition figures.

Security-related tension

In recent months there have been growing tensions between the IDF and private sector cyber companies in Israel, particularly in relation to cyber attack firms. This is mostly due to a competition over manpower, but also over knowledge. The military Intelligence Directorate's 8200 unit has tightened its regulations for employees of civilian cyber attack companies, calling them up for reserve duty less frequently out of concern that they would encounter a conflict of interest. There are also reports that the IDF has started examining code developed by these companies to ensure that it does not include elements stolen from the army.

In one incident from recent weeks, cyber defense company SentinelOne and the commander of 8200 got into a public disagreement after the company placed a sign outside military intelligence’s Glilot base, trying to recruit experienced software developers.

The commander responded with a furious letter addressed to his soldiers, saying that he saw fit to respond to the gigantic signs put up by a private company "trying to encourage you to abandon your defensive mission that you work on night and day." The letter continued, “For us, this mission and the choice of contributing to the state and its security are a way of life. Big signs retreat in the face of big values,” he said.