An Elite Israeli Intelligence Unit's Soldiers Are Sworn to Secrecy – but Tell All on LinkedIn

Soldiers in Israel's 8200 intelligence unit are so highly prized in the high-tech world that companies want to poach them even before they're released, leading them to share their knowledge on the professional social network

Corin Degani
Corin Degani
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IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Tamir Hayman, former intelligence chief, visit an intelligence base.
IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Tamir Hayman, former intelligence chief, visit an intelligence base. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Corin Degani
Corin Degani

Of Israel’s intelligence units, 8200 may be the most well-known. It receives frequent attention from the media – partially due to the pipeline funneling unit graduates to high-tech companies – but its operations are secret. Or, at least, they’re supposed to be. Even though its active-duty soldiers have their faces blurred on-camera, many are divulging specifics on one particular social media site.

“Hi LinkedIn, after two years of significant service at Unit 8200… I’m looking for my next challenge.” This is how a soldier nearing discharge from the exclusive unit opened her post on the professional social network. The soldier noted her position in the unit and the various software she worked with – and quickly received some 170 replies, mostly from HR personnel at high-tech firms.

The signal intelligence unit’s soldiers are prohibited from identifying themselves as such on social media, but it appears that this rule is flouted on LinkedIn. Many of them make LinkedIn profiles before they are even discharged, specifying the name of the unit and their own position, preparing themselves for the day after – when they turn overnight from soldiers to highly sought-after employees at startups and tech juggernauts. Overall, there are several hundred profiles on LinkedIn by users identifying themselves as 8200 personnel.

Another profile, by a soldier-student alumnus of 8200 who was recently discharged following over five years of service, noted that he headed an R&D team of seven engineers, specified methodologies he integrated in said team, and more.

“HR recruiters contact soldiers from 8200 who make LinkedIn profiles,” says Ravit Segev, global recruiting managed at Cyberproof. “The goal is to start the process with them before they’re discharged and get offers from a whole lot of places, to direct them there before they go out in the world and be the first to offer them a salary.”

She says that “Everybody does it. That’s how you get a situation where these soldiers haven’t been discharged yet, and already have five or six offers.” Segev adds that the main demand for the unit’s alumni comes from cyber firms, and specifically for positions in development and analysis.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in response: “Those serving in 8200 are instructed not to reveal their organizational association or role in the unit on social media. As part of the effort in this regard, debriefings and unit-wide inspections are held, and every violation is being handled by the chain of command.”

'The tech units have become a showcase'

Of the Intelligence Corps’ tech units, 8200 is the largest and best-known. It began as a radio and wire interception unit, and over the years, it expanded its encryption and data security technology capabilities. A smaller unit, more tightly focused on technological innovation, is Unit 81, which provides specific services for special operations and other security forces. The IDF has a defensive cyber unit as well.

A former officer in one of these units recently told TheMarker that “The tech units have become a showcase.” He stressed that soldiers who know they are being observed from the private sector might change their behavior, and want to maintain a good relationship with their fellow soldiers and commanders, “including due to thoughts of the startup the friend or commander might launch the day after [they are discharged]. The business world is in the consciousness of these units. That’s something that doesn’t exist in other units in the military.”

Many companies are made up of former 8200 personnel, and some of the unit’s former top commanders are senior figures in the world of Israeli venture capital. Tech unit alumni command impressive starting wages in the private sector – 30,000 to 60,000 shekels (about $9,750 to about $19,500) per month, according to market estimates. The median household income in Tel Aviv, for comparison, is 16,000 shekels (about $5,200).

As the IDF cannot compete with the wages offered by the private sector, in some cases, entire 8200 teams go on after discharge to work for startups or companies formed by their commanders. The recruiting in these firms is often done by friends bringing one another onboard. Tech units also have non-profit organizations to maintain networking contacts and locate jobs.

“The feeling of ‘end of an era’ and thoughts about the next step push [soldiers] approaching discharge to do things such as publishing data on social media, or giving information to third parties like placement agencies, when you don’t know if their data is secured,” says Demi Ben-Ari, co-founder and chief technology officer at cyber firm Panorays.

“In the recruiting process in our company, we don’t pounce on candidates like that,” he says. “Instead, we connect soldiers ahead of discharge with various cyber firms – even ones that compete with us directly for talent. We contact units like 8200 and 81, and offer them a tour of the companies’ offices, within the military’s framework. That’s how you make connections safely.”

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