IDF Sets Up 'Facebook' Unit to Plug Media Leaks

The Shin Bet has reported several attempts by militant groups to contact IDF soldiers via networking sites.

The Israel Defense Forces announced this week that intelligence will create a new unit to help stem a growing tide of classified information leaked to the media.

The new unit, details of which were published this week in the army's official magazine, 'Hamahaneh,' will not only rein in officers and troops who have been too open in talking to the press but will also pay close attention to posts on social networking websites like 'Facebook.'

The IDF first became aware of this new front in information warfare during its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, when commanders became worried by the growing number of classified military facts finding their way to the enemy.

Creation of the new unit is in part the result of recommendations by the Winograd Committee, appointed by parliament to identify failures in the Lebanon campaign.

As well as keeping an eye on updates posted on 'Facebook,' 'MySpace' and 'Twitter,' the new Department for Security and Information Research will track the communications of hundreds of senior officers to make sure they are not in contact with journalists.

The unit will also have powers to order lie detector tests for any soldier suspected of a leak. In a separate initiative, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi recently ordered polygraph checks for all officers considered for promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel or higher, to include questions about unauthorized media contact.

Over the past two years the IDF has also begun to contend with an annual intake of thousands of 18-year-old conscripts for whom social networking is a part of daily life, issuing strict guidelines on posting personal information on the web.

The Shin Bet security service has reported several attempts by militant groups, including Hezbollah, to contact IDF soldiers on Facebook and other sites.

In 2009 army intelligence expanded its resources for combating network warfare, fearing not just spying but also attacks by hackers aimed at bringing down Israel's electronic and market infrastructure. In December 2009 Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin described online attacks as "warfare's fourth dimension," alongside air, land and sea.

The IDF also uses networking sites to its own ends: The army spokesperson's office makes regular use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as publishing regular blogs.

In the last year the military has intensified its online activities in an attempt to broaden its public relations drive to reach young people who increasingly gather information from unofficial sources, rather than traditional news providers.

Information can also flow the other way. Last week the IDF's Twitter account received an e-mail about 150 children in need of help in earthquake-stricken Haiti, which was passed quickly to Israeli rescue teams at the scene of the disaster.