The newest type of Israeli intelligence officer does not require expertise in hand-to-hand combat, shooting or the ability to survive in enemy territory, but rather a keyboard, screen, internet connection and a complete command of Arabic, including idioms, jargon and expressions. The officer goes online under a false name and uses social networks to connect with those about to stab, run down or shoot Israelis. Along with the undercover agents in the field, there is a new generation of Israeli “digital HUMINT” officers who are updated on the latest trends among the Arab youth and spread out in the same digital space as the users in the back alleys of Palestinian refugee camps. Posing as terrorists, they use their fluent Arabic on Facebook or Twitter to request instructions, assistance, information and direction to “carry out attacks.”
Israeli policymakers and security chiefs have different views on the existence of a central figure or group at the head of the current wave of terror that began with the murder of Na’ama and Itam Henkin on October 1. and for which no end is in sight. But they all agree on the means used to disseminate and scale up the knife attacks, stone throwing, gunfire and hit-and-run attacks, which have killed 11 Israelis and wounded dozens until now.
Those means consist largely of Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging services such as Skype and Whatsapp, which communicate instructions to the terror operatives.
They also serve as mass media for publicizing and glorifying acts of terror, relaying training methods, spreading propaganda, marking targets and post mortems on operations performed.
The social media and instant messaging provide the masters of terror with endless services, such as the transfer of private data, video and images and even chitchat between “friends.” Encrypted information carried thereby can’t be decoded.
The causes of Palestinian terror have not changed fundamentally over the years from one outbreak to the next. The “soldiers of terror” have the same motivations today as yesterday. The only difference is the mode of communication between the rank-and-file terrorists and their handlers.
Land-line and cellular communication, which until a few years ago served security organizations as their primary tools for forestalling terror, are now old hat. Almost extinct too are the costly technological engineering and SIGINT (signal intelligence) equipment and information systems, once used for disrupting and thwarting terror.
The contemporary emphasis on OSINT (open source intelligence), which monitors the mass media, such as television and radio stations, internet sites and newspapers, has given birth to a new branch of intelligence, which harvests critical operational and tactical data from the social networks. ,
HUMINT (human intelligence), classic field intelligence, is taking on a new form. Besides the field commanders and the undercover agents, there is a new generation of Israeli “digital HUMINT” officers, who are updated on the latest trends among young Arabs by invading their digital space. Posing as terrorists, they use their fluent Arabic on Facebook or Twitter to request instructions, assistance, information and direction to “carry out attacks”,
It is an established fact that social networks are a key operational medium in the service fo terrorists for transferring orders and instructions. Israeli intelligence is well prepared to move in on this chink in the terrorists’ defenses, better than their Western counterparts.
Hundreds of male and female soldiers with fluent Arabic, using false names to mingle among Arab web surfers, were first used to good purpose at the outset of the Arab Spring. The project picked up steam as the trend of terror in the Arab and Muslim world grew.
For terrorists, the social networks have both advantages and disadvantages. A young man in Beit Hanina or Issawiyeh, who uploads to Facebook a video praising a Palestinian driver who ran down Jewish pedestrians, or offering guidance on where to thrust a knife to kill a Jew, also gives away his IP address, his e-mail address, and the visitors who post comments and likes.
The vast amount of data garnered from social networks is a gold mine for analysts to draw conclusions, delineate the web of ties among terrorists and home in on orders and instructions passed out to fuel the current wave of terror.
With this fuel constantly on tap to keep the flames high, diplomatic efforts underway to calm the conflict, such as visits by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or US Secretary of State John Kerry, are no more effective than a small glass of water. The best hope of curbing the violence rests with the new modes of operation which Israeli intelligence has switched into high gear.
Even in the midst of serial terror, these cyber warriors are busily sifting through an ocean of information from open sources and making headway towards identifying the chains of command orchestrating the wave of violence, as well as individuals, pairs or groups responsible for carrying out the attacks.
Equally important, they are using the social networks to sow panic and confusion among the terrorists, thus rendering them almost useless as means of furthering terror.
Even as you are reading this article, the Israeli security and law enforcement agencies have been able to pinpoint and make personal calls to the parents or acquaintances of identified rioters and potential terrorists, to warn them in Arabic that they are in for serious consequences – a variety on the “knock on roof” warnings the IDF gave to Gaza households during the last Gaza campaign against terror.