Israeli soldiers who served at one of the country’s most secretive bases have set up a group on the social networking site Facebook, in what has been called a serious security breach. The page allows veterans of the base to upload photos and videos of their shared experiences, and has attracted 265 members.

To see content, and the list of members, a visitor must request to join the group and be approved by its administrators. However the group itself, which is advertised using the Hebrew expression “There are things hidden from us, which we will never know or understand," is accessible to anyone surfing the web.

RELATED:
Facebook details cancel IDF raid
Kill a Jew day on Facebook sparks furor

“Give respect,” the group’s description reads. “The group with the highest quality enlisted folks on Facebook.”

A reporter for the daily Yedioth Aharonot was accepted to the group without his identity being cross checked against a list of soldiers connected with the base. He copied a number of the posts on the group’s wall.

“Guys, we were privileged to get to be in this fantastic place,” wrote one member. “Keep in touch and protect the secret.”

“Whomever didn’t experience this place missed out a lot in his life, that’s for sure,” wrote another.

While the participants uploaded many photos of themselves inside the base, potentially damaging photos of soldiers doing sensitive work was not found on the group’s Facebook page and several members posted reminders on the group’s wall not to upload sensitive material.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, an Israeli soldier intimately involved in the army’s cyber operations said the group is one example of many serious security breaches by Israeli soldiers in online social networks.

“It’s a security failure and they made a big mistake,” the soldier told The Media Line. “There is a reason why this base is a secret and this will undoubtedly cause harm, allowing Israel’s enemies to get important information and use it to attack Israel.”

“Not only did they set up a group,” the source said, “they setup the group publicly, rather than by invitation only.”

Facebook groups can be public, in which anyone can join; by request, in which the group is publicly advertised and anyone can request membership; or private, in which the group’s existence is hidden from the public and members are privately invited by the group’s administrators.

“Beyond national security, it is also a safety issue,” the source continued. “In the past Hizbullah operatives would set up a profile pretending to be an Israeli woman and ask to be friends with soldiers or join soldiers’ groups on Facebook. Over time through the status updates Hizbullah learned a bit about the soldiers, where they lived and were able to connect the dots. In theory, they could eventually kidnap that person.”

“It’s a significant problem for the Israeli Defense Forces because they have cellphones and any of them can take a photo or make a film and upload it to the Internet,” they said. “Soldiers themselves don’t really know what can cause harm. For example, a soldier might think that a simple photo of a room inside a base is harmless, but there is a poster on the wall with a map or operational details.”

“We cannot censor every picture or video that a soldier uploads,” they concluded. “So the only solution is education and awareness.”

It is not clear whether the Facebook group violates the security regulations incumbent upon soldiers at the base, who are forbidden from passing on information about anything seen or heard on the site. On the one hand the Facebook group’s contents, as well as the names of its 265 members, are not publicly visible. On the other, such data has been stored on a private company’s server, in theory much easier to breach than the army’s data systems.

“There is a policy that outlines what can and cannot be uploaded,” Amir Rappaport, a military analyst at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “It is not forbidden for soldiers to be on Facebook, but soldiers are forbidden from uploading any material with information of military importance, and they are punished here and there for doing it.”

“The reality is that you can go on Facebook and find pictures of almost any base in the country, including the Kirya,” he said, referring to the Israeli army’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. “So this is a problem that the army is very aware of and has a hard time dealing with, but they are trying to find a solution.”

“In this case, it’s quite foolish what they did,” he continued. “These are soldiers who are meant to be a bit more aware of the issue of information security.”

Soldiers from Sayeret 13, the unit that was involved in the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound flotilla, were recently ordered to close their Facebook accounts.

Israeli military intelligence officers faced a similar fate earlier this year after a Hizbullah  operative was found to have befriended them under a false identity.

“The army has very strict instructions vis-a-vis what a soldier can and cannot say in public or on a social network,” Matan Shani, an Israeli Information Security Expert at Power Communications told The Media Line. “Soldiers who upload pictures to Facebook are as long as there is no damage or information that could be used as a military tool.”

“If any journalist can just get into this group, it’s a serious problem and I would like to believe that the army is looking into this,” he said. “The central issue is that the users of such networks need to be educated as to their potential damage.”

The Israeli Army, as well as the Israeli Military Police, did not return a request for comment on this article. It was, however, heavily censored by Israeli military censors, which require journalists writing stories from within the borders of Israel to pass articles by them. Israeli censors do not allow us to print the name or location of the site in question, nor to describe the role and scope of the base within the Israeli army.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger