EXCLUSIVE: Shin Bet head: Big data prevents but could escalate threats to Israel

Part of the challenge is learning to swim in an ocean of massive data – much of which is useless, but some of which could be key textual, visual or audio information to prevent terror attacks.

Female IDF soldier in the J6/C4I Cyber Defense Directorate. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Female IDF soldier in the J6/C4I Cyber Defense Directorate.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is at the forefront globally in using big data to prevent terrorist attacks, but its use also has escalated the threats posed by the nation’s enemies, the agency’s director writes in an article obtained pre-publication by The Jerusalem Post.

In an article to be published late on Wednesday in the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center journal, Nadav Argaman writes, “the world of big data and cyber confronts the intelligence community with more complex challenges than ever before.”
He says that “looking forward, our enemies are not stagnant, as the world of big data develops and broadens and technology is becoming more advanced every minute.”
This challenge has led to a new conceptual approach with the Shin Bet defining the areas of technology and information as being “critical resources in intelligence collection and in prevention of the enemy’s [plans],” the spy chief says.
Part of the challenge is learning to swim in a massive ocean of data – much of which is useless, but some of which could be textual, visual or audio information key to preventing terrorist attacks.
The keys to the Shin Bet’s success in preventing terrorist attacks in this new age are its spiked investment in cyber-expert agents, in new technologies, in thoughtful coordination between its cyber and operational units and in better coordination even than ever before with other elements of Israeli intelligence, he writes.
“These elements are also the keys which will preserve our achievements in the future and our continued ability to guarantee peace and security for the State of Israel,” Argaman says.
In the same journal, senior IDF intelligence officer Col.
“Y.” (his real name is classified) writes that the main challenge used to be to get access to key information about the enemy’s priorities and strategy.
Now, he writes, the chances are often high that an Israeli intelligence officer already possess data that could provide huge insights, greater than ever before, into these questions, somewhere in the information it has captured using its cyber abilities. But now he must figure out how to find it among the mountains of useless information when he cannot possibly review every item of intelligence that IDF collection has captured.
In another article, senior Shin Bet official “M.” writes that as Israeli enemies start to work with a variety of new kinds of groups and in new formats, intelligence forces must be more creative in tracking their activity.
Reportedly, Russia’s massive cyberattack on the 2016 US election was carried out by cyber-militias directed by the state, but using a separate format.
M. suggests that following Internet traffic trends, the establishment of new hubs, spikes and other tactics were key to tracing these new kinds of units.
Another issue is addressed by IDF intelligence officer Maj. “D.,” who analyzes an ongoing debate within the intelligence community about what is the best way to anticipate broad social trends and views in a foreign state, especially the potential for regime change.
Though the entire area of study is somewhat new, the more traditional approach to understanding these trends has been taking surveys.
However, D. notes that just as political’ surveys are criticized for mis-phrasing questions and other limitations, surveys used by intelligence agencies can have similar drawbacks.
D. presents a new school of thought that says surveys should be dropped in favor of trying to understand a foreign public’s views and trends through their use of social media, as this could be a more direct and authentic presentation of their views.
Finally, D. concludes that both methods should be used. He explains that many people lie on social media about simple issues such as age and location and also about broader issues, and adds that social media often overrepresent wealthy and younger sectors of society.
By using polling, which grabs a wider slice of society, and social media together, D. says intelligence agencies can get a better picture of the general public in foreign states.