Shin Bet launches Arabic, English Web sites

New sites include video footage of airstrikes, arrest raids, VIP security squads and live-fire training.

shin bet site 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
shin bet site 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) launched English and Arabic Web sites on Monday, the agency's latest move to lift its traditional shroud of secrecy and improve its sinister image. The slick new Web sites include video footage of airstrikes, arrest raids, VIP security squads and live-fire training, complete with action-movie music pulsing in the background. Tired of being associated with dark cellars, covert operations and allegations of torture of Palestinian suspects, the Shin Bet is seeking to open up and emphasize its technological and research advances, and wrap the agency in a kinder, softer exterior, as evidenced by the new Internet sites. The agency even provides data it gathered on Palestinian terror activity in Arabic - candor unheard of only a few years ago at an organization that runs informants and agents, carrying out surveillance and interrogations. The content of the English and Arabic Web sites are nearly identical to that of the Hebrew one, which was launched in December and has since had thousands of visitors, officials said. The site followed a highly publicized recruiting drive aimed at attracting topflight computer programmers to its tech division. In another move toward openness, the Shin Bet recently allowed four employees to blog about their life and work at the agency. Also, for several years the government has preferred to call it the Israel Security Agency, or ISA, instead of the better-known Shin Bet, two Hebrew letters standing for "security service." "We understand we work for the public, and we believe that we should expose anything we can that doesn't harm the organization," said a Shin Bet official, who under Israeli law cannot be identified by name. "The organization is not secret, its operations are. We call it 'controlled openness."' The agency still refrains from discussing its methods and intelligence, as well as the location of its headquarters. But since Yuval Diskin was appointed director in 2005, he has pushed for disclosing information that does not endanger Israel's security or Shin Bet personnel. "Understandably, extensive areas of ISA activity are confidential," Diskin wrote in an introduction to the site, using the agency's English acronym. "Nonetheless, we would like to give you some insight into the ISA, its values, and elements of its heritage and missions. Enjoy the site!" Diskin is only the third chief of the agency to step out of the shadows while in office. In the past, Shin Bet chiefs were identified in print only by the first initial of their first name, and their faces were blurred on television and in news photos. Those rules still apply to most other agents. The site has biographical information on all of the former chiefs, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the agency's labs and computer systems. Esther Levanon, a former top official who helped computerize the Shin Bet, said the Hebrew site was primarily aimed at drawing top talent to the spy agency. "They want to bring in good people. There are really exciting things going on there, and they want people to know about it," she said. "They are at the forefront of technology." The English and Arabic sites go one step further, trying to counter what the agency perceives as a huge cloud of misinformation swirling on the World Wide Web. "There is a lot of material from unauthorized sources out there," the Shin Bet official said. "We understand that in the Internet era, people are looking for information and here they will get it on an official site." The Web site doesn't shy away from addressing its past blunders, devoting segments to the "Bus 300" affair, in which agents were suspected of killing captive terrorists in 1984 and then lying about it, and its botched protection of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. "The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a severe failure of the ISA in one of its central missions: the protection of the prime minister," the site reads. The Mossad, the Shin Bet's counterpart for international intelligence, also runs an Internet site aimed at recruiting agents and sharing unclassified information.