Shin Bet launches recruitment drive

Website and online ads seek to attract top-notch computer programmers.

diskin 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
diskin 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel's shadowy security service is looking for a few good geeks. The Shin Bet, normally shrouded in secrecy, launched its first-ever public recruitment drive Tuesday, unveiling a slick Web site and buying online ads in Israel and abroad in a campaign aimed at attracting topflight computer programmers to its cutting edge tech division. The unprecedented campaign is aimed at both attracting the top computer minds available and promoting a more accessible public image for the Shin Bet, said an official in the agency, who despite the new policy of openness was still forced to speak on condition of anonymity because of internal restrictions about dealing with the media. The campaign smoothly works to re-brand the Shin Bet, whose main task is to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants. Though it is widely associated with undercover espionage and dark room interrogation tactics, the security service is actually a funky, intellectually challenging place to work, according to the campaign. "Have you ever thought of how to stop a suicide bomber on his way to an attack? Have you ever wondered how to locate a "ticking bomb" in the sea of information surrounding us?" reads a slogan on the Web site. "If you thought the only way to fight terror was through interrogation in Arabic, think again." The new language of counter-terrorism is JAVA and .NET, the Shin Bet promises. So it is trying to woo experienced engineers and computer programmers away from their high-tech, startup ventures by offering competitive salaries and a chance to develop the latest technologies, all for the sake of their country's security, it says. The Shin Bet has drafted the influential high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, who triggered Israel's startup boom in the late 1990s, to spearhead the recruiting drive. Vardi founded Mirabilis, which invented ICQ, the first significant internet chat service. Mirabilis was ultimately bought out by America Online for hundreds of millions of dollars. Esther Levanon, a former top official who computerized the Shin Bet, said the techies would be responsible for "building sophisticated systems that will be ready to catch the terrorist on his way." Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, in an open letter to possible candidates, said that in August alone the agency had thwarted 25 suicide attacks and arrested 17 potential bombers thanks, in large part, to its information technology unit. Diskin, only the third chief of the secretive agency to step out of the shadows and appear in public while in office, is featured prominently on the new Web site. In the past, Shin Bet chiefs were identified in print only by the first initial of their first name and with their faces were blurred on television. The ad campaign reflects a relatively newfound openness of Israel's most secretive services. The Mossad, the Shin Bet's counterpart for international intelligence, already runs an Internet site aimed at recruiting agents. Diskin, shown in a video giving a speech in rolled up shirt sleeves, said the computer geeks were just as vital to the organization's effort to weed out suicide bombers as its undercover agents and interrogators. "We are looking for a needle in a needle stack, and that's even harder than finding a needle in a haystack," Diskin said. "Therefore we need advanced technologies for the collection and storage of information, using unique algorithms for the categorization and analysis of information sources." Former top officials in the agency said combating modern day terrorism requires a combination of tech savvy and traditional methods of getting information. "The dark rooms don't bring the goods anymore," Levanon said. "There is information everywhere and the question is what you do with the millions of pieces of information to find what you need." Hezi Kalo, a former head of the Shin Bet IT division, said the agency was at the front line of technology, using state-of-the-art equipment to trace and locate terrorists. He said its "artificial intelligence" meant synthesizing vast amounts of information and intelligence and producing a profile in real time, sometimes within minutes. "It is an imperative tool, not just something that is 'nice to have.' If you don't have you it, you can't operate," he said. And if it all sounds like an episode of "24," that's what the Shin Bet wants. Officials in the agency said they sought to emphasize its technological side, as opposed to the traditionally negative associations with the Shin Bet - such as allegations of torture - and cloaking the feared agency in a kinder, softer exterior. "We are in the 21st century. You see things differently and you have to act differently," Levanon said.