So You Want to Work for the CIA/Mossad?

Former Mossad officer Michael Ross and I were comparing notes on the unusual messages and emails that come our way and, not surprisingly, we both deal with some similar characters. Setting aside the absolute nutters for a moment we’d like to address those sometimes young, sometimes naive, but often well intentioned people who contact us about jobs in the US/Israeli intelligence communities. Let me start by saying that if you fantasize about a career as a super spy and your first step on that journey is contacting either one of us through a direct message on Twitter (or the contact form on Blogs of War) you are not off to a promising start! No worries, though. we’re here to shore up your security practices a bit and hopefully point you in the right direction.

John Little: It seems rather obvious but contacting a stranger on the Internet, especially one not connected to the intelligence community, in an attempt to launch a spying career exposes potential applicants to quite a bit of risk doesn’t it? I usually point people in the direction of an official recruiting site such as http://www.intelligence.gov/careers-in-intelligence/ or http://www.intelligence.gov/careers-in-intelligence/types-of-opportunities/for-students.html if they express interest but I have often been troubled by how much they reveal in their direct messages or emails. How do you deal with people who, misguided or not, want to join the Mossad? As a Canadian citizen that is a sensitive topic is it not?

Michael Ross: I receive innocent queries from people on a fairly regular basis enquiring how they can join the Mossad. In fact, I recently corresponded with a well-meaning person who informed me that their renowned skate-boarding prowess allowed them to travel to all manner of exotic locales. You have to admit that a skateboarder appearing at the gates of Fordow would certainly be the most original approach the Iranians had ever encountered however, gaining access to a target by skateboard is the least important of things to consider when setting out on the career path of professional espionage. I think people who want to be spies should set out by exercising some initiative in finding out what they can through open sources first before furtively approaching me on Twitter or via an email.

My first question when someone approaches me is what is their citizenship? If they are an Israeli citizen then I have no problem directing them to the Mossad’s website at: http://www.mossad.gov.il/Eng/AboutUs.aspx. If they are citizens of other countries, I politely advise them that it’s not a good idea to offer one’s services to another country’s intelligence service regardless how closely the countries are allied – unless you are in fact – a citizen of that country. If the person approaching me is a U.S. citizen, I direct them to the plethora of intelligence agencies that are available to the American citizen. U.S. citizens are spoiled for choice in this realm.

I think people have been conditioned by Hollywood to believe that spies can be stateless soldiers of fortune and so long as they’re fighting terrorists, details about nationality and allegiance are not that important in the scheme of things. I have to often explain that while we share many worthy goals, intelligence services pursue differing agendas that are driven by national security priorities specific to their government. For a long period of time, the Mossad had a very difficult time convincing the British SIS that Hezbollah was more than just a localized threat to Israel. Likewise when on rare occasion they approached us concerning a matter involving IRA terrorist activity. Turkey couldn’t understand why the PKK wasn’t top of the counter-terrorism agenda for everyone else. You can see through these examples that while we’re all countering terrorism, national security priorities do not always align 100% between allies.

In my own case, I lived for a long time in Israel, served in the IDF, became fluent in Hebrew, and spent some years going native before I was even considered for recruitment. While national security priorities differed between Canada and Israel, I never once felt that I was straying into a grey zone that would put me in a moral conflict with my Canadian citizenship.

I encourage people interested in pursuing a career in the intelligence milieu to do their homework. Official websites offer a great deal of useful information about how to apply and what criteria they are specifically looking for in a potential candidate. If you approach me without doing all that initial research, I’ll tell you that by first coming to me, the message you’re sending is that you’re probably not cut out for this business.

John Little: And what would you say to those aspiring CIA/Mossad officers about their communication and personal security practices in that period leading up to potential employment? It’s never too early to practice discretion is it?

Michael Ross: Well, first of all, if you write me asking how to join the Mossad and your IP address shows you live in Dahieh, then you’re either suicidal or think I’m asleep at the wheel. Either way, people should be aware that computers are the most insecure devices ever conceived by man and users should bear that in mind when using electronic communication.

For anyone interested in joining an intelligence service – regardless of which – it’s best to do the research and then keep your intentions to yourself. One thing that is highly valued in a candidate for recruitment is an innate sense of discretion. During the course of your being assessed as a candidate to work for an intelligence service, questions will be asked about with whom you’ve been communicating your intentions. When it comes out (and it will) that you’ve been emailing far and wide, it’s going to indicate to your perspective employer that you’re clearly not the right stuff.

As for social media, having pictures of yourself engaged in any type of indiscreet activity or participating in online behavior that can be translated as even mildly compromising, isn’t going to help your case. Let the sentiment behind the saying, “discretion is the better part of valour” be your guide.

Other Discussions with Michael Ross
A Gentle Reminder About Security and Social Media for Security Cleared Professionals

Blurring the Lines Between Hacktivism and Terrorism

Dr. Clint Arizmendi is a Research & Analysis Officer at the Land Warfare Studies Centre. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

As the IDF and Hamas conflict unfolded, observers witnessed more than the world’s first ‘Twitter war’, they witnessed the widening of the conflict to include the participation of unsanctioned non-state cyber actors (UNCAs), who not only aided, but also interfered with – and obstructed – Israeli and Hamas operations in the name of hactivism. Are such hacktivists performing a public service, committing a crime, or have they crossed a cyber line into terrorism?

Aside from the traditional method of using kinetic force to shape the battlespace by way of precision strikes, the IDF also used a variety of social media platforms to simultaneously deter Hamas and reassure the global audience that terrorists were the only target. Techniques used range from live video of the killing of a high-ranking Hamas official to realtime tweeting of events as they unfolded. Likewise, Hamas disseminated video of a downed Israeli drone and evidence of their Iranian-made long-range rockets reaching Tel Aviv, thus highlighting the importance and significance of establishing – and sustaining – a ‘positive’ social presence.

The use of social media as a key element of information operations (IO) is not new – the US run Sabahi website in the Horn of Africa and the now controversial attempt by the US embassy in Cairo to de-escalate tension via Twitter during the attack in Libya serve as prime examples. For the IDF, presumably, the use of social media was a calculated strategy to prevent a repeat of the negative global press after their 2006 campaign.

As the conflict in Gaza shifted back-and-forth from the conventional and information realm to the cyber realm, the opportunity for UNCAs to influence the digital battlespace increased significantly, making it a particularly risky venture for both Israelis and Hamas. Here, UNCAs had a realtime effect on conflict, notably with regard to hacktivists such as The J35st3r and Anonymous – the former supporting Israel by disrupting Hamas websites and the latter supporting the Palestinians, having declared cyber-war on Israel.

While Israeli officials claim that only one of the 44 million cyber attacks on its government websites was successful during Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas, Anonymous claimed more than 600 successful cyber attacks against both public and private Israeli websites. As an unintended consequence of its attempt to use social media to shape the battlespace, Israel’s campaign against terrorism became more complex; they were simultaneously fighting a physical and IO war against Hamas and a cyber war against Anonymous.

Although Anonymous – as an UNCA collective – chose to support Hamas as an expression of humanitarian concern, Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by not only Israel, but also the EU, the USA, Canada, Japan and Jordan. Australia considers the military wing as such. The question now is whether Anonymous is also a terrorist organisation – or a supporter of a terrorist organisation – by association.

If Anonymous members who engaged in the ‘war’ against Israel reside in one of the countries listed above, then there is domestic terrorism legislation that can be brought to bear to regulate such behaviour. If however, they reside in a country such as Turkey, Norway or Russia, none of whom classify Hamas a terrorist organisation, then – at best – they are engaging in cyber crime.

The status of hacktivists engaging in such attacks can be considered analogous to the legal confusion surrounding the ‘combatant’ status of many Guantanamo Bay detainees. Are the Anonymous collective hacktivists, cyber combatants or criminals? Arguably, it depends from where they conduct their activities (assuming, of course, that this information can be determined).

Further complicating the matter is the potential for these ostensibly unsanctioned non-state cyber actors to be sponsored by the party that benefits from their activities. It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility for elements operating within the Anonymous collective to have received financial or technical support from Hamas or its supporters. Likewise, is it too much of a stretch that The J35st3r might be this century’s answer to the state-sponsored, deniable ‘black’ operatives of the Cold War?

Anonymous has formally recognised the Gaza ceasefire and declared mission success in Operation Israel, while Hamas has declared a national holiday of victory. Whether there is a way to actually measure the affect that Anonymous and The J35st3r had upon the conflict remains to be seen; however, one thing is for certain: the use of social media and the cyber realm for war represents the risk of direct external influence – if not obstruction – from UNCAs as they blur the lines between hactivism and terrorism.


 
Update from Blogs of War
@th3j35t3r, who describes himself as a “Hacktivist for good. Obstructing the lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, fixers, facilitators, oppressive regimes and other general bad guys” contacted Blogs of War on Twitter after this post was published. I am posting screenshots of his private feedback with his permission:

jester Blurring the Lines Between Hacktivism and Terrorism

You can learn more on his blog.