Conscience, the fatal flaw in the intelligence machine

The commander of the Israeli army’s highly prestigious 8200 intelligence unit yesterday dismissed 43 of his reservists. This is big news in Israel, because Unit 8200 is responsible for signals intelligence, nowadays known both as the cutting-edge of technology and one of the most powerful instruments of government control. If you doubt this, read the letter, written last September, that led to the reservists’ dismissal. In it they say:

The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. While there are severe limitations on the surveillance of Israeli citizens, the Palestinians are not afforded this protection. There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence.
Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.
Intelligence allows for the continued control over millions of people through thorough and intrusive supervision and invasion of most areas of life. This does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence further distancing us from the end of the conflict. [my emphasis]

972 Magazine quotes the reservists giving examples of their routine army duties:

…revealing the sexual preferences of Palestinians in order to blackmail them and thereby recruit them as collaborators. That, or by exploiting economic hardships or medical needs of Palestinians who need treatment in Israel. The other main examples deal with … assassinations and bombings of Gaza since Cast Lead, including targets that [the signatories] say were unjustified, caused unnecessary harm to innocents and didn’t contribute to the security of residents of Israel.

The letter ends by saying that the signatories “refuse to take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” and, believing that Israel’s future depends on opposition to “these injustices”, call on other Intelligence Corps soldiers to do the same.

You might think that a few dozen reservists don’t count for very much in the great scheme of things. But in fact, the military and political establishment are seriously concerned about their letter. Its publication met with condemnation from senior figures, including Netanyahu himself. Unit 8200’s strongest reputation is as a high-tech incubator, a major source of the control and monitoring technology that Israel sells around the world. If opposition to the most important methods of the Occupation can arise here, in the very heart of the privilege that sustains it, where can it be safe from that most dangerous of enemies, conscience?

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