In October 2022, Alan MacLeod of MintPress News reported that hundreds of former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spies have obtained high-standing positions at the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. Many of the new hires once belonged to Unit 8200, the largest and most coveted IDF unit. Most notably, Unit 8200 appeared in the news for spying on the indigenous Palestinian population and gathering incriminating data against politically-affiliated Palestinians. The IDF uses this intelligence against targets as blackmail and extortion.
Unit 8200 made mainstream news last year after agents were caught spying on the world’s most rich and powerful. This incident was coined the “Pegasus scandal” and was responsible for leaking tens of thousands of politicians’ private information. The scandal also played a major role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to LinkedIn, there are more than 99 former Unit 8200 agents currently working at Google, MacLeod reported. The number is likely much higher since it only accounts for employees with public LinkedIn profiles that list a connection to the unit. IDF instructs veterans to keep their association with the unit private, which makes the total number of 8200 affiliated-employees hard to tally. Additionally, the 99 profiles are limited to current Google employees who openly admit their connection, which is against Israeli military law.
Some of the Google employees associated with Unit 8200 include:
- Gavriel Goidel, who was recently appointed Head of Strategy and Operations at Google, previously served as “Head of Learning” at the Unit, where he described working with a team to “understand patterns of hostile activists.”
- Jonathan Cohen worked at Unit 8200 from 2000-2003 and was assigned the role of “team leader.” Since then, he has spent more than 13 years working in senior positions at Google, where he is currently identified as Head of Insights.
- Ben Bariach who worked as a cyber intelligence officer, commanding “strategic teams of elite officers and professionals,” from 2007 to 2011. Bariach started working for Google in 2016. Additionally, in 2018 and 2020 he was responsible for managing “controversial content, disinformation and cyber-security.” Since then, he has taken the role of Google’s “product partnership manager.”
In 2014, 43 members of Unit 8200 sent a letter to then-President Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that they would no longer serve if the IDF continued blackmailing and prosecuting innocent Palestinians. The letters reference the unit’s efforts to compose dossiers on a significant percentage of the Palestinian population. These reports included information relating to medical history, sex lives, and search history to be used for blackmail later. Although no one in particular was named in the letter, Israeli authorities deemed it so threatening that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared that anyone who signed the letter would be “treated as criminals.”
Another data-collecting strategy that was used gave IDF officers the ability to withhold permission for Palestinians to cross checkpoints until they agreed to release their data. A former officer explained in one of the letters that they were instructed to memorize all the Arabic words for “gay,” so that they could easily spot vulnerable individuals. According to one letter, “there is no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence.” It also details that the data was collected not to serve the state, but to serve dominant Israeli politicians who used the information to further their interests.
Unit 8200 is, in large part, a spying and extortion organization that uses its mobility to gain data to blackmail and threaten those who push back against the Israeli apartheid of Palestine. Additionally, as the number of former Unit 8200 officers increases at big tech companies, the more our personal data is at risk.
As of January 2023, no corporate media outlets have covered this story.
Source: Alan MacLeod, “Revealed: The Former Israeli Spies Working In Top Jobs At Google, Facebook, and Microsoft,” MintPress News, October 31, 2022.
Student Researcher: Reagan Haynie (Loyola Marymount University)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)