#2 – Hiring of Former CIA Employees and Ex-Israeli Agents “Blurs Line” Between Big Tech and Big Brother

by Shealeigh
Published: Last Updated on

Former employees of US and Israeli intelligence agencies now hold senior positions at Google, Meta, Microsoft, and other tech giants, where these individuals influence policy and control programs that regulate internet users’ access to information, Alan MacLeod reported in a pair of stories published by MintPress News in July and October 2022.

Google has hired former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employees to fill sensitive positions, affording them significant influence over the operation of the world’s most used search engine and other Google products that encompass online communication, commerce, and information gathering. As MacLeod reported in July 2022, based on his analysis of employment websites and databases, a former CIA employee is working in almost every department at Google.

Google’s recruitment of former CIA officers is cause for alarm because of the agency’s history of misinformation and disinformation “to further the goals of the national security state,” MacLeod wrote. In a 1983 interview, former CIA intelligence officer John Stockwell, author of In Search of Enemies, described the dissemination of propaganda as a “major function” of the agency. Stockwell described how the CIA worked to place false news stories in foreign newspapers, which global news agencies such as Reuters and AFP subsequently used, unwittingly, as sources for reports of their own. “It was pure, raw, false propaganda,” Stockwell said in an interview quoted in MacLeod’s report.

As Google hires more former CIA officers, one risk is that it “will start to think like and see problems the same way as the CIA does,” MacLeod warned. Elizabeth Murray, a retired intelligence agent who worked as a CIA analyst, noted that the close relationship between the CIA and Google “threatens individual rights to privacy, free speech, freedom of expression.” Ultimately, MacLeod concluded, “the line between big tech and big brother has been blurred beyond recognition.”

In October 2022, MacLeod reported that “hundreds of former agents” of Unit 8200, an Israeli intelligence organization, comparable to the United States National Security Agency (NSA), hold influential positions at the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. As MacLeod reported, Unit 8200 is “infamous for surveilling the indigenous Palestinian population,” was implicated in the Pegasus spyware scandal that made headlines in 2021, and “likely aided” in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Using the professional networking website LinkedIn, MacLeod identified more than ninety-nine former Unit 8200 agents currently working at Google. The number is probably much higher since it only accounts for employees with public LinkedIn profiles that list a connection to the unit. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) instructs veterans to keep their association with the unit private, which makes the total number of Unit 8200 affiliated employees difficult to tally.

As in his previous report on former CIA officers now employed by Google, MacLeod’s report on Unit 8200 agents now working in Big Tech identified some prominent examples of these connections, including Gavriel Goidel, Head of Strategy and Operations at Google, who previously served in Unit 8200 to “understand patterns of hostile activists”; Jonathan Cohen, who worked in the role of “team leader” in Unit 8200 from 2000-2003 and has since spent more than thirteen years working in senior positions at Google, where he is currently identified as Head of Insights; and Ben Bariach, a cyber intelligence officer in Unit 8200 from 2007 to 2011, when he commanded “strategic teams of elite officers and professionals,” who now serves as a “product partnership manager” at Google.

Using LinkedIn, MacLeod identified “at least 166 former Unit 8200 members” who have gone on to work for Microsoft, including its former Head of Global Strategic Alliances, Ayelet Steinitz; Senior Software Engineer Tomer Lev; and three senior product managers, Maayan Mazig, Or Serok-Jeppa, and Yuval Derman. Based on LinkedIn, it appears that Microsoft is “actively recruiting” from Unit 8200, MacLeod concluded.

The connections between Big Tech companies and US and Israeli intelligence agencies, “highlights the increasing intersection between Silicon Valley and big government,” MacLeod concluded in his October 2022 report. Those close ties undermine “any pretense that big tech companies are on our side in the fight to secure and maintain privacy online.”

A May 2022 review found no major newspaper coverage of Big Tech companies hiring former US or Israeli intelligence officers as employees. The closest mention came in an October 2021 Washington Post article on workers using communications technology to organize, which quoted a former Google employee, Meredith Whittaker, who organized a 2018 walkout, on using Signal and other encrypted communications apps: “Whittaker said secrecy was key to the organizing work at Google because tech employers tend to use surveillance,” the Post reported, “‘They hire ex-CIA folks to surveil,’ Whittaker said.” Israel’s Unit 8200 was mentioned in passing in establishment news coverage of the Pegasus spyware scandal, and the Wall Street Journal occasionally quoted former Unit 8200 members as sources on cybersecurity issues. The most prominent US newspapers have not covered Google, Meta, Microsoft, and other Big Tech companies hiring former US and Israeli intelligence officers.

Alan MacLeod, “National Security Search Engine: Google’s Ranks Are Filled With CIA Agents,” MintPress News, July 25, 2022.

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 Advisor: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)