Former Top Israeli Spy On Internet Risks To Privacy And Peace

The former chief of Israel's elite intelligence unit addresses a technology conference, waxing on privacy, cyber war and a new generation used to documenting and sharing everything.

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade
NSA headquarters in Fort Meade
Meir Orbach

TEL AVIV — When the intimate photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were hacked and posted to the Internet in September, the entire concept of privacy may have be fundamentally transformed forever.

"All our activities are recorded and kept forever," Nadav Zafrir, former head of Israel's elite intelligence Unit 8200, said at last week's G300 conference organized by Calcalist and UBS. "And using Waze is a good example — someone always knows where you are. It's a real horrifying reality. If you don't want something made public, it must not be documented."

Zafrir is now co-founder of Team8 Cyber Security Venture Creation, which has mobilized $10 million that it plans to invest in cyber technology start-ups.

"Besides privacy, another characteristic of today's interconnected world is the threat of cyber war," Zafrir told conference attendees. "It's an additional dimension to contemporary warfare that used to be comprised of maritime, land and air. Only this one has no separation between military and civilian. For example, a serious cyber attack on Israel's Electric Corporation would be a serious hit to Israel."

He also referenced the hacking earlier this year of JP Morgan's 83 million bank accounts. "Cyber crimes are very common today, and such attacks can happen anywhere. We would need to create multi-layered defense systems to address this threat," he said.

"Alongside optic fibers that dramatically reduce the costs of transmitting information, and computing capabilities that have become much cheaper, we now hold in our hands mobile phones that are as powerful as the 1970s super-computers," Zafrir says. "Access to information is growing, and a phone connected to the Internet is now providing more
information than the U.S. president got from all his information agencies in the 1980s."

Zafrir also discussed the social impacts of technology and how children now are accustomed to documenting and sharing everything. "This is a generation that isn't concerned about its privacy," he said. "There is a real change in the consumption of information and our attitudes towards it. This is why the virtual Bitcoin could become the hard currency of this generation."

In addition to threats, Zafrir said, the cyber world also holds many opportunities for the future that are still unimaginable.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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