How Regulatory Gaps in National Security Create Corruption – A Closer Look at Israel’s 8200 Unit

While much of the discussion of corruption focuses on traditional, illegal acts like embezzlement and bribery, other shadowy, nominally legal practices can contribute to corruption, and perhaps should be considered corrupt themselves. An important manifestation of this phenomenon is the pipeline between government military intelligence services and the private intelligence industry. Though this is an issue in many countries, Israel’s 8200 unit provides a useful and especially salient example.

Founded in 1952, Israel’s 8200 unit conducts intelligence and cybersecurity operations, as well as cyber warfare. It is consistently recognized as one of the world’s most effective intelligence units. Unfortunately, the Israeli government does not regulate what its former soldiers do with their skills and expertise. As a result, many 8200 veterans go on to develop technologies for private intelligence and to found or work for private intelligence companies like Psy GroupBlack CubeMitiga, and NSO Group, to name just a few. 

While many people believe that these private firms need to be more tightly regulated, it may not be immediately apparent why this issue relates to corruption specifically. While employed by the 8200 unit, Israel’s soldiers are not abusing their entrusted public responsibility for private financial gain—to the contrary, they are working for the public’s safety and security. And while they do seek private financial gain after they leave government service, and to market the special skills and experience they gained while in the military, this is not on its face that different from how any number of former public servants go on to monetize their government-acquired expertise in the private sector.

But there are at least two respects in which the public-private pipeline in the context of the 8200 unit, or intelligence services more generally, is of particular concern for anticorruption advocates:

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