Monday, June 24, 2013

Does Israel Have Anything Like NSA? Part II:Deciphering Code Words

by Amir Rappoport

Have you wondered lately how Israelis would react to an intelligence gathering apparatus like NSA? This is the second of a three-part article addressing Israel's approach to the balance between security and privacy.
Read Part 1 here

Deciphering Code Words

"In order to cope with the huge amount of information in real time", Shavit continues, "you have to filter it first, to differentiate between meaningful and irrelevant material - by pre-defined criteria, so that instead of checking all of the information in depth, only a certain part of it is investigated.

There are various methods of filtering. One of the usual methods is to use key words that the computer can recognize. The computer scans the information, and when it identifies one of the key words, it takes action. Sometimes it is not enough to use key words, so the computer will identify text of interest only at a certain time of day or a specific date, usually holidays, when new ideas seem to circulate. This technology can actually work on audio (telephone conversations) and video, and perform a primary filter on them (without anyone human intervention)". 

Shavit adds that today there are technologies that can deal with texts according to AI (artificial intelligence) criteria - meaning that the computer can identify suspicious situations on its own, not only according to pre-defined criteria. According to him, "there have to be several layers of technology to locate the information that should be passed on to the intelligence analyst, for him to evaluate". Regarding the American consternation about the recent revelations, Shavit says, "The American public now knows that the intelligence services can scan everyone's Internet use, and the first reaction is shock and a sense that "Big Brother is watching". But when people grasp that this is done in order to safeguard the security of citizens, many of them understand the need. There is a trade-off. If you want to safeguard the public security, there is no choice but to harm the privacy of the individual to a certain extent. It must be done in a balanced way.

The advanced Israeli intelligence technologies came into being, for the most part, in the elite units of Military Intelligence to satisfy operational needs. Only some of them have been revealed over the years. Most are still classified.

For example, at one time it was revealed that Shabak had developed the capability that allows it to identify suspicious conversations from among millions of telephone conversations per day, by means of analyzing conversations conducted from suspicious mobile phone numbers , and identify "atypical conversations". For example, if a certain person usually calls his mother every day at seven in the evening, and one day he calls her at three in the morning, the computer will "flag" this call. Of course, investigation may prove that the call was totally innocent, despite the unusual hour.

The main goal of the Israeli technology is to identify when terror groups and world jihad organizations are preparing an attack, of course, and not to spy on the citizens of the state of Israel. Over time, the terror organizations have understood what the Israeli capabilities are, so terrorists usually refrain from using telephones or else they change their cellular phones every day and use many code words in their conversations.

Current projects of the The Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) are being developed to deal with the various meanings that a word can have. The mathematician and strategist Dr. Haim Asa, considered one of the leading experts in the analysis of free text for intelligence, is involved in MAFAT's line of projects in this area. 

"Every language in the world has a similar structure of sentences: subject, predicate and object", says Asa, "The trick is to analyze the text semantically. For instance, in the sentence 'The terrorist threw the rimon* and the soldier leaped on him under the rimon tree', the word rimon appears each time with a different meaning, and the computer must know this".

 * Translator's note: Rimon (רימון) in Hebrew can be translated as "pomegranate" or "hand grenade".

Amir Rappaport

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav
Next Installment - Part III: The Cameras are Listening
Source: Makor Rishon Newspaper, Issue 827, Yoman section, pg. 10
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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