"Israeli Military Intelligence" – with IDF Brig. General (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast," the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Coming up next on "SpyCast"...
Yossi Kuperwasser: I was there between 2001 and 2006. But I'll tell you something, in Israel, once you serve in this position, that's how you are going to remember for the rest of your life. I did all kinds of things since then, but whenever I may appear on television or on the radio, when I'm interviewed, they always refer to me, the former head of the research and analysis division.
Andrew Hammond: Yossi Kuperwasser was formerly the head of the research division of the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF, as well as the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. He was an infantryman, an artillery officer, and then a career intelligence officer who rose to become a brigadier general. His service included the Yom Kippur War and the first Lebanon War, and his roles included intelligence attache in Washington, D.C., and intelligence officer for Central Command. He has an MA in economics and a BA in Arabic language and literature. In the rest of this episode, Yossi and I discuss what overseeing Israeli intelligence analysis entails, being a spectator to history on the White House lawn in 1993, warning U.S. intelligence about the lack of weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, trust or the lack of it between intelligence agencies and international relations, and assisting Colombian intelligence agencies with their insurgency. If you enjoy the show, please tell your friends and loved ones. Please also consider leaving us a five-star review. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are imitated but never intimidated. We stand strong, and we are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: Well, it's a pleasure to speak to you this morning, Yossi. Thanks for joining me on the show.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Thank you for having me.
Andrew Hammond: You've got a very rich career, but could we just start off with one of your most recent appointments, so head of the research division at the Israeli Defense Forces? So could you tell us a little bit more about that role there because it sounds really fascinating?
Yossi Kuperwasser: Yeah. Well, this is the role that is in charge of developing the intelligence picture in Israel on all levels, from early warning for a terror attack to pointing at operational developments, new weapons coming in, warning about the Iranian nuclear project - one of the things that I did when I was in office - and warning about the war and portraying the situation, the political situation in the region and the worldwide. All of that is being done under the supervision and the responsibility of the head of the research division. And I would say it's a very demanding job. It's pretty demanding.
Andrew Hammond: It certainly sounds demanding. So with the term research division, we're talking about analysis and appraisal of the strategic situation and appraisal of developing threats, warnings. We're not talking about R&D. We're not talking about investing and developing new technology and so forth. Is that correct?
Yossi Kuperwasser: Well, we did have a branch that also dealt with developing new technologies and updating the technologies we use to the development of technologies. I can tell you that when I was in office, we developed the new techniques of disseminating information through something that later developed into digital news. We were there for the rest of the media so that the - and this was, of course, well protected from anybody that would like to see what we were doing. And this was a way that we were communicating with the most of our consumers, including the prime minister and others. So we did have a small branch dealing with technologies, and it was the days of the beginning of what we call today the data revolution. We were there witnessing the beginning of this revolution. Today, the situation is much, much more challenging, I would say, than what it was then. But most of the activity's analysis on all levels, as I said before, and also preparing the targets for the army headquarters level, that needs to be dealt with because in Israel, the Air Force is operated from the headquarters. So they had to get the most of their targets from the intelligence and the headquarters level. And so that's another task of the division.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And what years were you there as the head of the research division?
Yossi Kuperwasser: I was there between 2001 and 2006. But I'll tell you something. In Israel, once you serve in this position, that's how you are going to be remembered for the rest of your life. I did all kinds of things since then, but whenever I appear on television or on the radio, when I'm interviewed, they always refer to me - the former head of the research and analysis division.
Andrew Hammond: This is going to be on your gravestone.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: Those are very interesting years, 2001 to 2006. So just thinking at the local and regional level, we've got the second intifada, which breaks out in 2000 to 2005. And then internationally, we've obviously got the 9/11 attacks. And then we have the war on terror and Afghanistan and Iraq. So and it sounds like some very challenging and interesting years that you were the head of the research division.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Many other challenges, hectic years, very full of action.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Wow. So most of our listeners will obviously never be the head of the research division for Israeli military intelligence. So help us understand how you approach this job. Like, do you - is it a very reactive thing? You turn up at your desk and then it's this has happened and that has happened, and you have to just deal with the priorities? Or do you say, OK, there's a certain period of time that we're going to focus on the regional situation and the international situation is going to be secondary for the time being or just - there's so many different parts of the job that you outlined. How do you deal with the demands of the breadth of the portfolio?
Yossi Kuperwasser: So let me tell you. When I came in, and later on, when the director of military intelligence changed as well, we conducted strategic process, almost everybody who enters an office like that to better fine tune the activities of the division to the changing situation and changing demands and changing enemies and changing technologies. And everything is changing all the time. That's the problem of intelligence. It's an ongoing learning process. You don't learn all the time to enable you to adjust to the developing situation, you are going to fail. And so what I did at the time, what was the idea that I was trying to lead, to make the intelligence analysis in each arena pinnacle upon around which the entire activity is conducted, entire activity of the intelligence is conducted. So that each arena's head would be the head of - director of military intelligence in his area, so that he will be given some sort of budget that will determine what kind of collection efforts will be done in his domain, and that he will be able to prioritize the different challenges that he is facing in his arena.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And this was a big idea of change. What can we do? Because one of the logic was that because of the new technologies and the new data capabilities, it was possible for the people from the research division to be in touch with the people in the different collection divisions - collection units - and get information in its raw phase more or less on real time and develop picture that takes into account all the different sources that are available close to real time. And this was the logic that we were trying to form which was going to affect also the preparation of the division to help.
Andrew Hammond: Help us understand the layer of Israeli intelligence just for our listeners that don't know much about it. So Aman is an acronym for the Israeli military intelligence. And then we have Shin Bet, which is not exclusively, but it's largely domestic. And then Mossad, which is gathering foreign intelligence. Who are some of the other actors? How many are there? And how did your job intersect with those other players?
Yossi Kuperwasser: So the military intelligence actually is made of more than what people know. Aman, which is the military branch in the headquarters - in the general headquarters of the military - is also the defense intelligence. We don't have a separate defense intelligence. So the defense intelligence and the military intelligence are the same organization. So we serve not only the military level, but also the defense level. The minister of defense and the Cabinet and the prime minister are all fed - they get the intelligence from the defense and military intelligence. This is Aman. Aman at the same time provides information for all the units in the military that needs information, intelligence for their activity. Changes from time to time. The relationship between the combat intelligence and the Aman, especially for the collection units of Aman, have to supply information to the field level and to the operational level and to the headquarters level at the same time. That's Aman it's a huge operation. We are in charge of the most important collection units, the signal intelligence or the electronic intelligence. The visual intelligence is in Aman, which is called today geographical intelligence. We have several satellites, you know, to make sure that we interpret correctly their products. We have a human intelligence organization that deals with some of the collections coming from human sources. And we have some other units more technological that make sure that everything works on top of the headquarters that connects everything, the military and defense intelligence.
Yossi Kuperwasser: In Israel, the military and defense intelligence, unlike in many other places, is also - because of this system and because we are considered to be under continuous threat, the military and defense intelligence is also the national intelligence. We consider ourselves - it's not written anywhere, but it's a matter of tradition that the military and defense intelligence is also responsible for giving the national assessment, which in the United States is usually done by - today, by the ODNI and formerly by the CIA. In Israel, it's done by the defense and military intelligence. So the guy who's in charge of the research division's analysis division is supposed to provide this kind of national intelligence assessment to the political levels and so on and so forth, and to others. That's Aman.
Yossi Kuperwasser: On top of that, we have Mossad, very famous, which is responsible for - actually, the full name is Institute for Intelligence and Special Missions. That's the real name of Mossad. But the translation of the word institute in Hebrew is mossad. So everybody knows them by Mossad. And some people say that most people who know very little Hebrew know two words - shalom and mossad.
Yossi Kuperwasser: They are famous because of their unbelievable operations. But most of these operations have to do with - not with special missions. Some of them have to do with special missions. One of the very famous special missions is to help bring Jews that are in dire situations back to Israel. That's a very unique special operation that they are in charge of.
Yossi Kuperwasser: But for intelligence, they are responsible for collection of intelligence outside of Israel. And we have the ISA, the Israeli Security Agency, better known in Hebrew as Shabak, which is responsible for foiling terror attacks inside Israel and counter-espionage, taking care of all kinds of other threats emanating from inside Israel, and also protect some of our assets, not only against terror, but also cyber. As time went by, they became more involved in cyber protection and sensitive targets in Israel, not all targets. We have also a civilian organization that takes care of cyber protection for other targets. But for the most sensitive targets, Shabak is - I say is responsible.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And they have many other - and they also collect information. In order to be able to perform their tasks, they have to collect information, especially on terrorism. Shabak is in Hebrew Shin Bet Kaf, General Service of Security. So they are relatively strong in collecting information regarding the Palestinian threat. That's the way we function, more or less, in a very small nutshell.
Andrew Hammond: How does all of this intelligence come together? So you mentioned the ODNI and then formerly the CIA - they were responsible for all-source, all-agency bringing all of the intelligence together for an intelligence assessment or estimate or for the president's daily brief. So you said that part of your role and part of the role of Aman would be to bring all of that together. Is that correct?
Yossi Kuperwasser: Yes. That's part of our role. But in Israel, we don't have a director of national intelligence. There's no such organization, no such position. Each of the intelligence organizations prepare the intelligence they need for their own operations and share some of this information that they produce in order to have the general view with outside consumers like the prime minister, minister of defense and so forth. The military and defense intelligence is subordinated to the chief of staff, who subordinated to the minister of defense, who is subordinated to the prime minister.
Yossi Kuperwasser: So the military and defense intelligence gets to the prime minister, in many cases directly, but allegedly through this chain of command, whereas the Mossad and the Shabak, the Shin Bet, as you call them, they are directly subordinated to the prime minister. So they don't - it's not that they don't tell the minister of defense what they are doing. They do, but they are not subordinated to him. They are not subordinate to the chief of staff. They can go straight to the prime minister.
Yossi Kuperwasser: That's - and from time to time, the heads of these three organizations sit together. But it's not like the DNI, that there is an organization that have representatives from the different - you have 18 or 17 agencies. We just have three. From time to time, when there is a necessity for that, the heads of these organizations sit together in an organization - not organization, a meeting called the Committee of the Heads of the Services. In Hebrew, it's called Varash. And they may discuss issues that relate to the three organizations. There are only three things that really belong to all of them, and they care for them together. One is Commemoration of the Fallen, the Israeli Intelligence Community Commemoration and Heritage Center. And that's one thing they do together. They are - they do have a course, one course, that's called Interagency Course, where people from - already in the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel and their equivalent in the Mossad and Shabak will sit together and study issues that relate to how it's better to do - best to do intelligence. People from the three organizations that deal with certain issue sit together and study and learn this specific issue. Sometimes it's more general. And we have this organization that I'm heading that's called the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence that is serving all three organizations and tries to develop knowledge that is relevant for all of them about how to do intelligence, how to better do intelligence.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's really fascinating. And could you give our listeners a couple of examples of the things that you were involved in during your time as the head of the research division? So maybe talk about the Iraq War and the effect that that had or maybe the Second Intifada.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Well, I'll tell you a story from the Second Intifada, OK? It's - was involved in. The Second Intifada was an effort by the Palestinians to force Israel to accept their terms of moving towards settling the dispute between us and the Palestinians, terms that were totally unacceptable for Israel. We were - after an agreement, a political agreement with the Palestinians back in '93, 1993, called the Oslo agreement that portrayed some way through which negotiations would lead to some permanent agreement, meetings that were held in July 2000 in the United States, hosted by President Clinton at the time at Camp David. And after they failed, the Palestinians started a war of terror against Israel back in the last day of September 2000. I was - by the way, at the time, I was the chief intelligence officer of our Central Command, which is responsible for the areas that - in which the war started - took place. And I said before the war, this war is going to take six years. I was a little bit pessimistic. It took five. In reality, it took seven. It reached - solution was reached on the seventh year.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Anyhow, then I became - in 2001, I came to the headquarters to take the position of the head of the research division. Palestinians, one of the things they were trying to do was to cause Israel such damage that it would be beyond what the Israelis can sustain, and that would force the Israelis to give up and give them everything they wanted. And they tried suicide bombing, you know, that we were exposed to many suicide bombings. They tried shooting against Israelis that were driving on the main roads. They tried all kinds of tricks. It was painful. We lost 1,000 people. But it was not painful enough for us to give up our conditions. One of the things they were trying to do was to bring weapons from Iran that would break the - that would be game-changers. Today, you know, Israel has the Iron Dome, and we can - we know how to handle medium- and short-range rockets quite well. And we intercept something like 95% of them. But at the time, we didn't have that option.
Yossi Kuperwasser: So the Palestinians thought that if they would bring in some rockets, long- or medium-range rockets, especially from Iran, this was going to be a game-changer and will force Israel to accept the conditions. The Palestinians, together with Hezbollah and with the Iranians, began to think about a way to bring those weapons to Israel. We were supposed to be able to say, when is this weapon - what's going on here, first of all? It was not totally clear. We had the - out of this, let's say, 100 particles of the puzzle pieces, we had, like, seven. You didn't know what's going on. But we knew that they were trying to get some weapons. That's what we knew because we managed to foil some previous attempts. So we knew that they were doing that. And we knew who were the people who were leading this effort because the Palestinians had something called the Naval Police - Naval Unit that was doing this issue. So we were following them. And we saw that they are doing all kinds of activities. We didn't know what's going on.
Yossi Kuperwasser: So the intelligence, a young lady, a young officer, lady officer, came up with the wonderful idea that, look; they speak about certain ship called Karine, but they bought a ship called Rine (ph). So maybe Rine is Karine, Karine A. This - how this story of Karine A started. We located the ship. And the chief of staff didn't want to go to the ship. We managed to locate the ship, follow it. We were preparing an operation to take control of the ship, some unbelievable operation from an operational point of view, beyond our capabilities - something unbelievable, really. But the chief of staff was not ready to go, and his name was General Mofaz. He said, I'm not going before I'm 100% sure that there are weapons on this ship. I don't want to be blamed for piracy. Tell me that you are 100% sure that there are weapons on this ship. And I wasn't 100% sure. Every morning he would ask me, Kuper - that's my nickname - Kuper. How sure are you? (Laughter) And I would say 85%. He'd say, not good enough.
Yossi Kuperwasser: One day there was a reason why I said 100%. There was a piece of information coming in that made me realize that I can be courageous enough to say 100%. I said 100%. We went to the sea and took over the ship. So we are flying - the chief of staff, the head of the Air Force and the commander of the Air Force and commander of the Navy and myself - we are flying over the ship looking at the units taking over the ship and taking control of the ship. It was very impressive. After, like, 10 minutes, the chief of staff asked the commander on the ship, so are there weapons? (Laughter). Have you found anything? So he says, look. We are looking. We are searching. But all that we found until now is toys - lot of toys. So the chief of staff - I was sitting just behind the chief of staff in this small airplane. So he turns back to me and says, Kuper, you said 100%. I said, tell him to keep looking.
Andrew Hammond: You were worried you were going to get thrown out of the aircraft.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Exactly.
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Yossi Kuperwasser: And after 10 more minutes, he comes back - he said, there are - there's a lot - many bags of rice here. The chief of staff turns back and says to me, you said not only that you are 100%. You said this is going to be 50-tons hammer on the head of Arafat. We should be able to prove what he's all up to. And look what's happening. Now you - you're going back through the - through this window, he said to me.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Ten more minutes - they found 80 canisters, submersible canisters, that were carrying a lot of weapons, including rockets and unbelievable stuff given by the Iranians to the Palestinians and that was supposed to be brought to Gaza. And so we asked the guy, why did it take so long for you to find it? He said, we went to the captain, and we asked him, where are the weapons? And he said, why don't you ask?
Yossi Kuperwasser: Took us to it.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And can I ask what the piece of evidence was that made you 100% sure? Can you disclose that?
Yossi Kuperwasser: You can ask, but I cannot answer.
Andrew Hammond: OK. OK.
Andrew Hammond: So - OK, well, that's that dealt with.
Andrew Hammond: The term intifada means shaking off in Arabic. In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, it conveys the desire of the Palestinians to shake off the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to form their own independence there. The West Bank refers to the landlocked territory on the west bank of the River Jordan that is home to roughly 3 million people. The Gaza Strip refers to a tract of land with 40 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline and a population of approximately 2 million people. The territories are not physically connected but are seen as politically connected for any two-state solution. That is two states side-by-side - an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. The first intifada was a spontaneous uprising that began in 1987 after an Israeli military truck collided with Palestinian cars, killing four occupants - the Israelis stating it was an accident - the Palestinians, intentional retaliation for the stabbing of an Israeli two days earlier. It lasted until 1993 and was a catalyst for the peace process that culminated in the Oslo Accords that Yossi mentions in this episode. This was brokered by President Clinton. The second intifada began in 2000 after Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism, also known as Haram esh-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam. The intifada lasted until 2005. There has been much speculation in the years that a third intifada is on the way. If it does happen, at least now you know what it is.
Andrew Hammond: And tell us a little bit more about the Iraq War. I find this one really, really interesting. So the Iraq War happens in 2003, and this is quite interesting, as well, because later on, out of the Iraq War, we have knock-over effects into Syria, Islamic State across the region. So help us understand what it was like for you living through that time.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Well, there were several points that relate to the Iraq War. First of all, there was the question of whether they have strategic weapons still available to them. We told the Americans in advance back in October 2002 that all these weapons were taken out of Iraq and sent to Syria - that it's going to be extremely difficult to find anything in Iraq because the - until October 2002, the Iraqis, according to our assessment, still had some residual capabilities of strategic weapons, including chemical weapons especially. Of course, in October 2002, international community resumed its searches for unconventional weapons in Iraq. The Iraqis, just before that started, took a big convoy and sent all the weapons to Syria. And we told everybody this is what happened. You may want to search for whatever you like, and maybe there's still very little left behind. But the logic of Saddam Hussein was that he is not going to be caught with his hand in the cookie jar. So since he was saying I have nothing, he was convinced that if he can prove that he has nothing by sending everything he has to Syria, just like he did in the first Iraq War when he sent his air force to Iran to save it. This time, he thought he was going to save it by sending it to Syria. And the Americans blamed themselves again and again for not finding the weapons while we told them that this is the case back in October. And we even made it public, you know. We published this information, not only told through cooperation of intelligence units, but also we made public that the weapons were sent out. This didn't help the Americans. That's one of the problems of international cooperation in intelligence. People don't take the information brought by another organization as 100% right. They are very suspicious. So this was one problem.
Yossi Kuperwasser: The other problem was what's going to happen in Iraq after the invasion? And my terminology at the time was that we have to differentiate between the morning - of course, everybody was talking. What's going to happen in the day after? That was the terminology used at the time. So I said we have to be modest and humble. We can have some assessment about what's going to happen in the morning after. The morning after, you'll - it's not going to be a big issue to win a war against the Iraqi army for the coalition. It's going to be relatively easy. But we have big doubts about what's going to happen in the midday after. It's going to be more complicated because the Iranians are going to get involved and the Shiites that are going to be freed are going to be happy. But at the same time, they are under a lot of Iranian influence. And the Sunnis are going to be very frustrated. And a lot of things can happen by lunchtime.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And what's going to happen in the evening? It's really beyond what one person can really assess because it depends how we move from midday towards the afternoon. A lot of things are going to impact the situation. And you have to study in advance all these options. What are the different options that can emerge in Iraq in the afternoon before you reach to the end of the day? It was not done well enough, not - including by us. This was not done well enough because this kind of assessment is different totally from trying to assess whether they have weapons of mass destruction or not. This is one question that we look at a secret. OK. They may have. They may have not. We have to find out. OK. But there isn't an answer to this question. They either have or have not. Whereas finding the answer to the question what's going to happen in the afternoon after is affected by so many elements that are going to happen that are not happening at this time, that are not present at this time. It's not a secret. It's a mystery. It's very difficult to assess.
Yossi Kuperwasser: We can have some opinion about that. We should have some opinion as intelligence to say something about it that is substantial. But we have to be very modest and humble about the way we present it and make sure that we are not that sure about the outcome. And anyhow, we thought at the time that the culprit that should be taken care of after 9/11 is not the Iraqis.
Andrew Hammond: I think a good example of what you were discussing there about the afternoon in the morning after as just the last few years, no one saw the pandemic coming, and then the effects the pandemic would have on the global economy, and then the effects of Russia and Ukraine and the lockdown and chain and the protest. Like, the future is so open-ended and unseeable in many ways, which doesn't mean that you just pretend it doesn't exist, but like you say, any view that you have, even if it's based on every piece of data in the world, that's always going to be based on assumptions that may or may not hold going into the future. Those assumptions may change or there may be false assumptions, but we don't know until we go into the future.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Mentioning the situation in Ukraine, right? The question of whether the Russians are going to invade or not was sort of a secret problem because there was a decision by the Russians, and you have to know what was the decision. And if the decision is to invade, they are going to invade. And that's what the Americans and the Brits were excelling in in giving the right solution to this question of the secret. But what's going to happen once they invade? This is something that is difficult to assess. I wrote a piece on February 27, three days after the attack, saying Zelenskyy won because I thought that the main issue here is the war about the narrative. And he won the narrative war on Day 3.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And I explained that even from a military point of view, it's not totally clear what's going to happen. Yes, the Russians have much, much bigger capabilities, but the Ukrainians have the benefit of the defender. The defender is always in much better shape in any confrontation of this kind. I was not sure that this was going to be enough, but I said anyhow, the narrative war was won by Zelenskyy because he managed to place himself as the collective victim. And once you are the collective victim, it's very difficult to take you away from there. And the Russians wanted to place themselves in the collective victim. They spoke about Nazis and all these issues in order to convince people to look at them as the collective victim. And they really consider themselves as victims according to their narrative. But their narrative didn't become the prevailing narrative. The prevailing narrative became right away the Ukrainian narrative. And that's something that's very important to understand. I put aside all the issues of the misjudgment of what the big capabilities of the Russians really mean militarily because this is another issue. And I know that there is a committee in the United States looking at this matter, so I don't want to interfere with their activity.
Andrew Hammond: Absolutely. And I guess a question I have is, why do you think that the Americans and the Brits didn't believe you when you said, listen, all of the weapons of mass destruction are not in Iraq anymore? I know you mentioned this residual mistrust, but why do you think the Americans went ahead - or is that really more about politics than intelligence?
Yossi Kuperwasser: I don't know. It's very different for me to judge. But I can tell you that - I don't know about the political aspect of it, but from the point of view of trust between intelligence communities, it's always a very problematic issue because if you are not involved directly in the collection - and this information at the time was based on very sensitive sources - you cannot trust that the source of the other side and maybe the Israelis have a hidden agenda here. They want to make sure that we don't attack Iraq or - I don't know. Why wouldn't we? I don't know. But what you - always say, what is the hidden agenda of the other side who tells - who gives me this information? Unless it's concrete information that says, look, there is a terrorist going to hit you tomorrow morning at 7:00, then you take it seriously. But we had plenty of cases in which information that was given to our partners on issues that are more complicated than just early warning and terror was treated with too many grains of salt. It's an ongoing problem.
Andrew Hammond: I want to discuss your time as the assistant defense attache for intelligence in Washington, D.C., which I find quite interesting. But before we go on there, when you were the head of the research division, you mentioned the digital revolution earlier. And I just wondered if - were you involved in any way with the cyber warfare branch 8200 or the secret technology unit, Unit 81, or even the Sayeret Matkal, the general...
Yossi Kuperwasser: Pronunciation.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah (laughter). Yeah. I know about that one, mainly from the Entebbe raid and Yossi, Netanyahu and so forth. But I think our listeners would be quite interested in some of those kind of niche specialist units.
Yossi Kuperwasser: You know, 8200 is a cyber unit. But the world has changed. Because of cyber, the world has changed. So in intelligence, on top of providing information that is necessary for those who operate all kinds of weapons is also operating weapons by itself and more and more - more and more so. So it's the effort of the intelligence as an operator became more and more prominent in the identity of the intelligence. It's true for Mossad and Shin Bet because not only they collect information, they also take action in order to thwart the threats and the dangers that they see and warned about. But it's also true of the military intelligence that is responsible in Israel for cyber activities in some areas. Yes, it has to be able to perform on the cyber, both for protection and occasionally for other purposes as well. That's a relatively new development, not that new, but let's say 10 years, more or less. This is relatively new.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And the entire context in which intelligence is operated has changed. In the past, much more was dependent on human intelligence. Today, it's less necessary - still very important, but it's less necessary. You can get what you want from people without them knowing that they are helping you. And that context has changed. That's something that we have to remember. Yes, Sayeret Matkal is amazing and they're very courageous and carry out attacks - carry out, sorry, operations here and there, very impressive. The role of the research division is to prioritize what needs to be done together with the director of military intelligence to help the director of military intelligence to reach a decision, educated decision about how to use this asset because we don't have enough of this asset. So once you decide to use it for a certain purpose, you're not going to use it for a different purpose. That's where the analysis division comes in on that matter.
Andrew Hammond: Let's shift on to some of the other things that you've done. So earlier in your career, you were the assistant defense attache for intelligence in Washington. So unfortunately, if my timing is right, you were here before the International Spy Museum opened. But any time, if you come back to Washington, let me know and we'll give you a tour or get you some comp tickets. But tell us about your time. What did that role involve? And what was your time like here in Washington?
Yossi Kuperwasser: I was in Washington between '92 and '94. This was, by the way, the time when the peace agreement was - the intended peace agreement with the Palestinians were reached in '93, September '93. I was the lawn - southern lawn of the White House when Arafat and Rabin in Paris signed the Oslo Accords. It was this strange feeling of - you could hear the wings of history. But you know what? That same day, I went to speak at George Washington University, and I said, signing an agreement is nice. The test is going to be in the implementation. If Arafat really wants to reach peace, we are there to do that - if he doesn't, this is not going to work. Strangely enough, by the way, I was seconded by an Egyptian speaker at the same event who criticized Arafat for not being totally - fully-heartedly supporting the progress towards peace. And what happened later that - was that we realized that this was the case.
Yossi Kuperwasser: But when I was in Washington, my main task was to improve the relationship between the Israeli and the American intelligence communities. We signed all kinds of agreements that gave the former context for - according to which this cooperation was done. This was extremely important because it's really important for both sides to know what to expect. There's always an - the possibility of giving more than what is inside the agreement. But you expect your partner to at least give you what is - and you will give him what you are supposed to give according to the agreement. And this was very important. We had an unbelievable cooperation with the American intelligence community. Really amazing.
Yossi Kuperwasser: This was my job - to make sure that there was a common understanding of the challenges we were facing - and remind you that, for example, in '93, we had the first attempt against the World Trade Center by Omar Abdel-Rahman. The beginnings of this new challenge were appearing. This was a period of the world where American intelligence was looking to - was going through an identity crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union. What is going to be the next challenge of the American intelligence? And we were telling them - they reached their decision also by themselves - that this Islamic terrorism is the threat they should focus on and so is the Iranian radicalism that was also becoming more and more a threat. We were facing it in Lebanon so - main issue - these were the main issues that we cooperated. Somehow, there was - among more stuff, but (laughter) even today, I cannot go into this detail.
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Andrew Hammond: OK, so why is this tract of land between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Jordan River, considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians, the subject of ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis? Let's break that down through 12 statements of fact.
Andrew Hammond: One, the Holy Land has been considered holy for millennia. Two, the Roman Empire and its successor, the Christian Byzantine Empire, were the major force in the region from 63 BCE to 638. Three, in 638, Jerusalem fell to Caliph Umar, ushering in over 1,200 years of rule by a variety of Muslim empires. This was only punctuated by almost a century of crusader rule from 1099 until Saladin recaptured the city in 1187. Four, Muslim rule ended in 1917 with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and the beginning of the British mandate which would last until 1948. Five, in 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration in support of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Six, nations successively replaced empires as the major form of political organization in the 19th and 20th centuries. Seven, the Jewish diaspora looked at the lands from which they had been expelled millennia previously as a potential nation or home for the Jewish people. This was also influenced by increasing antisemitism, violence and pogroms, Russian for wreak havoc, in Europe. Later on, it would also be influenced by the Holocaust. Eight, this national revival movement became known as Zionism and led to successive waves of emigration to the Holy Land which, at the end of the 19th century, had held less than 5% of the world's Jewish population. Nine, in 1948, Israel declared its independence after a period of Jewish-Muslim unrest prompted by the coming end of the British mandate. This led to a war between Israel and five Arab states and huge population transfers as Palestinians left Israel for surrounding Arab states, and Jews in surrounding Arab states left for Israel.
Andrew Hammond: Ten, 1967 saw the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria. 1973 saw the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt and Syria. Eleven, at the heart of the conflict are questions of territory, the status of the holy city of Jerusalem, and the rate of the displaced peoples and refugees to return to their ancestral homes. Twelve, in short, there is two national self-determination movements clashing. Israeli historian Benny Morris has also highlighted the role of what he calls righteous victimhood. At the macro level, I believe that, in the future, it will be seen as the product of a shift in the international system from empires to nation-states as the major form of political, social and cultural organization. I think that's such a fascinating job, and it's such a fascinating time period. So I was also just thinking, like, your career is so rich. We don't have time to go into all of it. But it struck me as being quite interesting that if I'm correct, you were an infantryman, and then you were an artillery officer, and then a little later on in the '80s, you move into intelligence. So I just wondered if you could tell us about that evolution. Tell us a little bit more about how you went from infantry to artillery to intelligence, and are you glad you made the shift?
Yossi Kuperwasser: This is all by (non-English language spoken), by chance.
Andrew Hammond: OK.
Yossi Kuperwasser: I studied - when my time to be conscript came, I asked to go to the university and study in Arabic language and Arabic culture and economics. That's what I was going to study 'cause my father was an accountant. So I said, I'll study economics as well, just to make sure that I have something to earn living from. From Arabic, you're not going to become able to feed your family. So that was what I did. But then I was approved to study that. Probably I was supposed to reach the intelligence. But what happened was that there is training in between the years when you are in the - it's like ROTC. On the second year of training, we had the outbreak of the second - of the Yom Kippur War. I was a soldier in the command corps, and instead of going back to university, I remained an infantry soldier for a year, participated in the wars as an infantry soldier and remained in the military for a full year as a commander of the corps (inaudible), teachers, doctors (ph) in the corps.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And then because in the war so many artillery officers lost their lives, there was a demand for artillery officers. So they told me, very nice that you studied in the university, but we need artillery officers. So I went to an artillery officer corps. After the corps, the intelligence branch said this guy studied Arabic, so what is the logic of turning him into an artillery officer? It makes no sense. Bring us - bring him back to us. What happened was that they managed to convince the artillery force to bring me back to intelligence. I am an artillery officer. So whenever somebody in the intelligence corps needed somebody to participate in the military corps and to represent the intelligence in the military corps, they say Kuper, you go (laughter) - a real military career parallel to my intelligence career, which was extremely important because when I reached the level of intelligence officer of Central Command, when I became the intelligence officer of the headquarters as head of research in the division, the fact that I knew what we are talking about...
Andrew Hammond: And you're retired as a brigadier general. That's correct?
Yossi Kuperwasser: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah. Wow. And tell us about some of the things that you've been up to after you left the military. So you mentioned some of the things that you've been doing. So maybe just briefly about the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence - can you tell us a little bit more about that? Do you look at historical case studies that Israel has been involved in? Do you look at American intelligence, British intelligence, other intelligence agencies? Help us understand that, because this methodology is very interesting.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Well, first of all, I did all kinds of things before I reached the Institute for the Research of the Methodology. I was for three years, more or less, in Colombia as a consultant. I think we helped them - we were on a mission there to help them improve their intelligence and the way they fought against terror and drugs. I think we did a very good job because beforehand, before we came there, they were unable to close the circle on any of these key figures of the FARC and the drug cartels, with the exception of Escobar, Pablo Escobar. But I think with our help, we didn't deal with the material itself. We just helped them restructure and rethink about the problem. They came. They reached, by their own merit, unbelievable achievements that really should be praised. It was a wonderful breakthrough for Columbia that I did for a couple of years - very impressive, interesting experience. Then I was the head of the - director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which was like more or less being the head of the research division without the 700 people that I had back then. But I dealt with the same issues. And then I left because I got sick of the bureaucracy of the government. We just can kill anybody. And I went to the private sector. But I didn't reach the private sector. I came back to the public or the NGO sector, and I established a couple of companies for the benefit of the public. Then I joined the research center in Jerusalem to deal with the situation in the Middle East and so on and so forth. And finally, I joined the - and I helped found, actually - I didn't join it. I helped found the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence. And the idea of the institute is to help the Israeli intelligence community form its opinion and its thoughts about challenges that it faces because most people - when they are doing their job, they are so carried away with the ongoing current missions, they develop all kinds of ideas about how to do their job better. But they don't have time to write it and to really think about it in a really slow manner. So we help people inside intelligence to think more thoroughly and more systematically about the problems they face. That's one issue. And it's very helpful for people to write us. So it helps them think about the problems they have.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Secondly, we challenge them. We say, look. Why don't you think about this option, about that option? And many of the things we write to help them think about - they didn't even think that they should think about them. But we tell them it's a good idea to think about it. They take from time to time and say, well, not only that we thought about it. Maybe we should implement it. And we have some achievements in this respect of cases in which the intelligence community took ideas that were developed in the institute and implemented them in the context of jointness in intelligence, in the context of confronting the challenges of big data. You are invited to read our stuff on our website, the Institute for the Research of the Methodology of Intelligence.
Yossi Kuperwasser: And third, we want to cater to them information that is out there. They don't have time to read. It's so busy. So we cater to them this kind of information - information that's coming from the academia, information that's coming from foreign intelligence communities, information that's coming from private - the business sector that is also developing all kinds of capabilities that are relevant for intelligence. And we also hold all kinds of seminars on issues that are important for the intelligence community. It's very helpful.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Recently, we are embarking on a new project of academization. And strangely enough, Israel has a very impressive intelligence community. But it has no structured studies of intelligence in the academia, something that you find all over the United States and in Europe. So we are now in the midst of an effort to develop academicization in the Israeli academic sphere. We hope that by next year we shall be able to start providing lessons on courses and intelligence. We have some courses here and there already. We are going to integrate them into our system. And we get a lot of help from the people who deal with this matter around the world in organizations like International Association for Intelligence Education, IAFIE. They help us a lot on that matter, and other groups around the world are there to assist us in this huge effort. And we believe that this is going to be very contributing for professionalizing intelligence in Israel.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. You've had quite the life in Israeli intelligence. Where are you coming to us from now, Yossi? Are you in Jerusalem?
Yossi Kuperwasser: No, small town outside of Tel Aviv. Yes.
Andrew Hammond: Tel Aviv. I visited Israel in 2008, and I became obsessed with shakshuka. I've been perfecting my recipe ever since.
Yossi Kuperwasser: I hope you're doing it well.
Andrew Hammond: I'm trying. I'm trying.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Put a lot of hot stuff in it.
Andrew Hammond: Exactly.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time, Yossi. It's been a pleasure to speak to you.
Yossi Kuperwasser: Same here, Andrew. Thank you very much.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Please follow us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @IntlSpyCast. Coming up on next week's show...
Unidentified Person: Secrets revealed - highlights from the Grant Verstandig collection. Private collections usually stay private, especially when they're related to espionage and intelligence. These items are on public display together for the first time here at the International Spy Museum. This is your chance to steal a look and hear spy curators discuss artifacts like the Neptune Monograph circa 1944, a hand-drawn sketch by Mata Hari herself and even a rectal concealment kit.
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