Israel's effort to identify its cybermanpower pool began at least 15 years ago with the establishment of an organization that one of its founders, Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. (ret.) Itzik Ben-Israel, will not name; nor will he reveal the number of people involved. He is currently the chairman of Israel's space agency and a leader of the country's cyber effort.
However, another senior Israeli official said the number of recruits with these “very special traits” is “a couple of dozen a year who are picked from the “top 1/1,000th” of the country's students. There are some U.S. students in the program. Generally, top students are required to have fluent language skills in both Hebrew and English.
The cyberprogram is one of roughly 10 Israeli organizations that select and recruit 17-18-year-olds for specialized educations and training. A few are known. Talpiot (Hebrew for “high tower”) trains specialists in physics and mathmatics. Psagot (“mountain peak”) focuses on physics and electronics engineering. Graduates of these related programs already fill many of the top ranks of Israeli industries.
About two years ago, Ben-Israel was appointed by the prime minister to lead a team of experts to help organize a new office—the National Cyber Headquarters. Its new leader is a graduate of the Talpiot who is encouraging the universities to conduct more research in cybertechnology.
“The cyberspecialty for Israel is not new,” says Ben-Israel. “It became popular after the Russian attack on Estonia in 2007. But we started to be engaged at the beginning of the 1990s, when we realized how vulnerable a modern state is—not just its defenses, but power-production, food supplies and banking. Those institutions are in the private and business sectors, so the government decided to build a new agency in 2002 that would be in charge of protecting critical, private and civilian infrastructure.”
In contrast, the U.S. does not have that kind of protection.
“In Israel we solved it, because threats are visible and concrete,” Ben-Israel says. “People are more willing to give up some of their civil rights to be more protected. We've had those laws for 10 years. In the U.S., they don't see the threats as real.”
Another part of the solution could be an international Internet police to monitor for crime and abuses.
“You need international cooperation,” he says. “Who are the bad guys? You have to answer that question.”
Israeli officials start the screening process for the technologically talented to staff the cyber-organization—just as the military screens for its fighter pilots—at 17 years of age.