Got this response from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office today for both the Facebook and YouTube stories:
Regulations stipulate that it is not permissible to film or take pictures inside any IDF facility or during an IDF operation unless the photographer has express permission. These regulations are designed to prevent people without proper security clearance from accessing classified information and the appearance of such materials in the press or on the internet. The IDF is working to raise awareness among soldiers and reservists about operational and security dangers that maybe caused by classified information carelessly uploaded to the internet. The IDF is taking a broad response to the problem, which includes education, monitoring and disciplinary enforcement.
And now, on to the story:
Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of photographs of classified Israeli military information are available freely for perusal on the popular Facebook social networking Web site. [PICTURES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST].
I found several dozen photographs, posted by former and currently serving IDF soldiers that show the interiors and exteriors of army bases, IAF air traffic control towers and their electronic equipment, weapons systems on navy vessels, types and amounts of weapons used by infantry battalions. Also shown are names and numbers of infantry and reconnaissance units, infantry training grounds and fighting formations, undercover forces training, and much more.
I decided to publish only a very small fraction of the photographs found – and only those whose content is relatively banal. Contacted over the weekend, the Defense Ministry said it was well aware of the serious threat to national security that was represented by the indiscriminate publication of photographs and other materials by soldiers on social network Web sites.
The Defense Ministry told said on Friday that anyone caught posting classified materials onto the Internet would be court-martialed. The ministry said it had no information indicating that foreign intelligence services and terrorist groups were making use of the plethora of photographs and information on Facebook to gather intelligence on the IDF. But sources within the IDF confirmed that the army was racing against time to track down and remove classified information from the popular site.
Several months ago, a special IDF unit began scouring Facebook for any signs of Israeli military photographs, maps and text. What the unit found sent shockwaves through the defense establishment: Current and former Israeli soldiers had posted photographs of themselves inside submarines and command and control bunkers, practicing with special weapons, showing off communications equipment and showboating next to air force planes.
Many soldiers had posted the names of their units and where they were currently stationed. So great was the shock that an order was issued from the highest levels of the Defense Ministry to every member of Israel’s security services, including the IDF, navy, IAF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the ministry itself and others to be extremely cautious with what they upload to Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as in their personal blogs.
The special IDF unit, which until now has concentrated on preventing leaks of classified intelligence within the defense establishment itself, is still searching the Web for posted material that could compromise Israeli security; its members are constantly finding leaks.
The problem with Facebook, a ministry representative said, was that it was entirely open to anyone and extremely difficult to monitor and control. The control would have to come from the soldiers themselves, the spokesman said.
The ministry has realized it cannot search the profiles of each IDF soldier on Facebook – there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis with accounts – for signs of classified materials, so it has issued a stern written and verbal warning to soldiers to be more careful.
The IDF’s field intelligence unit classifies photographs depicting advanced weapons, weapons storage, training with weapons, the interior of bases as well as their external layout, declaring the name and number unit a soldier is serving in, especially relating to sensitive units, and much more as classified material.
“Clearly, a soldier is committing a crime if he posts a picture of himself in uniform and declares that he belongs to Sayeret Matkal [the highly secretive General Staff Reconnaissance Unit],” the Defense Ministry spokesman said.
However, should that same soldier post a picture of himself and his friends from the elite unit out of uniform and at a barbecue, for instance, that was not a crime. The problem is that those barbecue photos are usually posted on the same profile as the photos showing the soldiers in uniform.
In February, the IAF ordered all pilots with Facebook profiles to remove pictures of themselves in uniform and to delete all mention of their air force service. Several IAF base protection units have Facebook groups, however, with many of the members stating what their jobs were, in which units they served, the location of their bases and during which periods they served. There are also several IAF air traffic control Facebook groups where members have posted photos from within control towers.
Several examples of Israeli military groups on Facebook serve to illustrate the gravity of the situation. A message by the moderator on the discussion board to the 187 members of the IDF information security Facebook group [yes, there is such a group] said: “Guys, I’ve received some complaints that it’s not exactly healthy this group, being field intelligence and information intelligence and all, so do me a favor and don’t talk about anything having to do with classified intelligence please or experiences in field intelligence, otherwise I’ll have to close this group down.”
The group is closed, and members must be invited or approved by an administrator. But anyone who has opened a profile on the “Israel Network” can gain access to the profiles of all the members of this group, see their pictures, read about where they have recently been posted, read their message walls, and see who their friends are.
Another interesting group is “I also served in the Kirya [military headquarters in Tel Aviv].” There are hundreds of members in this group. Surfing through some of their profiles, the Post discovered several photographs taken inside the Kirya, the most sensitive military installation in Israel, which houses the nerve center of the IDF’s command and control apparatus. Some of the pictures even displayed sensitive communications equipment on some of the interior buildings.
Some common sense is starting to creep into IDF Facebook groups.
Take for instance this message on the “Reshef Battalion 402” group: “Guys, so that we won’t be accused in the future and so that we can’t say ‘we didn’t know,’ I’m asking all of you who are posting pictures to select pictures carefully – over the past few months it has come to be known that intelligence agencies and terrorist groups enter these types of Facebook groups on a regular basis, download the pictures and analyze them to gain intelligence about force strength and deployment, weapons use, and IDF plans for certain units. I’m already undertaking some ‘clearance’ of pictures that aren’t supposed to be here. Apart from that, feel free to go mad in this group, just make sure you don’t upload any maps or anything.”
There are also two large Facebook groups started by soldiers themselves that are trying to put a stop to the proliferation of military photos and content on the site.
“Guarding our IDF” and “Can’t you see you’re helping the enemy” have members numbering in the thousands, but their effect has not been registered yet, as the probe reveals.