Israel is, for the first time, openly recruiting women to be field agents for overseas espionage and whatever needs to be done. It has long been known that some 40 percent of Mossad personnel were women, including over 20 percent of senior technical and management jobs. It was also no secret that some women were agents working outside Israel. But the recruiting of women specifically for the highly dangerous agent job was always done quietly. No more.
This new recruiting program is no surprise either because since 2014 Israel’s main intelligence agency, Mossad (Hebrew for Institute) has been a lot more active in recruiting new agents and specialists. This is because the chaos following the 2011 Arab Spring plus the continuing threat from Iran and the radicalization of more Moslems in the West (where the left has declared Israel the “new Nazis” and actively support Islamic terrorist groups) has given Mossad more work. Not surprisingly Mossad has applied the imagination and inventiveness they practice in their work by developing new recruiting methods. Some of the new ideas are updated versions of that worked in the past. For example, during World War II Britain recruited suitable new intelligence operatives by posting word puzzles in newspapers and asked those who could solve them to send their answers to a seemingly non-government address. There was actually a series of puzzles and those who managed to decode them all were asked to join. For decades after World War II it was generally kept quiet that a lot of those British spies were women, many of whom died in occupied Europe. Some of those British spies were Jewish and moved to Israel where many World War II espionage techniques were compiled by the new Iaraeli intelligence services and continue to show up. Mossad recently used the same basic British World War II concept, with the puzzles revealing clues for what was described as a simulated espionage mission where the puzzles had to be correctly decoded and interpreted to advance. Those who completed all the puzzles were asked to apply for a job in Mossad. It was later revealed that many of those who completed the puzzle were not interested in a job in intelligence but just enjoyed solving puzzles. This apparently also happened during World War II.
Mossad began the new recruiting effort with a series of impressively produced videos released in 2014 on their redesigned recruiting web site. The Mossad let it be known that they needed all the highly talented recruits it could get to continue its work. Many Mossad victories are still classified, but they are known to have won many such classified (or little known) victories that have saved the lives of thousands of Israelis. Mossad admitted that this was done with a few carefully selected and intensively trained operatives. Details of these operatives, like how many were women, are still state secrets.
Mossad has always been keen on new technology and has been recruiting via a web site since the late 1990s but some of the early efforts had problems. In late 2002 Mossad posted a dazzling recruiting ad on the web. The use of web based eye candy was impressive, especially the way graphics dissolved to an application form. Fortunately for Mossad, the first hackers to take a shot at the Mossad ad were friendlies, who quickly reported that the security on the recruiting site was virtually non-existent, making it possible for a hacker to grab data applicants left for consideration. The site was taken down quickly so that the code could be changed to encrypt application data. These attacks continue, especially from Arab countries. One reason Mossad has survived and thrived for so long is because it has always been willing to try new things and if they don’t work, quickly admit it and fix it.
In 2004 the Mossad added a web site for information gathering. This encouraged Israelis, or anyone else, who could provide information that would help Israeli security to do so. Mossad has always depended on many more part timers and informants and this was an effort to build on that. The 2004 web based effort received more than 350,000 visitors in its first 48 hours. The Mossad site also took in over 2,500 job applications. This use of the web continues and apparently resulted in some good suggestions for new recruiting methods.
Officially known as ha-Mossad le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim (The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks), and established in 1951, Mossad is a small organization, with fewer than 2,000 full time staff. In its first few decades, Mossad had a major advantage over intelligence agencies in any other nation. That was because in the first few years after Israel was founded in 1948 over a million Jews from all over the world moved to Israel. This proved to be a gold mine of candidates for an organization that analyzed and spied on foreign countries. All these immigrants spoke the language of their former home countries like natives, and understood the culture. Thousands of these immigrants joined Mossad over the years, and some of them went back to the countries they were born and raised to gather information and set up networks of spies. Mossad was thus exceptionally effective at what it did despite Israel’s small size. Mossad became the envy of much larger intelligence agencies in places like the United States and the Soviet Union. But that pioneer generation is gone now, and Israel has to work harder to maintain personnel standards Mossad has long been accustomed to.
A large influx of migrants from Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1980s gave Israel more Mossad candidates expert in those countries, but the biggest danger is still from Arab countries plus Iran and Pakistan. Many Israelis still learn to speak Arabic, but they usually only know the Palestinian dialects. Every Arab country has a quite distinct dialect, and cultural customs as well. So Mossad is recruiting more energetically than it ever has had to do in the past.
Once a qualified recruit is accepted it takes years of effort and millions of dollars to turn that new hire into a useful operative. It takes about two years to fully train a Mossad “katsa” (field intelligence officer), with the recruit being required to learn covert entry (burglary), foot and vehicle surveillance/counter-surveillance, how to approach potential agents for recruitment, Arab culture and info on the militaries and security services of the Arab world, report writing, and covert communications. For many female trainees there are courses on how to handle flirting with subjects (you wish to recruit, use as a source or assassinate) and exploiting any local myths and illusions about female secret agents. Operatives also have to be taught how to defend themselves with pistols, requiring an intensive crash course is how to fight with a handgun in all kinds of settings, like in a car or sitting down in a restaurant. This sort of training was administered to the World War II female agents and some became quite good at it and were able to service dangerous situations because of those skills. Firearms training is more important for Israeli operatives than in other countries since Israel is in a continuous state of war and thus their operators are at more risk for being ambushed while meeting a contact.
None of this is cheap, in terms of time and money. Furthermore, espionage itself is an extremely expensive game. Lots of local sources are bribed for the information they provide, and the better the intelligence provided, the higher the price, with some highly placed foreign sources making thousands of dollars per item they deliver. Lots of introductions and recruitments take place in restaurant or bar-type settings, with the case officer picking up the tab (another psychological tactic for befriending potential agents). Finally, equipment such as bugging devices, counterbugging devices, specialized vehicles, forged passports and documents, standard-issue handguns, and a multitude of other items are not cheap either, as they often have to be specially developed by technicians in an in-house “spygear” department. Thus Mossad not only needs more field agents but also those who can come with new gadgets, or improvements on old ones to help keep the field agents alive and effective.