Ex-Israeli security chief: Big data key to anti-terrorist fight

The former head of the Israel Security Agency's IT unit says big data and data analytics—something the U.S. military has been focusing on—have been widely used by the Israeli military and intelligence agencies to track down enemies of the Israeli state, including several senior Hamas leaders killed during the Israeli incursion into Gaza Strip last summer.

"I am telling you with certainty that quite a few [dead] terrorists are looking at us from the sky owing to big data capabilities," Ronen Horowitz told the Web site IsraelDefense.com in his first interview since leaving the intelligence agency, also known as Shin Bet, last October.

Horowitz stressed that the flood of unstructured data in the form of video, images, text and speeches has been utilized to the Israeli military to track down and kill enemies. "A lot is being invested in technologies that attempt to utilize the information and convert it into something that may be analyzed in the big data and then submit to the [analysts] only what had been graded highly so that he or she may process it."

The Israeli Security Agency is credited with carrying out a series of "targeted killings" last summer at the height of the Gaza operation against several senior Hamas leaders. One operation tied to what Horowitz referred to as "information utilization" resulted in a direct hit on a house where the head of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, was supposedly holed up.

Deif's wife and son were killed in the attack, but the fate of the Hamas leader remains unknown.

The origins of the military's big data effort started with in-house software development along with purchases from "giant IT corporations" that Horowitz did not identify. He also said the security agency identified domestic data analysis products while leveraging Israel's bustling technology startup community.

"We purchased the products for the agency and developed them before they had matured on the outside. Active big data out of which you produce alerts—we had developed it quite a few years ago, and it saved the lives of many Israelis," he told the defense Web site.

"We are looking for a needle in a haystack—very weak signals, when the enemy is highly sophisticated."

As with the U.S. military, the Israeli military has long sought a data fusion capability, of which big data represents a scaled up version. The goal is to collect sensor and other data, then combine and format it so that it could be presented to intelligence analysts in a usable form.

The hoped for result is "actionable intelligence."

The rise of social media and ubiquitous streaming video has prompted intelligence agencies to track what U.S. agencies refer to as "human geography" that combines social media and other content to track terrorist threats.

Surrounded by enemies and based on the recent disclosures by Horowitz, the Israel Security Agency appears to be a step ahead in terms of leveraging big data for military operations.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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