Using traditional and new big data abilities, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has prevented 250 terror attacks so far in 2018, Director Nadav Argaman told a group of visiting interior security ministers at a closed session of a Jerusalem international conference on terror hosted by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Though Argaman’s presentation was closed to the public, the Shin Bet provided a summary to the media.
Argaman said that the agency had succeeded in blocking major terror attacks involving suicide bombings, kidnappings and shootings.
The Shin Bet chief said that especially big data abilities had helped the agency to hone in on lone wolf attackers in a way that had been impossible before Israeli intelligence advanced its abilities in massively tracking postings on social media.
He said that the Shin Bet was striking the right balance between continuing its effective human intelligence collection programs and new cyber intelligence gathering abilities, and that one of his flagship issues had been to stay ahead of the curve in using technology to fight terror.
Previously, Argaman has disclosed that the Shin Bet’s technological workforce under him has jumped from single digits to representing around one-quarter of the work force.
Argaman also emphasized that importance of “strategic cooperation with our international partners in Israel and overseas as well as with the Israeli hi-tech community and other civilian bodies.”
In May, the Jerusalem Post exclusively obtained an article by Argaman written in an intelligence journal in which he wrote that while the Shin Bet was using big data in powerful ways to fight terror, that “the world of big data and cyber confronts the intelligence community with more complex challenges than ever before.”
He wrote in that article that, “looking forward, our enemies are not stagnant, as the world of big data develops and broadens and technology is becoming more advanced every minute.”
In December, Argaman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the agency had thwarted over 400 terrorist attacks in 2017, including 13 suicide attacks and 8 kidnappings, as well as 1,100 potential lone-wolf attacks.
He further noted at that time that in 2017, 54 attacks were successfully carried out, in comparison with 108 successful attacks in 2016.
In 2016, the Shin Bet stopped 344 major attacks, meaning the total number of thwarted and successful attacks was similar for 2016 and 2017, but the security agency succeeded in thwarting more of them in 2017.
The major improvement was seen in the 400 potential lone-wolf attacks prevented in 2016, compared to 1,100 such potential attacks in 2017.
Those numbers, however, are the subject of much debate.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials in several countries have told The Jerusalem Post that while Israel is a pioneer in discerning and stopping potential lone-wolf attackers before they launch an attack, the line between busting people for social media posts that are free speech and those that are dangerous incitement is a fine one.
Some of those officials refuse to use such statistics to boost their credibility when reporting to their own legislative bodies, viewing the category of “potential attacker” as being too amorphous. Sometimes the Shin Bet thwarts potential attackers by arresting them, but sometimes it counters them on social media or has a serious sit-down talk and merely issues a warning.