To be (online) or not to be? Is that a question? Exploring new media strategies of the Israeli intelligence services


Throughout their existence, the Israeli intelligence services have maintained a very high degree of secrecy, even though behind the scenes informal connections with journalists for the sake of various organizational objectives always took place to some extent. Since the start of the 21st century, these organizations have faced an unfamiliar challenge: should they embrace and take an active part in new media to achieve their goals, and if so, how to accomplish this? Existing research focuses mainly on the operative dimension of new media in intelligence services (Big Data, SOCINT- Social Intelligence, open-source intelligence). There is an overall dearth of research within security studies addressing new media use by Western intelligence services from the standpoint of strategic communication and public relations. This has been an ongoing issue for the past two decades and will continue to accompany these organizations for a long time; surprisingly, the research in this area is extremely sparse.

In this study, we examine the nature and scope of the adoption of new media tools by two Israeli intelligence services (Mossad and ISA). We offer a typology of the main functions that these methods fulfill in the services. The research design includes both quantitative and qualitative methods, with the study's corpus including written and visual texts from the following platforms: the organizations’ websites, Facebook, Blogs, and YouTube channel. For the purpose of triangulation, data were retrieved from printed newspapers, online news websites, and professional journals in which the subject of new media tool adoption by intelligence services was discussed. This enabled us to learn about technical aspects (at what pace the organizations adopted the various platforms when the major improvements and updates were made), as well as more essential aspects (what was the rationale behind the move, etc.).

The findings demonstrate that the most important and prominent function of these organizations' new media utilization has been the recruitment of manpower. In fact, it seems that this was the main motivation pushing the ISA and the Mossad to create their websites, to establish a Facebook page, and to use their YouTube channel for 'marketing' the organizations to potential personnel. Other functions that were identified, though much less central, were creation of an online historical national heritage, reputational management, and finally
internal solidarity and

Interestingly, there is a wide gap between the technical and practical aspects of new media utilization. On the one hand, the organizations established several online platforms. On the other hand, these have been used very sparingly. Throughout 2019, only 42 posts were posted by the ISA and only 31 by the Mossad. In addition, these organizations have tended to use new media tools in a 'monologist' fashion, avoiding dialogic communication that reflects the basic set of characteristics of these platforms. Strategically, the services have stuck to traditional perceptions in which the less the public knows about them the better.