back to article Brits need chutzpah to copy Israeli cyberspies' tech creche – ex-spooks

Israel's intelligence agency, Unit 8200, has been a production line for hi-tech startups since the 1980s, a success British politicians are now seeking to emulate. Yet replicating that success in Blighty may be difficult because of cultural and environmental differences that may prove difficult to overcome. Cabinet Office …

  1. asdf Silver badge


    >need chutzpah

    Hopefully not the kind of chutzpah where the UK intel services will be forging other countries passports to enter a third country to assassinate people. Careful with that copying thing. Can be a fine line.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: hmm

      Perhaps you prefer the British/American model of using airstrikes, and bad luck to anyone else who is nearby

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Steven Jones

        Re: hmm

        Strange, I could have sworn I'd read stories of Israeli air strikes where there had been "collateral damage".

        1. stygis

          Re: hmm

          It's not the same, the Israeli's deliberately target civilians so it can't be called collateral damage...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: hmm

        @ A/C

        Admittedly many innocent lives have been lost due to "collateral damage", but I don't recall incidents of Britain / America intentionally murdering foreign scientists (unarmed civilians) using airstrikes.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OY VEY!

    Not EVIL at all this, is it?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Britain is not Israel.

    It's not because you rub shoulders with Bill Gates that you become a millionaire.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Britain is not Israel.

      But if you're in the same room as Bill Gates it does wonders for your average net wealth!

      I'll get me coat..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Britain is not Israel.

      Yep. On more than one account:

      1. Britain does not have draft and mandatory miltary service. So the constant influx of sufficiently qualified and free labour for the entry analyst tier is not there.

      2. Britain is not paying anything like what Israel is paying the tecnical permies in their security services. AFAIK the professionals there are being paid salaries that are on par with the private sector. Compared to that GCHQ pays 19K (as advertised on the reg).

      So instead of Chutzpah it needs Shekels and the culture to _PAY_ those Shekels for technical expertise (instead of paying for "independent" school alumni club membership). Plain and simple. Or a draft. Or both.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Britain is not Israel.

        "Or a draft. "

        The British army conscription programme was well-known for assigning qualified bakers to be vehicle mechanics - and car mechanics to be cooks.

  4. DropBear Silver badge

    "they have very solid experience with very demanding 'real world' situations, towards mission critical goals – working long hours, weekends, etc – and both short term and long term goals can change rapidly pending on their military assignment. This is almost like 'startup bootcamp', if you will."

    Not "almost like". That is bootcamp, the real deal, full stop. I bet companies would loooove to extend the concept into other areas as well beyond the 24/7/365 working hours - say, flat-out court martial the least productive employee of the month for high treason...

    "This isn't to say Americans aren't aggressive in business - just that Israelis, even young, inexperienced in the business world, fresh out of the military, are more likely to go out into the world and try their luck..."

    And what, pray tell, should those "hypothetical American counterparts" use as start-up capital in their (multiple) bold endeavours - that student debt they're already drowning in...?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't worry, it will never happen

    And that's because the culture of the civil service is completely alien to the entrepreneurial and commercial skills required in any startup company. Many years ago I worked in tech at the UK military/civil service coalface, and the civil servants were with almost without exceptions a nightmare bunch of "computer says no" types, for whom doing nothing was preferable to anything else, and who would always defer to authority and to process.

    From the stories I hear now, little has changed. A key part of the problem was the control that interview panels had on promotion, effectively a way of dis-empowering individual managers, and empowering the establishment culture of the civil service. So the yes men got promoted, and if you didn't fit you would be neither promoted, nor sacked.

    So the chances of finding entrepreneurial, disruptive IT genius on a starting salary of £18k down at Cheltenham are very slim indeed.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Don't worry, it will never happen

      It works both ways. Back in the 90s I was trying to hire super-computer modelling experts on fixed civil service pay scales, so every new graduate got hired as a senior scientific officer. Then to pay them more we had to up their grade even further. It meant that high level meetings were a bit bizarre - because meeting attendance was by rank there would be a single 50/60 year old veteran from each other division and 20x 25year olds in T-shirts from computer modeling.

      A friend in the army made Lt Colonel very quickly for the same reason, he was a communications expert and everytime he got a job offer from industry they would promote him to up his pay.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Don't worry, it will never happen

        "They've had to stuff the Newcastle one full of Accenture staff and they'll likely have to do the same with the Manchester one with Capgemini staff."

        ..and people still wonder why government IT projects fail.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the same reason F1 is British

    There are no other jobs in Israel.

    You get good grades in maths and science and then there are no jobs. Outside the defense sector there are no big employers, no 'city' jobs for quants. You have a choice of starting your own company or emigrating.

    It's the same reason the chief engineer at Williams gave for why all the F1 teams are in Britain. If you are a German engineering graduate you can work on BMW, Audi, Porsche, etc. If you are a British graduate your choice is doing the door handles on the Morris Minor or working in F1 (it was a few years ago).

    Anon cos I work in one of those Isreali startups - although in the USA.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    "Outside the defense sector there are no big employers, no 'city' jobs for quants."

    From a societal standpoint, I am not sure that is a bad thing!

    Israeli intelligence is also constantly bringing in new draftees, and siphoning out older ones who have completed their service. GCHQ doesn't really do that, once you are in, you are in for a long time unless its not a good match or you screw things up. It's those young people leaving and the culture that it is OK to leave and take your skills elsewhere that drives a lot of the startup creation.

    Also, post-Snowden, I think there is going t be a lot more concern about buying IT gear from folks who have past-ties to intelligence service X. Perhaps I am a little on the paranoid side, but I would rather buy fairly comparable gear from a company that didn't have those ties vs. one that did and may be susceptible to inserting some kind of back door into what is now part of your IT infrastructure.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      I think the point is that in Silicon Valley everyone joins a startup because it guarantees you will be a millionaire by 25 ;-) In the UK, or US east-coast there will be a queue of big corporations offering you a technical job, and a bunch of banks offering you a loads-a-money job. In France you will be given a government job for life.

      In Israel I think the choice is much more limited to army, start your own company, leave.

    2. ReflectOnLight

      Trace the angle money of those start-ups back and you end up in the intelligence service. Your US and British tax money (given to Israel) at work to spy on you. Facebook, and all the rest treat you as the product.

      1. henryd

        British tax money to Israel? Please quote when and how much

  8. nematoad Silver badge

    The trouble is...

    ... that these so called security experts will keep in touch with their alma mater.

    Would you really trust anyone who has been trained by GCHQ to have the best interest of the general public at heart or would there be the suspicion that this poacher turned gamekeeper is not really on your side?

    You might be able to take the person out of GCHQ but could you take GCHQ out of the person?

    Personally I wouldn't touch an ex-GCHQ startup with a bargepole.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: The trouble is...

      You beat me to the punch; in general once someone has been 'in' intelligence they are never really out.

      Spooks have a tendency to stay spooky.

      I had a mate who was a super trooper for a while, when he came out he got a job as a clerk in a nondescript HMG building in London.

      As a clerk the range of 'company ' cars he used to drive was unusual to say the least, not to mention the traveling his clerical duties required.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: The trouble is...

        Let me guess, he's employed by "Universal Exports"?

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: The trouble is...

          Could be "World Travel".

          Reference too old? See imdb title tt0053496

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

            Re: The trouble is...

            The shoe-phone is a dead giveaway :)

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The trouble is...

        "Spooks have a tendency to stay spooky."

        The thing about working for such organisations is that they can be (and are) recalled to service without notice or the ability to say no.

        Once they have their hooks into you, you're stuck with them for life.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      AI and AAA Troubling Leading Question ..... ?:-)

      You might be able to take the person out of GCHQ but could you take GCHQ out of the person?

      Personally I wouldn't touch an ex-GCHQ startup with a bargepole. …. nematode

      The same should not be true of GCHQ, nematode, if they are to have chance/hope at all of providing intelligence lead and leads in order to remotely anonymously command and virtually autonomously control both the creative and destructive cyberspace and timely informed domains, for IT is that which supplies the realities perceived of existence and lives lived in an animal kingdom.

      GCHQ should be courting and showering those with everything that their beaux tell and assure them and ensure is certainly needed and highly desirable.

      However, such is something of an enigmatic Catch 22 dilemma for one party, and titanic zeroday vulnerability exploit opportunity for the other party, for the failure of one to make an enduring satisfying and exciting approach to the other reveals intelligence and common mutually beneficial positively reinforcing intent is missing, and that fact can be used to devastating effect.

      Indeed, in deed it may also be the positions of the one and the other can be reversed to suggest that an enigmatic Catch 22 dilemma may also presume to sour and divert the course of an attractive intelligence asset ……. although such would certainly be just the forlorn hope of that which be exposed and revealed as being catastrophically intellectually challenged and realistically effectively defenceless to considerably smart attack vectors/state services/non-state agents/renegade pirate rogues/right royal knights.

      And a good fit for a Nigel? ……..

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Israeli "Yiddisher momma" stereotype is not a myth - and good education results are the key to getting a decent job. In spite of that - Israeli kids do get treated as near-adults a lot earlier than in the UK. Back in the 1970s a school group of 17 year old boys and girls would spend 10 days working on a kibbutz to remind them of that aspect of their roots. They had mixed bunk rooms - and the accompanying teachers' role was only to coordinate with the kibbutz.

    At about 15/16 schoolchildren are assigned a civil organisation for whom they do volunteer work during the year. This includes some paramilitary organisations with whom they get preliminary weapons training on firing ranges.

    The Jerusalem Post newspaper once remarked that it would be nice if Israelis could acquire a bit of the British ability to compromise. They show little deference to authority. Apocryphally if two people meet in a doorway they are likely to both stay jammed rather than one back out. Chutzpah is a way of life.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have some family in Israel, but they are not part of the tech environment.

      That being said I work with a lot of Israeli tech people. They are VERY smart. If your dealing with coders in a startup, the code tends to be more "quick hack, make it work" instead of elegant easy to follow, stable code.

      That being said, on the corporate side, longevity is not a strong area (ie average lifespan in a job role being 18-24 months), so turnover can be a royal pain.

      I have spent quite a time in meetings and otherwise interacting with Israeli techies, and they are a great group to work with. Beyond secuity, Israel is huge on data storage.

      The averge US tech person entering the market has no base to stand on, as our educational system does not push that.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do you replicate a country like Israel?

    One that is in the shit 24/7 but still manages to survive. Not that I'd want war, but I do think peace makes us lazy.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. ZSn


    The other problem is the security requirements for GCHQ. You can't have lived abroad for more than six months in the last ten years, you can't have anything other than pure bred British relatives etc. etc. Then you have the civil service mentality on top of that - I guess that they are remakably 'inbred'. Also the Israelis work all the time that they have, another quality the civil service lacks.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Inbred?

      Such leads to incestuous perversions and Frankenstein like abominations, ZSn, which lead no one anywhere sensible and sensitive and believable. And that is practically useless in this day and age.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Start a 'war without end' with someone local (preferably everyone), big up their capabilities; make it an existential threat. Bring back conscription for all, insist on building your own weapons (freebies also accepted) with a particular emphasis on hi tech, cutting edge stuff; generally build your economy round being at war and invest heavily in companies repurposing the military tech civilian uses and for export. Lastly, ensure plenty of eternal political support by making going into politics the next logical step from a high flying military career - the media giving generals Rock Star status helps.

    Wait for the cash to roll in!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy

      Doesn't seem to have worked for Pakistan.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Easy

        It might not work for Pakistan as a whole, but then they did miss out most of the steps. And I think you'll find the army brass and the ISI do very nicely out of controlling the majority of the economy.

    2. Flat Phillip
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Easy

      This isn't one of those "declare war on France" things some Brits like to go on about; especially after a few beers? It's pretty local and there has been some history with you two.

      Seems like a pretty extreme thing to do just to get some firewall startups.

  13. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Wow! (at some of the posts)

    I don't think the skills are transferrable to the UK mainly because of tremendous differences between the nations.

    Where one puts self as a means to serve some greater good the other is advancement for the sake of advancement, where one is based on group, national, familial and personal existence the other is based on one-up-manship?

  14. DrTeeth

    Lower ranks not on merit.

    Every officer in the Israeli army becomes a lieutenant before their obligatory service finishes. The moment they sign on for more service the automatically become a captain.

    There is a joke in the Israeli army, "How do you turn a second-lieutenant into a Major? You tie him to a tree and wait".

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Lower ranks not on merit.

      Whereas in the British Army they become an officer the moment they are put down for the correct public school?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lower ranks not on merit.

        Speaking as a (Reserve) officer - the proportion of Army officers who are former public schoolgirls/schoolboys is quite low. They do tend to be a little insufferable. Just stay away from Guards and Cavalry regiments and it's generally good.

  15. DrTeeth

    It's a shit-hole

    Israel is a shit-hole to live in if you have manners. My father was born there, 99% of my family lives there and I did military service there for 3 years. It is not chutzpah the Israelis have. They are bloody rude, the country is awash in pointless red tape just like all ex-British colonies. Israelis do not queue - you get to (what you think is your turn) and 4-5 people come out of nowhere to say that they were there. It's a shame Israelis cannot learn manners from their globe-trotting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's a shit-hole

      To be fair, they're rude as fuck, but they're quite happy to take as good as they give out. Doesn't make for a polite society, but they're good value if you like a robust argument or two.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: It's a shit-hole

        "To be fair, they're rude as fuck, but they're quite happy to take as good as they give out."

        From other israelis perhaps. If you have to deal with one in another country and you point out the chuntzpah, you're likely to see a song and dance routine about "poor picked upon me".

        A good chunk of israeli chuntzpah stems from the national indoctrination that they're God's Chosen People returned to God's Chosen Land and everyone else is inferior.

        1. henryd

          Re: It's a shit-hole

          Speaking as a British born Israeli I can speak with more authority than most of the twerps commenting here.

          I much prefer the forthright say-what-you mean attitude of Israelis (a.k.a. rudeness to some people) that the totally insincere politeness of Brits. Its only rude if you take offence and my fellow Israelis certainly don't take offence just because someone says what he means.

          When a Brit politely asks after your health you can be sure he doesn't give a shit and is just going through the motions. When an Israeli asks he really wants to know and will offer plenty of free advice as how to improve it. If you get offended and call it chutzpah, well poor you.

          Finally regarding the last point. You mean we aren't the chosen people? Now I'm offended.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's a shit-hole

      What I have found is that they are either very rude or very friendly and kind, and almost nothing in between.

  16. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

    Apples to Apples?

    Former soldiers at Israel’s Intelligence Corps have set up perhaps hundreds of infosec start-ups. In contrast, tech firms hiring ex-NSA or GCHQ staffers remain something of a rarity.

    I know the bulk of the article focused on the UK side of the comparison, but in the US, there are other government entities that generate tech start-ups. A quick search of our national labs and DARPA should provide some backup for this assertion.

  17. an it guy

    non-stick frying pans from the space race?

    um. no.

    Teflon was a commercial invention* that nearly flopped as a commercial product because it was marketed as a 'no-oil' product. It was remarketed as 'non-stick' and then took off.

    *even 'commercial invention' is a misnomer. It was found when two scientists who were trying to work out an alternative to CFC's for a refrigerant realised a gas canister filled with tetrafluoroethene had no gas in it, but had the right weight for it to be full. They then sawed the canister open, and found teflon at the bottom as a white 'plastic'. For reference, a corroded valve provided enough iron (or nickel, I forget that detail) to catalyse the reaction to PTFE (PolyTetraFluoroEthene).

    Boffin icon because, well I've researched this quite a bit

  18. Claire Sweet


    Didn't the UK already have this in the form of Qinetiq - UKs Q Branch ??

    Then they sold the lot.

  19. Levente Szileszky

    Sounds like the scariest example of...

    ...Eisenhower's feared rise of an omnipresent, overarching military-industrial complex.

  20. Inachu

    Need to go back in time and remove the balfour party members from the face of this earth then fast forward back today and europe will be more secure. Barbara Spectre will be labeled as a moron and sent to the insane asylum.

    Europe will be more secure but will just need to protect itself from script kiddies hackers.

    The WTC towers would still be standing and zionism will be laughed at in the same manner of scientology and ufo cults as they should be.


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