Israel’s Intel-Gathering Base Revealed

Posted: September 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

CIA, MI6, Mossad – organizations with name recognition, with clout. But what about Unit 8200, the British Government Communications Headquarters and the American National Security Agency? A little less familiar perhaps, a lot less glamorous certainly, but these signal deciphering bodies are no less important. Even more interesting is the fact that the signal intelligence (SIGINT) gathering base that feeds Israel’s Unit 8200 has gone unnoticed…until now, that is.

According to Le Monde Diplomatique, Urim base is located just under 20 miles away from the Beersheva prison, in the Negev desert. The installation quietly, thoroughly and systematically gathers intelligence across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. With its neatly arranged rows of variously-sized satellite dishes, the base intercepts all means of communications, from phone and email to maritime signals.

The expansive surveillance base, a mile or so north of the Urim kibbutz, is a high-capacity intelligence-gathering hub. The intel gathered therein is used to keep a close watch on governments, organizations, companies and individuals, to monitor the already suspicious and to discover new potential threats. Israel is well-known for the strength of its military, its possession of nuclear weapons and its top notch covert operations, but it is the Urim base that keeps Israel’s ear to the ground, and makes sure that its various security and defense operations are properly informed.

Originally developed decades ago to pick up telephone communications alone (Intelsat), the base’s technology was expanded to intercept maritime communications as well (Inmarsat). It also plugs into other regional satellites, undersea cables and Israeli embassy buildings, creating a network that increases its catchment area. It likely picked up on the communications made by the Gaza ‘aid’ flotilla workers long before the ships began approaching the maritime blockade line.

Of course, gathered data on its own is meaningless – it needs to be deciphered by the analysts over at Unit 8200. In the words of President Obama, the dots need to be connected. Unit 8200 is the body responsible for Israeli signals intelligence. Based in Herzeliya, north of Tel Aviv, Unit 8200 gives meaning to the signals identified at Urim as non-routine, and then passes on the meaningful intelligence to bodies like the military and the Mossad.

Urim targets both enemy and ally nations. With about 30 antennas, it is one of the biggest bases of its kind. Other countries, including the US, the UK and France, have their own bases dedicated to eavesdropping on worldwide communications, but they have been known about for years, whereas Urim has just been discovered…


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