Eyeing new spy tech, Mossad says it will pump money into startups

Intelligence agency will invest in technologies, forgoing stake in firm or IP, in return for license to use developments

The Mossad stand at Cybertech 2017 (Courtesy: Gilad Kavalerchik)
The Mossad stand at Cybertech 2017 (Courtesy: Gilad Kavalerchik)

Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, said Tuesday it was setting up a technological innovation fund that will help the agency meet existing and future challenges by tapping into the knowledge generated by startup companies.

Technology is already one of the organization’s main growth engines, the Mossad said. The new fund, called Libertad, will be an additional arm of the Mossad’s technological force buildup.

The agency said it will not expect to receive a stake in the firms into which it will inject funds, and there will be no restrictions on the intellectual property (IP) of the technologies developed, which will belong to the startup. The Mossad will also not require royalty payments from the companies. In return for the investment, however, the Mossad will get a license to use the technology developed.

“It’s a new model we developed that enables the Mossad to pay for technology development and license intellectual property from technology companies,” explained Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who has worked together with the Mossad on the project for over a year.

Typically the Mossad will invest up to NIS 2 million, or some $500,000, per R&D project, and some larger projects may be approved as well, the agency said in a statement.

“Historically, the Mossad has outsourced technologies. What we’re changing today is that we’re no longer just enabling the Mossad to purchase off-the-shelf products, but rather we’re getting the Mossad involved at the early development stage so that it will have more influence and more degrees of freedom with the technology it licenses,” Groner told The Times of Israel.

“The fund we’re launching today will provide the Mossad with heretofore unprecedented access to Israel’s startup technology ecosystem,” he said, and “will ensure that we retain a qualitative technological advantage for the future.”

The Mossad, the Shin Bet security agency and even the Israeli army are stepping out of the shadows and opening up to working with civilian firms, as greater cooperation is needed to win battles that are moving from the field into the cyber sphere. Earlier this year both the Mossad and the Shabak openly took part in a cyber event in Tel Aviv to recruit new talent for their technology units. They are also struggling to retain skilled employees, as the tech sector of the startup nation and its high salaries are drawing the best of talent.

The Mossad on Tuesday called for companies and entrepreneurs involved in cutting-edge technological R&D to submit proposals for funding.

“This is great for startup nation,” Koby Simana, the head of Tel Aviv based IVC-Research Center, which tracks Israel’s high tech industry, said by phone. “Most of these kinds of organizations had been developing most of their products in-house. Now they are more open to cooperation with third parties and it will benefit all sides, because they have specific needs. They can test the technologies and become an additional customer for civilian technologies.”

The Mossad said its areas of interest are: robotic technologies in the various fields for use at land, sea, and air; energy and battery technologies; tools to allow encryption of information at high speeds; software to identify personality traits, for the purpose of personality profiling, based on online behavior and activity; machine learning and automation to help summarize documents and catalog and process data in Hebrew and other languages.

The fund, whose name derives from the Latin word freedom, will allow companies and entrepreneurs in Israel the freedom to create their technologies with the help of the Mossad, and will enable the Mossad to bridge technology gaps, the statement said. Libertad is also the name of a ship that carried Jewish emigrants from Bulgaria to Mandatory Palestine in June 1940, the agency said in an explanatory document.

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