TV: Shin Bet chief warns a ‘foreign country’ is trying to influence elections

Nadav Argaman cites intelligence of a specific cyberattack being planned, and names country allegedly behind it — but military censor gags details

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The head of the Shin Bet security services warned that a foreign state “intends to intervene” through cyberattacks in Israel’s national elections in April, local television reported Tuesday.

Though Nadav Argaman’s statements Monday were made during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University attended by a large crowd, Israel’s military censor is barring from publication much of what he said, according to Hadashot TV news.

After the network reported on the gag order, the censor permitted some of Argaman’s comments to be quoted, though it continues to ban media from naming the country explicitly mentioned in the internal security chief’s speech.

“I can’t say at this point for whom or against whom” the intervention will be, “but it involves cyber[attacks] and hacking,” Argaman was quoted as saying.

In further quotes carried by Hadashot, Argaman said he was “100% [certain] that [redacted foreign state] will intervene in the upcoming elections, and I know what I’m talking about, I just don’t know in whose favor.”

Argaman also indicated that his warning of the impending cyberattack targeting Israel’s elections was not merely an assessment or expectation, but rather that the Shin Bet had concrete information pointing to a specific opponent preparing a specific attack, according to the report.

Illustrative: A hacker in action. (BeeBright; iStock by Getty Images)

Following the TV report, Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin submitted a request to urgently convene the Knesset’s cyber subcommittee, according to Hadashot.

Another opposition lawmaker called on Israel’s security services to prevent any foreign meddling that could sway the election results.

“We demand the security services make sure that Putin doesn’t steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi,” Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, said in a statement, referring to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The issue of foreign meddling in elections attracted attention following the 2016 US presidential campaign, during which, the American intelligence community has said, Russia interfered on behalf of Donald Trump.

Ahead of municipal elections in October, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said thousands of fake Facebook profile accounts created to spread false information about Israeli political candidates had been taken offline at the agency’s request, in the possible beginnings of a major attempt to influence Israeli voters.

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