The Israeli Security Agency (ISA) is a state-run organization responsible for safeguarding state security. ISA’s mission, functions and powers were legislated in the 2002 ISA Statute - a public law, accessible to all.
On 30 June 1948, one month after the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and as the War of Independence was still raging, the Haganah Intelligence Service was dissolved, and the Israeli intelligence community was founded.
This intelligence community consisted of the following branches:
o The Intelligence Service, later to become Aman – in charge of military intelligence, information security, and counterintelligence.
o The Political Division in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, later to become Mossad – responsible for intelligence operations abroad.
o The Internal Intelligence Service, later to become ISA, under Isser Harel – responsible for internal security, primarily the countering of terrorism and domestic political subversion.
On 18 February 1949, the existence of the Security Service was anchored in law (although ISA existence was not revealed to the public until 1957).
The law entrusted ISA with the following missions:
o The countering of foreign espionage
o The countering of domestic political subversion
o Responsibility for the security of vital institutions within Israel and in embassies abroad
The ISA was spread geographically throughout the country with several hundred employees serving as case officers, investigators, operations officers, SIGINT producers, analysts, technology and administrative staff, security officers, and security guards.
In the 1950s and 1960s, ISA’s primary activity was to aid the military administration, counter terrorism and political subversion among Israeli Jews, and counteract foreign espionage from Eastern Europe and Arab countries.
Since 1967, ISA has been deployed in Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, with the purpose of preventing terrorist activity carried out by residents of the Palestinian territories. Following the hijacking of the El Al plane to Algiers in 1968, and the murder of members of the Israeli Olympic team in the 1972 Munich Olympics, ISA established a worldwide security apparatus to protect Israeli targets from terror threats.
The 1980s and 1990s were characterized by the ongoing fight against terrorist activity. During these years, ISA also provided support to IDF forces in Lebanon, exposed the Jewish Underground, solved several cases of espionage and treason, and took part in the political process granting autonomy to the Palestinians, a process that entailed continuous communication between ISA representatives and PA officials.
Alongside its numerous successes, ISA has also known some difficult times – the Bus 300 Affair; many terrorist attacks; the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which revealed severe failures in ISA’s security apparatus, and various investigative committees that reached harsh conclusions. Since then, the organization has applied the many lessons it has learned, and has placed great emphasis on constant learning – debriefings, uncompromising self-evaluation, and the implementation of conclusions are a top priority in ISA.
In February 2002, the Israeli parliament passed the ISA Statute. ISA initiated this legislation, and accompanied the entire legal process.
The ISA Statute establishes four central aspects of ISA activity –
1. Institutional aspect – the status of ISA and the establishment of its powers, its subordination to the government, and the status of ISA Director.
2. ISA functions – ISA’s mission, functions, general powers granted to it (including the authority to conduct interrogations), and specific powers granted (conducting searches, receiving communications data, carrying out security vetting, etc.).
3. Control and supervision – the status of the internal comptroller, the requirement that periodic reports be provided to the Knesset, the government, and the Attorney General, the requirement for external approval of legal ordinances, rules and instructions, and the establishment of an external appeal entity for security checks.
4. Unique aspects to the ISA – the status of internal debriefings, exceptions concerning the responsibility of ISA employees and their proxies, restrictions on ISA employees during and following their period of employment, and instructions regarding confidentiality.
The ISA Statute grants Israel’s prime minister the power to establish ordinances in the various fields regulated by this law. These ordinances are public.
In addition to these ordinances, further instructions, rules and procedures were established. They serve to set internal standards, and are not public information.