Communicating From Within the Shadows: The Israel Security Agency and the Media

Clila Magen, Eytan Gilboa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Communicating with the media is an ongoing complicated task intelligence services tackle from the day they are established. The relationship is inherently tense because one side wishes to reveal what the other wishes to conceal, highlighting the constant contradiction between two major principles: the public's right to know versus the government's duty to protect national security. Reconciling these two principles becomes exceedingly complex during crisis situations because both the media and the public demand to know what is happening and why, whereas intelligence services can offer only limited and often incomplete information, a limitation imposed by the need to protect vital secrets. Moreover, the services frequently face a quandary: they are innately secretive and cannot advertise their accomplishments and successes, but these are commonly exposed when they fail. This distorts the natural balance other organizations are generally able to maintain between failures and achievements and any publicity about them. 1

The relationship between intelligence services and the media can be viewed via two different lenses: operational and reputational. The two are closely linked but, for analytical purposes, differentiating between them is essential. The operational dimension refers to media relations employed by the services to promote such professional activities as psychological warfare, disinformation leaks, and open source intelligence. 2 It also includes the highly controversial practice of recruiting and using journalists for intelligence information gathering. 3 The focus here is on the reputational dimension, exploring both historically and theoretically how intelligence services employ strategic communication to address public concerns.

In so doing, several theoretical principles are taken from the field of public relations (PR) and crisis communication, with the results applied to the historical experience of the internal Israeli Security Agency (ISA). 4 The evidence shows how crises can affect the approaches of services to the media, how inadequate responses can cause substantial damage, and how open-minded security directors can successfully meet the challenges of the information age. The lessons revealed here may be relevant to internal intelligence agencies in other Western liberal democracies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-508
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations


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