The Cognitively Disabled Soldiers Who Handle an Elite IDF Unit’s Most Sensitive Materials

May 25, 2023 | Lior Ohana
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In the U.S., people have been excluded from military service for such minor physical defects as flat feet. Israel, by contrast, has long taken the attitude that every citizen has something to contribute to the people’s army. Most recently, a group of young men and women who suffer from such conditions as autism and deaf-mutism have been assigned to the prestigious and secretive 8200 Unit, responsible for cyberwarfare, where they help to destroy and dispose of computer hardware containing classified information. Lior Ohana speaks with some of the team’s members:

We follow Chief Warrant Officer David, [a pseudonym for the supervising officer], through the gates of the scrapping factory. Piles of shiny equipment pass by us behind huge signs labeled “Classified” and “Top Secret.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Shai, thirty-three years old from Tel Aviv,” a volunteer on the autism spectrum, holding a large screwdriver, introduces himself. “I live with my mom and dad. I really love taking things apart, and that’s why I love being here, and I also love playing on the computer, which goes along with what I do here. Come, let me teach you. First, we need to remove all the screws from the computer drive and search for the hard disk that contains everything we’re not supposed to keep.”

“I’m from Ra’anana, and my dad is also a lieutenant colonel, and I wanted to follow him to the army and volunteer,” says A., twenty. “I enlisted in Unit 8200, and since then I’ve been dismantling, assisting with machines, but mainly sorting, doing what needs to be done. I contribute to the country. . . . That’s what I wanted to do the most. I enlisted, put on the uniform, received a beret, and I’m so happy to be like my dad.”

From the small but significant factory, David and his colleagues primarily want to convey an important message: “There is no shortage of work in all areas of the army,” explains David. “We need more manpower, not just for ourselves but for the entire army. These soldiers here teach us and assist us in an exceptional way.”

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