The Spy Who Loved E-Commerce

Israel's notorious Mossad Intelligence Agency has fallen on hard times. Once one of the most feared and revered spy outfits, the Mossad admitted this weekend that it was having difficulty recruiting agents - all because of Israel's high-tech boom.

Things are so bad that last weekend the Mossad launched a national recruiting campaign through ads in Israel's national press and even on Prime Minister Ehud Barak's Web site.

Under the slogan "Mossad is opening up," the print ads read, "We offer you a future and a horizon of service in a field in which you will be able to contribute to what is dearest to all of us." The Mossad joins the likes of the CIA and Britain's MI5 in its desire to come in a little from the cold, but it's surely the first intelligence agency to blame a hiring crisis on the Internet. One former Mossad chief, speaking on an Israeli radio station Sunday, complained that while the older generation had been more committed to Zionism, the new high-tech brigade is only interested in their own personal success.

In the past couple of years, the new economy has flourished in Israel. The amount of foreign capital flowing into Israel jumped from $US190 million in 1997 to $US576 million in 1999, mostly from the U.S. In the first quarter of 2000 alone, foreign investments totaled $US387 million. Seventy Israeli companies are listed on the Nasdaq, and the region ranks third in total U.S. investment after American locales Silicon Valley and Boston. In May, Lucent Technologies (LU) paid more than $4 billion for Chromatis Networks, marking the largest amount ever paid for an Israeli company, and Intel (INTC) is building a $US2 billion plant there.

With its new campaign, the Mossad hopes that by playing on a combination of glamor and national pride, it can compete with the tech-industry juggernaut.

Yet it might still face a problem: The agency says it's looking for independent, resourceful, creative and motivated candidates. Doesn't that sound like a job description for most tech companies?