In a searingly hot afternoon at a campuslike new science park in Beer Sheva, southern Israel, I watched as a group of bright, geeky teenagers presented their graduation projects. Parents and uniformed army personnel milled around a windowless room packed with tables holding laptops, phones or other gadgets. There was excited chatter and a pungent smell of adolescent sweat. This was a recent graduation ceremony for Magshimim (which roughly translates as “fulfilment”), the three-year after-school programme for 16 to 18-year-old students with exceptional computer coding and hacking skills. Magshimim serves as a feeder system for potential recruits to Unit 8200, the Israeli military’s legendary high-tech spy agency, considered by intelligence analysts to be one of the most formidable of its kind in the world. Unit 8200, or shmone matayim as it’s called in Hebrew, is the equivalent of America’s National Security Agency and the largest single military unit in the Israel Defence Forces. It is also an elite institution whose graduates, after leaving service, can parlay their cutting-edge snooping and hacking skills into jobs in Israel, Silicon Valley or Boston’s high-tech corridor. The authors of Start-up Nation, the seminal 2009 book about Israel’s start-up culture, described 8200 and the Israeli military’s other elite units as “the nation’s equivalent of Harvard, Princeton and Yale”.