Israeli army signs up 'Rain Man' image analysts

Unit 9900 recuits autistic youth for their exceptional abilities

20 February, 18:25

    This image dated Friday April 28, 2006 and  provided by the Eros B Israeli spy satellite shows a high-quality image showing the Kassala Airport  in the southern Sudan This image dated Friday April 28, 2006 and provided by the Eros B Israeli spy satellite shows a high-quality image showing the Kassala Airport in the southern Sudan

    (by Massimo Lomonaco) (ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 20 - The Israeli army has decided to continue enlisting autistic youths to take advantage of the extraordinary visual abilities some of them have to spot even the most imperceptible change in images. The young recruits are placed in Unit 9900: an elite, highly specialized corps of military intelligence. Its task is to study data and images transmitted by Israeli satellites orbiting the earth and provide detailed, sensitive information to field commanders to enable them to make the best decisions possible. The program - part of a plan to integrate autistic youths into society - was drawn up by the Tel Aviv Ono academic center with the involvement of the army after getting approval from Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. For the past four years the Tzahal (the Israeli army) has been enlisting autistic youths. The first was Zohar Peer, 21, who in 2010 was the first to wear an Israeli military uniform - to his immense joy and that of his family, the media reported at that time. An investigative report by Channel 10 found, however, that it was in November that the decision was made to use some of the youths in Unit 9900 due to their incomparable abilities to analyze images. The televised report noted that the results were seen immediately, giving truth to the saying by well-known British military strategist and historian Sir Basil Liddel Hartel, who once said that ''the profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men''.

    The work of the young 'Rain Men' (title of a film starring Dustin Hoffman, who plays an autistic man with prodigious mathematical abilities) in uniform consists in studying satellite images of buildings, zones, and objectives on a computer - most of the time the same but from different angles and at different times. The recruits have proved that they are able to pick up on the tiniest changes that would not have been noticed by their fellow soldiers. ''In this way,'' their commander has said, ''they save human lives'', since the fighters get more accurate information. The training lasts a few months, in which the youths are taught how to go on their own between the base and their homes, in order to make them feel as autonomous as possible and to enable them to gain greater faith in their abilities.

    Channel 2 reports that the project seems to make many people happy: the recruits, who no longer feel marginalized; their families, who struggle against social discrimination; the army, which gains important information; and the directors of the Ono academic center, who have been able to see their theories put into practice. (ANSAmed).

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