JERUSALEM - Israel lifted the veil over its secret services' recruiting practices on Wednesday with a public call for more women and foreign Jews to sign up for sensitive government jobs in information technology.

Israel's Military Intelligence and the Mossad and Shin Bet spy agencies are believed to have world-class electronic eavesdropping facilities, but officials have long complained of qualified candidates being lured away by private hi-tech firms.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement that he had ordered his security chiefs to seek out more female employees for "high-end" technological duties "in order to better exploit the potential human resources in Israel".

Olmert further said Israel should explore new ways of encouraging foreign Jewish youths with strong academic backgrounds to immigrate "and contribute to the defence establishment in a range of science and technology roles".

Like many of their counterparts abroad, Israel's secret services for decades relied on an old-boy network, coupled with the appeal of the spy mystique, to keep personnel replenished.

But that drawing power has waned in recent years with the emergence of a lucrative Israeli hi-tech sector and a series of headline-making intelligence bungles.

"The concern was that we were losing out on quality people," said Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad director who spearheaded the new recruitment drive by running open ads in Hebrew and English newspapers.

Mossad and Shin Bet have since launched Web sites, while Israeli youths who get drafted are allowed to apply for Military Intelligence posts that were previously "by invitation only".

While Jewish men and women are conscripted to Israel's military, women have a shorter mandatory service terms and are less likely to take roles requiring extensive training.

That affects demographics in the Mossad, Shin Bet, and Military Intelligence's career-officer corps, which depend on recently discharged draftees for their recruitment pool. "There are a lot of women serving already, but most of them end up in administrative roles," a retired intelligence operative said on condition of anonymity.

Israel's intelligence service chiefs have all been men, though the Mossad did have one female deputy director.

The Shin Bet, which monitors pro-Palestinian militants and Jewish ultranationalist vigilantes, last year announced it was seeking recruits from among Israeli women who opt for non-military national service when they turn 18.