Anat Kamm got off lightly. And that was before the court handed down its
sentence last week. Kamm was sentenced to four and a half years in prison,
having made a plea bargain reducing the severity of charges which included
stealing thousands of classified documents from the office of the head of the
IDF’s Central Command, where she served as a soldier, and passing hundreds of
them on to Haaretz
journalist Uri Blau.
Instead of expressing shock at
her sentence, her supporters might wonder at the leniency that allowed her to
spend the period of the investigation, trial and pre-sentencing in the comfort
of her own home. House arrest might not be pleasant but it obviously beats the
alternative. Being denied access to a computer or the ability to have a coffee
out with friends is a real drag; for a pampered 20-something-year-old living in
North Tel Aviv, it must have seemed like the end of the world. But it
The end of the world is what happens when Israel’s enemies get
hold of military secrets. The classification “Secret” is not a recommendation;
it is, in effect, an order.
Israelis, even soldiers, don’t like taking
orders, as we all know.
They do like taking things home with them. Not
work. Equipment. In 2002, I wrote about one of the IDF’s periodic campaigns
encouraging people to return “borrowed” IDF property.
The IDF stuck by
its promise that no questions would be asked.
Much of the equipment that
had gone AWOL (more than NIS 1 million worth, actually) comprised clothing,
boots and everyday items like water bottles and flashlights. The returned loot
also included 14 tents and a mattress.
Among the returned equipment,
however, was a fully functional missile launcher that, judging from the telltale
signs of soil and leaves, had been used as a plant holder, and an old lady gave
back – carefully – two hand grenades. Someone had taken a pair of handcuffs.
(Don’t ask what for.) And a reformed, would-be one-man army returned RPGs,
mortars, machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and grenades, accumulated over
Why do I mention this? Because obviously it shows that the
IDF is interested, above all, in getting most of this materiel out of people’s
Some of this equipment had ended up in the homes of normative
citizens due to either an oversight (an extra pair of uniform pants or so)
during IDF regular or reserve duty, or because of the chaotic conditions in
Nonetheless, it was clear that in many of the cases people set their
sights on the guns and stole them on purpose.
I know the IDF promised no
questions, but I can’t resist asking why would any normal law-abiding person
take home a machine gun in the first place?
And the same question applies in the
Anat Kamm Affair.
She didn’t accidentally come across the documents, copy
them, and take them home (although she did accidentally lose some, worryingly
Kamm didn’t see the files and think: “These would look good on
She stole them on purpose.
She didn’t do it because she
was young, naive or stupid, as her defense attorney would later have us
believe. She did it, as she reportedly told Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency) investigators, because: “There were aspects of IDF operations which I
thought should be brought to the attention of the public.”
Why the public
first and not to the attention of her commander or the Military Police is
another question that begs to be asked.
This was a calculated risk on her
part. But she was taking a risk at the expense of all of us.
not have been able to give the documents back without facing a lot of questions
but she could have destroyed the copies. Instead, she sought a journalist who
would unquestioningly accept them – a sort of publish-and-be-damned philosophy
that has become dangerously fashionable.
When the courts last week handed
out a 12-year sentence to a hit-and-run driver, there were some who queried the
severity of the punishment. Tal Mor had been driving under the influence of
drugs and alcohol when he ploughed into cyclist Shneor Cheshin, without
bothering to stop and help.
Kamm coldly and soberly stole the documents
with her eyes wide open. Four and a half years, under the circumstances,
does not seem to be an overly harsh sentence. True, she didn’t kill anybody – as
far as we know. The problem is, even she doesn’t know what became of the
material she stole.
LAST MONTH, the Justice Ministry announced that it
had cracked a massive information theft case, in which a former employee of the
Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry stole and copied the personal
details of millions of Israelis and sold the data to a private buyer. The
investigation also reportedly turned up data related to national security, as
well as voter-registration lists.
Both the Kamm case and the Social
Affairs Ministry incident should raise serious questions concerning the Interior
Ministry’s plans to pilot a biometric database.
Being better at
responding to emergencies than preventing them is, unfortunately, one of
Israel’s national characteristics: But don’t say you weren’t warned. Apparently,
the country that pioneered PC anti-virus software is also leaving its most
sensitive material there for the taking.
The Kamm case, and the light
sentence, reminded me of the Liora Glatt- Berkovich affair in 2003. Glatt-
Berkovich, who worked in the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s Office, leaked the
story to Haaretz
that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was being investigated
for corruption. She claimed she did it because her son was about to go into the
army, and she was worried the country might go to war if Sharon was reelected.
Under a plea bargain, she received a suspended eight-month jail sentence and a
NIS 10,000 fine, and she still occasionally turns up in TV studios as a legal
expert. Chutzpah, too, is something of an Israeli specialty.
also guilty of it – chutzpah, that is, not leaking national secrets. As a
journalist I can appreciate the value of leaks, but the hunger for a scoop
should never let a reporter avoid the questions of who is behind the leak, and
why they are leaking it.
I don’t think, for example, we have really
uncovered what lies behind Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks.
Above all, the
media also need to take into account the results of publication.
revelation of classified material can indeed encourage officers and soldiers in
the field to act with extra care and avoid civilian casualties. It can bolster
democracy. It can also put those soldiers in the field at ever greater risk.
Ditto the general public. And it can be used to destroy democratic
principles – something Glatt- Berkovitch might never publicly admit to being
guilty of, but nonetheless an obvious conclusion in her case.
has a right to know, but not everything, at any price.
I sleep better
knowing some things are secret.
The writer is editor of
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