Blau convicted of holding classified IDF documents

'Haaretz' reporter expected to receive around four months of community service after pleading guilty to charges in deal.

Haaretz reporter Uri Blau 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Channel 10 / PR)
Haaretz reporter Uri Blau 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Channel 10 / PR)
Uri Blau, the Haaretz journalist who used stolen classified IDF documents in reports accusing the army of defying a High Court ruling against targeted killings, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the charge of possessing classified information without intent to harm state security.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court convicted Blau of the charge of aggravated espionage (possession of classified information).
Tuesday’s hearing came after Blau’s lawyers and the state reached a plea deal earlier this month.
Under the terms of the deal, Blau has agreed to plead guilty in return for a four-month prison term, which the court is expected to impose as community service, subject to a report by the community service commissioner.
The court will reconvene on September 3 to discuss that report and it is likely that Judge Ido Druyan will pass sentence then.
During arguments for sentencing, prosecuting attorney Hadas Fuhrer-Gafny said the state had reached the plea deal with Blau’s attorneys because the prosecution “saw the importance of a free media.”
However, Fuhrer-Gafny said the indictment against Blau was very severe, noting that the Haaretz reporter had been in possession of documents that could, if published, resulted in harm to the state.
Blau also did not return all the documents when he was asked by the state to do so.
The amended indictment, filed in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, charges Blau under Article 113 of the Penal Code, which deals with aggravated espionage.
Notably, however, Weinstein has said that the charge of espionage, in the traditional sense of the term, does not apply to Blau.
The indictment says Blau obtained around 1,800 classified IDF documents from former IDF OC Central Command secretary Anat Kamm, on a USB flash storage device.
Kamm, now 22, stole the documents during her military service in the OC Central Command Office.
She is serving a four-and-a-half year prison term following her conviction in February under a plea bargain, in which she pleaded guilty to gathering and storing classified military documents and transferring them to Blau.
The documents contained information about various military operations, including the deployment of IDF forces, summaries of IDF investigations, IDF assessments and the various goals of the IDF, the indictment said.
Blau used classified material from those documents as the basis for two Haaretz articles.
In the first, published in late October 2008, Blau accused the IDF of defying a High Court of Justice ruling against the targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists who could have been captured alive. The next article, published a few weeks later, similarly intimated that the IDF had earmarked Palestinian terrorists for targeted killings.
Blau held the documents for two years until he finally handed them over to the Israeli authorities, the indictment said.
However, when the state first asked Blau to hand over all the documents in his possession, he failed to do so, giving up only around 50 documents, the indictment said.
Blau continued holding the classified documents in an uncontrolled manner, which posed a serious risk of damage to state security, again according to the indictment, which noted that Blau went abroad from December 2009 until October 2010, even though he knew the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) wanted to question him.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Fuhrer-Gafny said the prosecution sought a four-month community service sentence for several reasons, including that Blau’s indictment is the first time an Israeli journalist has stood trial for possessing classified documents.
“It was not a deliberate act on behalf of the defendant to receive the documents. The entire initiative was Kamm’s, done for her own reasons,” Fuhrer-Gafny said, noting that Kamm had at first tried to give the documents to another reporter.
Blau told the court that the trial had taken over his life.
“I am a reporter,” he said.
“As such I am obligated to inform the public as much as possible so that they can understand and judge the situations around them. That is the essence of a free press in a democratic country.”
Blau said that, in retrospect, he could have acted differently but he had tried to provide the public with the information it required.
The plea bargain and amended indictment come after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced in May that Blau would be indicted.
Weinstein said in reaching the “inevitable” decision to indict Blau he had taken into account “all the relevant considerations,” including the need to preserve the character of a free press and allow the media to carry out its essential role in ensuring the public’s right to know.
However, the attorney-general said that he and the other government bodies involved in the case, including officials from the State Attorney’s Office, the Shin Bet and the police, agreed that the case is extremely serious in terms of the “characteristics of Blau’s conduct.”