Analysis: A scandal that leaves no one looking good

Israel is not Switzerland, and the stolen IDF documents is not something that can be taken lightly.

anat kam 311 (photo credit: Channel 2)
anat kam 311
(photo credit: Channel 2)
“Does anyone know a blonde?” a senior defense official asked jokingly on Thursday when speaking about Haaretz reporter Uri Blau’s presence in London. The reference was to the Mossad agent Cindy, who in 1986 lured Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from the British capital to Italy, whence he was abducted to Israel.
While kidding, the official’s question is part of a general frustration within Israeli security agencies with what they claim is Blau’s refusal to hand over hundreds of missing top-secret and classified military documents that he allegedly received from former soldier Anat Kamm and that are believed to still be in his possession.
The problem with this case – a mix of espionage, journalism and national security concerns – is that no one comes out looking good.
Kamm, the main culprit, is accused of stealing some 2,000 secret military documents from the office of the commander of the IDF’s Central Command, burning them onto a CD and then handing them over to Blau on a disk-on-key data storage device.
Her motivation, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), was her radical ideology. Her presence in a top general’s office and her exposure to classified material raises serious questions about the IDF’s ability to run background checks on its soldiers and prevent the infiltration of spies into its ranks.
Charged with espionage, Kamm faces up to 25 years in jail if convicted.
Blau is a different story. As a journalist, he was likely intrigued when approached by the young former soldier with the thousands of classified documents. In 2008 he published stories apparently based on those documents that were approved by the military censor, and when he was asked by Deputy IDF Spokesman Col. Ofer Kol to return the documents in his hands, he initially refused.
Up until that point, Blau was doing his journalistic duty as he saw it – protecting his source, as well as his right to publish. But after he signed an agreement with the Shin Bet in July 2009 in which he said he would return the documents in his possession, why didn’t he?
The Shin Bet is convinced that Blau still has hundreds of documents. He claims that the 50 he returned – after which he gave up his laptop computer, which was destroyed –   were everything he had.
But the Shin Bet makes a good argument when saying that if Blau were to return to Israel and cooperate with the investigation, he would be able to easily clear up the misunderstanding, either by returning the remaining documents or proving that he has none left. His stubborn refusal raises serious concerns and suspicion.
The Shin Bet believes it is doing what it was established to do – safeguard national security. When this reporter suggested to Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin on Thursday that people will not immediately buy into his agency’s claim that Blau is in possession of additional documents, and that he will likely find himself under fire for what will be portrayed overseas as the persecution of a journalist, Diskin shrugged his shoulders.
That is because for Diskin, what Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller or countless other journalists and newspapers around the world think about him is not important. What is important is protecting the State of Israel, and that is exactly what he is doing.
One of the Shin Bet’s main mistakes was its insistence that the gagorder remain in effect until it heard back this week from Blau’sattorney that he had rejected another offer to reach an agreement. Thiscame almost two weeks after the story broke and made its way quicklyaround the world.
While the use of the gag order isquestionable, ultimately Diskin is correct in his pursuit of theadditional documents suspected of being in Blau’s hands.
Israelis not Switzerland and the documents Kamm allegedly stole revealemergency IDF deployment plans, classified weaponry, secret drills andsensitive intelligence, and constitute a treasure chest that any MiddleEastern country would love to get its hands on. This is not somethingthat can be taken lightly.