Shahak panel blames advisers for security cabinet leaks

Recommends spokesmen, advisers be kept out of sensitive discussions.

amnon lipkin-shahak  (photo credit: Courtesy)
amnon lipkin-shahak
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Spokesmen and advisers should be kept out of sensitive security cabinet discussions to prevent leaks, according to recommendations made by the committee headed by former chief of General Staff and cabinet minister Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. The committee, which was set up to implement the Winograd Committee's interim report, turned over its findings to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. If that doesn't do the trick, the committee recommended that those involved in classified security discussions undergo polygraph tests if information is leaked. The Shahak Committee was set up in May after the cabinet accepted the findings of the Winograd Committee in order to implement its findings. One of the Winograd Committee's key findings was a need to plug leaks. Among other recommendations of the Winograd Report were "substantial improvement in the functioning of the National Security Council, the establishment of a national assessment team, and creating a center for crises management in the Prime Minister's Office." As a result, the Shahak Committee recommended ways to establish a National Security Council that would have "teeth" and be the central body in the Prime Minister's Office and in the government, responsible for staff work and preparing issues for discussion and resolution. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted the committee's findings and appointed his chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz to carry out their implementation. Likewise, Olmert also called for the preparation of legislation that would be brought to the Knesset in the next few days that would anchor into law the authority of the National Security Council as envisioned by the Shahak Committee. According to the Shahak Committee proposals, brought to an interministerial committee on Wednesday, there is wide consensus around the world on the need for a centralized body with significant authority that gathers and prepares in an orderly fashion the necessary materials needed for those assigned with making key national decisions. "Granted," the proposals read, "the existence of this staff is not a guarantee of successful decision making, but it is able to reduce the inherent margin of error in the [decision making] process." The paper also said that it was clear that decision makers, who weigh other considerations outside the purview of the professional staff, were entitled to make decisions that differ from the recommendations of the professional staff. The Shahak Committee said that this national security staff should be established on the basis of the already existing National Security Council, but that the NSC's authority should be widened. According to the proposal, the new NSC would be the sole body in the PMO dealing with security and diplomatic matters, its head would answer directly to the prime minister and be appointed by him, as would his deputy. The purpose of the NSC, as envisioned by the committee, is to present the prime minister and the security cabinet with updated information taken from various different governmental agencies and bodies, provide them with various options as well as a recommendation of which option is preferable. The manner in which the new agency will interface with other intelligence agencies still needed to be worked out, but the proposal said it was critical that the NSC be the one body that presents the prime minister with his daily intelligence briefing. To carry out its new, expanded functions, the NSC will need a significant increase in budgets and manpower. In addition to the expansion of the NSC, the committee also called for the creation of a crisis management center in the Prime Minister's Office. This was also one of the recommendations of the Winograd Committee, with the idea being that in times of crisis, the center would provide the prime minister with a clear picture of the situation based on information pouring in from various different agencies and sources. Relating to the Winograd Committee's recommendation to "improving the knowledge base of all members of the government on core issues of Israel's challenges," the Shahak proposals called for twice monthly security cabinet meetings which would deal at depth with the country's strategic challenges. In line with the Winograd Committee's recommendations, the Shahak Committee proposed limiting the number of people at the meetings, and excluding the cabinet members‚ advisers and spokespeople. The Winograd Committee also called for greater involvement of the Foreign Ministry in security decisions, and to this end the Shahak Committee recommended new discussions headed by the Foreign Ministry with the participation of the defense establishment, the participation of Foreign Ministry officials in the defense minister's weekly assessment, and participation of Foreign Ministry officials in preparations for the security cabinet meetings and the NSC consultations.