Uri Blau to face aggravated espionage charge

Journalist who took classified IDF documents from soldier Anat Kamm to stand trial, face 7 years, A-G announces.

Uri Blau 370 (photo credit: Facebook)
Uri Blau 370
(photo credit: Facebook)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Wednesday his decision to indict Uri Blau, the journalist who took classified IDF documents from former OC Central Command secretary Anat Kamm.
The attorney-general said he had carefully considered arguments Blau’s attorneys had put forward, but had decided to reject them.
Blau is to be charged under the Penal Code with aggravated espionage, which stipulates that obtaining, collecting, preparing, recording or keeping secret information without authorization, but without intent to harm state security, is punishable by seven years in prison.
In a statement, Weinstein noted that though Blau was being charged under the “aggravated espionage” clause, the indictment would not attribute the offense of “espionage” to him in the traditional sense of that term.
As a result of Weinstein’s decision, the Tel Aviv district attorney is expected to file an indictment against Blau, a political affairs reporter for Haaretz, in the Tel Aviv District Court within a few weeks.
The attorney-general explained that before deciding to indict the reporter, he had taken into account “all the relevant considerations,” which he said included 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, he said that his office and the other government bodies involved in the case, including the State Attorney’s Office, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the police, agreed that the case was extremely serious in terms of the “characteristics of Blau’s conduct.”
The decision to indict the journalist was therefore inevitable, Weinstein said.
The attorney-general noted that during Kamm’s trial, qualified officials testified that the potential damage that holding the secret documents could have done to state security was “enormous.”
Kamm, now 22, 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 during her mandatory army service and transferring them to Blau.
The lives of IDF soldiers, as well as state security, could have been endangered had the documents Kamm gave Blau fallen into the hands of those hostile to Israel, Weinstein said.
In his statement, the attorney- general said the documents included details of military operations; military assessments of various topics, including the deployment of IDF troops; notes on IDF investigations; and IDF assessments regarding the military’s goals.
Blau kept those documents on his personal laptop, and in other places, without any security measures, Weinstein noted.
He concluded that Blau’s holding these operational documents did not fall within the scope of “journalistic gathering of information for publication in good faith.”
In convicting Kamm earlier this year, Tel Aviv District Court judges said the former secretary had “cynically exploited her position” during her army service as a clerk in the office of Maj.-Gen Yair Naveh to steal 2,085 IDF documents, more than 700 of which were highly classified.
In September 2008, after her discharge from the army, Kamm had intended to give the files to a Yediot Aharonot journalist, but when that failed, she handed a disk containing 1,500 documents, 150 of them highly classified and 330 classified, to Blau.
The Haaretz reporter, whom Kamm did not know personally, used classified material from those documents as the basis for two newspaper articles.
In the first article, published in late October of that year, he 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.
He had received a copy of the targeted-killing order from Kamm; Haaretz published a photocopy.
Security officials realized that classified documents had been stolen when they saw the articles, and began to suspect that the documents were in the possession of parties outside the IDF and the security services, the attorney-general said on Wednesday.
Officials from the State Attorney’s Office then asked Blau to return the classified documents in his possession, promising him full immunity from prosecution, that he would not be interrogated as a suspect or questioned about where he had obtained the documents.
Also as part of that deal, the State Attorney’s Office promised the Haaretz reporter that the state would purchase him a new computer after destroying his personal computer, on which the documents were saved.
After signing that agreement, Blau handed 50 documents over to the Shin Bet, creating the false impression that he had returned all the documents in his possession, the attorney-general said.
Meanwhile, the state bought him a new computer, as it had pledged.
However, in December 2009, the Shin Bet discovered that Kamm was the source of the leak and interrogated her. It was then that the authorities uncovered the full scope of the thefts.
The authorities realized that Blau had “blatantly violated his agreement” with the State Attorney’s Office, Weinstein said, because he had handed over only a small fraction of the stolen documents in his possession.
Blau even kept copies of the 50 documents he had returned to the Shin Bet, the attorneygeneral added.
The reporter then left Israel and went abroad for an extended period, even though he had been asked to report for questioning.
While abroad, he returned, via his attorney, more of the documents he had received from Kamm.
In a story he published in Haaretz in April 2010 while he was staying in London, the reporter said that he was unable “to return to Tel Aviv as a journalist and free man, only because I published reports that were not convenient to the establishment.”
Eventually he signed another agreement with the state, in which he agreed to return all the documents in exchange for certain conditions. However, this second deal did not include any undertaking that Blau would not be prosecuted, the attorney-general said.
The journalist finally returned to Israel on October 24, 2010, and handed over the classified documents that by then he had held for over two years.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) welcomed the decision to indict Blau, but said that Weinstein should not stop with putting the journalist on trial.
“It’s time that Haaretz, that breeding ground for traitors like Blau, stood trial for treason and for providing refuge to those such as he,” the lawmaker said.
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) also welcomed the decision to charge Blau, who he said had harmed Israeli security to a greater degree than Kamm had.
Schneller initiated the “Anat Kamm Bill,” which proposes criminalizing the possession and transfer of classified material without intention to harm state security, and which passed its first reading in the Knesset in January. The bill proposes that the offense carry a maximum 10-year prison term.
“The decision to put Blau on trial reflects the balance between freedom of information and journalism, and our responsibility to ensure the security of the State of Israel,” Schneller added.
However, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), a journalist by profession, said the decision to indict Blau could “scare the media and prevent it from carrying out its full public duty.”
He added that “journalistic coverage, especially of the military, security and intelligence services, involves classified information and even possession of documents.”
Shai said Weinstein should consider the requirements of journalistic work, and called on the Tel Aviv District Court to “take into account the special circumstances of this case and act cautiously and responsibly to avoid setting a dangerous precedent.”
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel praised Weinstein’s decision to prosecute the reporter, saying that even though press freedom and freedom of expression were important, Blau had “exceeded his role as a journalist” by receiving and publishing details from the stolen documents.
“[In doing so], he became a servant of Israel’s enemies around the world,” said Legal Forum director attorney Nachi Eyal. “No democratic country would tolerate the idea that its enemies could use its democratic nature to harm it and the lives of its citizens.”
However, the Jerusalem Journalists Association slammed the decision to indict Blau, calling it “disappointing and shameful” and warning that it would “set Israel back an entire generation and call into question whether Israel can be defined as a democratic state.”
The indictment would damage the vital role of the press, the association said, adding that “Blau’s articles were sent to the censor, and the Haaretz journalist did what any good reporter should do: He exposed to public scrutiny and judgment that which was concealed from public view.”
Jerusalem Journalists Association chairman Danny Zaken said the organization would work to have the decision reversed.
Meanwhile, Haaretz called the decision “unfortunate,” saying that the move “sets a precedent in terms of its ramifications on the freedom of press in Israel, and especially on the ability to cover the security apparatus.”