Liberty and espionage

Democracy has the right to protect itself even from the bite of those who declare themselves its vigilant watchdogs.

Uri Blau 370 (photo credit: Facebook)
Uri Blau 370
(photo credit: Facebook)
A just-landed Martian encountering Israel’s media for the first time might be forgiven for concluding that this is a country where freedom of expression is ruthlessly repressed.
Lamentations about our supposed lost liberties were triggered by the attorney-general’s decision to indict Haaretz reporter Uri Blau on espionage charges for obtaining, recording and hoarding without permission purloined classified military information, even if without intent to harm state security.
It all began when, as a young conscript, Pvt. Anat Kamm worked in the OC Central Command’s office, duplicated 2,200 documents, hid her haul and hung on to it long after her 2007 discharge. Kamm, now serving a 4.5-year sentence, basically dumped everything in her commander’s computer. She wasn’t selective. She didn’t home in on a specific controversy (which would have been bad enough).
In 2008, Kamm passed her contraband to Blau. Thus the touchiest IDF documents – including comprehensive battle plans that put lives at risk – fell into unauthorized hands. In Blau’s custody, and with Haaretz abetting him, they might have ended up anywhere.
Espionage’s bottom line is acquiring confidential information without consent from its legal proprietors. That the secrets reached Blau’s possession, rather than Hamas’s, is no consolation and most certainly no justification.
Top secrets on the loose can wreak havoc. Careless blabber or reckless publication constitute treasure troves for enemy intelligence analysts.
The depiction of Blau as a martyr to safeguarding journalism could not be more ludicrous. Indeed, were it not for Blau’s slapdash revelations and pretentious publication, Kamm’s role in supplying him with forbidden secrets would have never been discovered. Blau and his paper practically served Kamm’s head on a newspaperlined platter.
Blau promised to return the illicit stash, but handed back only 50 of nearly 2,000 documents, and even copied those. He later absconded to London, where his prolonged stay was bankrolled by Haaretz. He only came home in October 2010, after holding on to Kamm’s material for more than two years.
Deployment details for the Gaza front weren’t part of any investigation by Blau and were hardly run-of-themill leaks.
Blau knew that what he concealed was stolen and he brazenly cheated on the deal to return what he had no right to hold or hide. To present this as a valiant stand on behalf of freedom of information is cynical.
There is plenty of scope for journalists to ply their trade without putting themselves above the law and endangering the entire populace. No profession should demand or allow for its practitioners exclusive rights denied other honest citizens who are expected to ply their trades while toeing legal lines.
Hanging on to swiped secrets, lying about them and smuggling them overseas is about as conscionable for a journalist as burglarizing a military installation. What would be unthinkable for any law-abiding person should be unthinkable for a reporter as well. Otherwise there’s no equality before the law.
Like it or not, freedom of the press isn’t a license for anarchism. There are legitimate dos and don’ts in every vocation.
Despite the concerted misrepresentation of Blau as a victim, he was in fact treated with kid gloves and allowed leeway that would be denied others of lesser fame and/or media backing. He was gullibly trusted to return the documents.
He was allowed to leave the country. No international arrest order was issued against him. His newspaper’s obstruction of justice was countenanced.
It is doubtful that someone from any other profession or political affiliation would have been granted as much consideration and as many chances as Blau got. With that in mind, it is especially unwarranted to wail about imaginary injuries to our basic freedoms arising from the decision to bring Blau to trial.
The uninitiated Martian would be wrong to conclude from the orchestrated hoopla that our media is as hobbled and as stifled as Blau’s supporters tendentiously scream. Despite ongoing threats to our very existence, Israel boasts one of the world’s freest societies.
Nonetheless, democracy has the right to protect itself even from the bite of those who declare themselves its vigilant watchdogs.