Hiding behind the secretary

The public has now been shown that there are major security deficiencies in an IDF Central Command center.

anat kam 311 (photo credit: Channel 2)
anat kam 311
(photo credit: Channel 2)
What does it mean when the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) demands that a journalist “return” all the documents that he received illegally? Does smashing a journalist’s computer really ensure that no copies of the information remain?
Suppose, for example, we had no computers, no photocopiers, we couldn’t read or write and we had no memory. If indeed we had no way of remembering secrets that we had read from a stolen document, then returning the document would be a valid way to restore the secrecy of the information.
Of course we all know better. It takes just moments to copy thousands of computer files. Yet when we hear that the Shin Bet made a deal with Haaretz reporter Uri Blau that involved destroying his computer, and Blau’s commitment to “return” the stolen documents, we are somehow to meant to understand that the Shin Bet received something valuable in return for treating him leniently.
Do the intelligence services here think that we do not know that information on Blau’s computer was almost certainly copied before the computer was destroyed? They do know that there are about as many computers in this country as there are people, so they are probably smart enough to realize that at least some of us know a little about how to use one. So what precisely was the meaning of the ceremonial smashing and replacing of a journalist’s computer?
Maybe they want us to think that smashing the screen of a computer somehow erases all copies of whatever once appeared on that screen, wherever they may be. Maybe they did it to jerk the tears of those who read in Haaretz that “a security service that destroys journalists’ computers... has no place in a democratic state.”
The Shin Bet has knowingly made a phony deal with a criminal journalist to treat him leniently, and indeed has let him leave the country knowing that he gave them absolutely nothing in return. Presumably the Shin Bet knows that we realize this too. So we must now ask why it did this. How could it catch a serious security criminal red-handed and just let him go? It tells us, on the one hand, that the release of these 2,000 secret files poses a serious compromise to national security and, on the other hand, it makes an overtly meaningless compromise with him, and then lets him go.
The question is probably better than any answer I can provide, but we all should all try to find answers that we can believe. Meanwhile I will follow the ancient tradition of attempting to answer a difficult question by asking more questions.
When we use a computer at home, we can easily copy thousands of files onto portable media such as a compact disk or a disk-on-key. We can then bring the disk to a friend’s house and copy the files onto our friend’s computer. At this point there are three copies, but by the weekend, there might be a dozen. That is what happens at home, or if we are journalists. However, if we work in a bank, a security-related company or an airline, we would generally work on a secured network. On such networks, each request for information is traceable, and long documents are encoded. A properly secured network will ensure that there is no way for a secretary to copy wholesale quantities of secure documents onto portable media that could be read by a regular computer.
Israel is, of course, a world leader in computer security systems, and its military surely has plenty of such systems. So my next question is why and how thousands of top-secret documents could be copied relatively easily to portable media in a readily readable format.
The press does not seem to address itself much to this question. It seems that despite all our data-security know-how, thousands of top-secret documents were not, in practice, properly secured. Again, that cannot be the fault of a single officer being lax with his secure files, because there are thousands of files involved.
Secure institutions regularly conduct security audits that can easilycatch noncompliant computers and users. So the public has now beenshown that there are major security deficiencies present in an IDFCentral Command center, which implies that people rather more seniorthan Anat Kamm are not doing their job properly. So my next questionis: Are these senior security officers possibly hiding behind one youngsecretary?
Maybe it is worthwhile for the security services to arrest Kamm andrelease the Haaretz staff rather that have a publictrial that will doubtlessly expose huge deficiencies in the computersecurity of the defense establishment and risk bringing down some ofits most senior officers.
The writer studied physics and electronics at CambridgeUniversity, England, before moving to Israel in 1984. He has worked inresearch and development in the Israeli electronics industry for 22years.