The partial lifting of the gag order on the Anat Kam espionage affair, which had already been exposed to the world media in March by Judith Miller, is stirring up a storm in Israel. The charge sheet accuses Kam of “divulging secret information with the intent to harm the security of the state,” which falls under “serious espionage” and carries a maximum life term. Haaretz, Israel’s left-wing daily, is at the center of the storm — and tying itself in knots to defend Kam, its journalist Uri Blau, and itself.
First, to recap: Kam, born in Jerusalem in 1987 and a gifted student, served as an office clerk under the then head of Central Command, Yair Naveh, from 2005 to 2007. She’s charged with illicitly copying about 2000 computer documents — 700 of them classified secret or top secret — and taking them with her when she left the army. The charge sheet says the documents contained, among other things, “plans of military operations, summaries of discussions within the IDF, deployment and order of battle … of IDF forces … , IDF situation estimates, IDF targets, and so on.” Security sources say they could have cost soldiers’ lives and posed a grave danger.
In 2008 Kam, then a student at Tel Aviv University and a journalist for the Walla news site, delivered a large amount of the documents to Blau. He, in turn, published in Haaretz some stories based on them that were cleared with the military censor. The stories involved assassinations of terrorists in the West Bank who, allegedly, could have been arrested; the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled that in such cases, the terrorist has to be arrested rather than killed. (Meanwhile, on Sunday the IDF spokesperson said Blau’s claims in these articles were “upsetting and distorted.”)
When sources in the defense establishment saw the stories, they worried about where they could have come from. The Israel Security Agency, better known as Shin Bet, eventually worked out a deal with Blau where he returned his documents and was promised they wouldn’t be used to incriminate him or his sources. A few months later, in December 2009, the Shin Bet identified Kam as the source of the documents — but the problem was that she admitted to giving Blau far more documents than he had turned over.
Kam was put under house arrest; Blau fled the country and is now in London. The Shin Bet negotiated with Blau’s lawyers in an attempt to retrieve the documents. It was when they concluded this was futile that the gag order was lifted.
As things now stand, Kam has been indicted and the trial is supposed to begin in May; the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, has warned that Blau is endangering himself and the country by holding onto his documents in a foreign location, but Blau still has not agreed to return to Israel and give them up.
Haaretz is rattled, and a sense of shock is said to hang over its editorial offices. It’s not only that Kam acted out of what the charge sheet called “ideological motivations” arising from the extreme left — an outlook given much voice in Haaretz (what she was doing in such a sensitive post, and how she could have gotten away with so much, is another unhappy dimension to this story). It’s also that Haaretz’s own journalist, Blau, is involved — and people are good and mad.