"I cannot recall a single instance of this kind of cover-up, not a single one...I cannot remember such a serious incident in the history of Israeli intelligence that I know of...to lie, to plan for others to lie...the head of the Shin Bet told me that a Shin Bet head would never sit in jail."

So said Reuven Hazak, who had been deputy head of the Shin Bet security service during the 1984 Bus 300 incident, to attorney-general Yitzhak Zamir, in a late-night meeting in March 1986.

According to transcripts recently released and being published here for the first time, on that night, Hazak and two former Shin Bet department heads, Rafi Malka and Peleg Radai, gave evidence that led Zamir to launch a criminal probe against senior Shin Bet officials, who were accused of covering up the killing of two Palestinian terrorists who had been captured alive after attacking Bus 300 on April 13, 1984. The order to kill the two had come from Shin Bet head Avraham Shalom.

The cover-up began when photographs of the two terrorists being led off the bus alive were published. That raised an international storm that led to two investigative committees, both of which came up with nothing: the Shin Bet, which presided over a concert of lies recited to both committees, succeeded in hiding the fact that Shalom had given the order to kill the two.

The transcripts from March 9, 1986 were obtained when this writer and director Levi Zini petitioned the High Court of Justice to receive material from the investigation of the Bus 300 affair. Before the three transcripts were released, they were reviewed by Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen, but only a few short paragraphs were blacked out.

A few months before meeting with Zamir - a meeting that was brokered by then deputy state prosecutor Dorit Beinisch - the three had tried to press Shalom to resign, but he refused. Efforts to bring the matter to then Prime Minister Shimon Peres also failed; Peres gave Shalom his full backing. All three were eventually forced out of the security service.

Thus the three, feeling both guilty and determined, came secretly to Zamir to tell him what they knew. They spoke to him separately, one after the other.

In his testimony, Hazak tried to explain why he decided to break the conspiracy of silence and face allegations that he was trying to bring down Shalom so he could replace him.

"It was hard for me to live with the hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness of trying to remain credible and all those nice words when we were the biggest sinners. And I say 'we' because I want to make it clear: I was involved...

"Of course, you can wonder where I'd been for a year and a half, but I'm also a person. I have fears, too," Hazak said.

Radai, who was head of the Foreigners Department in the Shin Bet and was not involved in the bus incident or the cover-up, was asked why he had waited a year and a half before demanding that Shalom resign. His answer surprised them.

"It's unforgiveable," he replied. "How could I have sat and stayed quiet for a year and a half?

"The calculation I made was that the service has to get past this, and if I now get up and open my mouth, the world would collapse...I thought that [Shalom] would get up and leave [on his own], and then we could go back to normal life. So maybe I was naive, or maybe a little dreck, but that was my train of thought," Radai said.

Zamir asked Malka the toughest question of all: "I've heard that what the three of you have in common is that you are working as a clique, out of personal interests?"

Malka replied: "I'm not a believer and I don't wear a kippa, but if swearing would help I am prepared to swear that I had said that if he [Shalom] doesn't leave, I'd leave, and I believe that even if he had left me in my job...I would have resigned."

Zamir believed them, saying now that he understood immediately that the three had come to him out of pure motives, and launched a criminal investigation that shook up both the security service and the government.

The saga ended, however, with Zamir being forced out of office, and with pardons being granted to many involved in the incident before they were even charged, let alone tried.