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Details of the so-called espionage affair, which involves a 23-year-old journalist suspected of leaking highly classified information to a Haaretz reporter during her military service, were revealed yesterday in the Israeli press. The revelations came following the partial lifting of a gag order that had stretched on for months, despite the fact that the affair had already been widely reported by international news agencies.

The journalist in question, Anat Kam, who performed compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces' central command from 2005-2007, was indicted on charges of espionage for passing along thousands of top secret documents to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau. Should Kam be convicted, she could face life imprisonment.

"It is a dream of every enemy state to get its hands on these kinds of documents," said Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin. "And we would be happy to receive these kinds of documents from the enemy."

Diskin said that Blau, who is currently in London, is wanted by the Shin Bet and police for further questioning in the case. According to Diskin, the Shin Bet suspects that Blau is in possession of more secret documents that he received from Kam.

Last September, the Shin Bet reached an agreement with Haaretz attorney Mibi Moser whereby Blau consented to hand over some 50 documents he had obtained. "Our primary goal is to retrieve the remaining classified documents to prevent them from falling into hostile hands," Diskin said.

In a rare press briefing convened at the Shin Bet headquarters for senior editors and defense correspondents, Diskin said the agency's efforts to obtain the documents through negotiation have yet to bear fruit.

"From our standpoint, this is a very grave affair given its potential harm to security," he said. "This case is not over. We are looking for the documents and are waiting for them to be returned to the state so that no harm will be done."

"All of our efforts to achieve this goal through goodwill have not succeeded," the Shin Bet chief added.

According to Diskin, after Moser rejected a proposal offered to Blau by the Shin Bet and the state prosecutors, the agency decided to partially lift the gag order which had prevented Israeli media entities from reporting details of the story. In addition, Diskin said the Shin Bet will change its policy in terms of its handling of the affair and will apply more stringent measures in its investigative tactics in the imminent future.

Diskin said that authorities had learned that Kam, who worked as a clerk and later as a top assistant to the chief of staff of then-GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, amassed over 2,000 documents bearing various degrees of security classifications.

"This case centers around the danger of grievous harm to the lives of soldiers and civilians in the State of Israel," he said. "You don't have to be an expert on defense data to understand this. The Shin Bet is aware of the harm done to the freedom of the press and thus we placed strict limitations on ourselves. The length of the investigation attests to this. Every stage of the investigation was carried out with attendant legal advice, and all under the supervision of the courts. In an unusual move, we also held talks with Blau's attorney and reached an agreement with him."

During the briefing, Diskin revealed the contents of the agreement reached between the Shin Bet and Moser. The deal, which was signed on September 15 of last year, required Blau to surrender to the Shin Bet the classified documents in his possession. The authorities agreed to Blau's stipulation that the documents would not be used as evidence in any criminal investigation against him and that he would not be questioned as a suspect. In addition, Blau would not be required to reveal the source of the information.

The deal further stipulated that the documents would not be used as evidence against the source of the leak in the event that the source was revealed.

Diskin said the agreement with Blau was a fair one which strove to bridge the gaps between preserving Israel's security and upholding freedom of the press and the privileged status of journalists' sources.

However, after the investigation against Kam indicated that she had leaked over 2,000 documents, the Shin Bet believes Blau is in possession of more than the 50 documents he turned over to it.

"We plan to expedite the investigation," Diskin said. "Blau has not arrived in Israel to provide his version of events."

"We have thus far handled this matter with kid gloves because we are dealing with a journalist," he added.