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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cries of victimization over the leaks of the transcripts of his police questioning reminds me of a story about the British cabinet in February 1972. A reporter from The Times revealed to Prime Minister Edward Heath's spokesman that his editor recently dined with one of Heath's ministers, whom he did not name. He said the minister told the editor that the cabinet was about to discuss the Northern Ireland problem and to issue a declaration on the issue.

Heath's spokesman was furious: It is extremely serious for such sensitive information to have leaked out, we must repeat the warnings against chattering with reporters, and Heath should even considering ordering an inquriy into the leak.

The cabinet secretary and Heath's chief of staff, under mounting distress, exchanged letters discussing the situation and met, with Heath's blessing, for an urgent consultation. Of course all this was carried in typical, dry English manner, until finally the chief of staff composed a memo to Heath, saying: Prime Minister, I have now heard that the minister involved was the prime minister. The chief of staff then explained that the question of investigating the leak was no longer on the agenda.

Olmert may not have been involved personally in passing on the transcripts to the newspapers. For many years now, Olmert has had no idea what his subordinates and those speaking in his name are actually doing. The less he knew, the farther he went. For dirty work, he has various "associates," and among his close circle are the national champions in leaking - the Israeli media have been greatly indebted to them for years. Maybe the debt is not as large as Olmert's to Morris Talansky, but those responsible certainly deserve a gold plaque in the Israel Journalists Association offices at Beit Sokolow in Tel Aviv - or at least a prize named after Mark Felt, "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame. After all, the deeper the indignation, the deeper the throat.

This is not to minimize the journalistic achievement of attaining the transcripts: After all, they were not pulled from between the stones of the Western Wall. Rare are the documents or secrets that simply fall into the welcoming arms of a newspaper or television station like Newton's apple. Usually it requires toil, sweat and a little craftiness. While the cow may want to nurse more than the calf wants to suckle, the calf can still starve to death if it has to settle for patiently waiting for the cow.

The police and prosecution are not saints, but it is very rare - too rare in fact - for them to release difficult material for publication. This is quite different from spokesman's statements, terse comments in briefings or the confirmation of details in response to a direct question. This has always been the case, especially for investigative materials in serious cases: With all due respect for the prime minister and his honor, the police and the prosecutors are much more more worried about their own futures.

The conspiracy theory of shady motives is superfluous when it comes to the other side, too. If Attorney General Menachem Mazuz does agree to Olmert's demands to find out how the transcripts reached the press, the working assumption of the leak hunters will be that the shots were not fired deliberately from Olmert's camp; instead, a bullet that was discharged accidentally set off the leaks.

The evidence for deliberate action reverberates in the disputes within Olmert's defense team. According to the "accidental discharge" theory, in contrast, the leaks are a result of the competitive pressure caused by the first incident, an unplanned but inevitable consequence of clandestine consultation with a media-savvy jurist in getting the transcripts for the media.

Under normal circumstances, the press must object to any governmental efforts to expose sources. The success of such an effort, or the mere introduction of frequent investigations toward that end, even without success, has the danger of deterring potential journalistic sources in the future.

True public interest in exposing sources, the integral value of which must compete with the need for keeping sources privileged, can exist only if the prime minister, in one case Yitzhak Rabin, has good reason to suspect that his defense minister, Shimon Peres, is revealing state secrets; or if the investigation of suspicions against the president, Ezer Weizman, smells of a settling of accounts by the family of a criminal who did not receive a presidential pardon.

The Olmert affair belongs with these exceptions: If the prime minister accuses the police and prosecution of criminal harrassment against him, then the leaks must be investigated - at least in principle. In practice, there can be no doubt as to which side is really endangering the rule of democracy in Israel.

Of all the actors in this play, the strangest is the two-faced, Janus of the newspapers that published the transcripts of Olmert's testimony and then celebrated their achievement. Then they went to listen to Olmert crying and reported his complaints over the publishing of the transcripts. After all, they have the advantage over an emotional Olmert who is stumbling around the ring like a boxer blinded by the blows: They know who their sources are.

If only they were allowed to reveal the secret to Olmert and let his troubled soul rest - but they are not.

What are their readers supposed to learn from their publication of Olmert's claims, without embellishment? That the newspapers, the customers of the leakers, are confirming the claims and thereby violating their trust? Or maybe the opposite. Maybe they are repaying the leakers by turning the spotlight in the wrong direction, and in this way trying to help Olmert stay in office a little bit longer.