Who Is the Source’s Source in the Harpaz Affair?

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Boaz Harpaz, the alleged forger at the center of the war of the generals. Credit: Alon Ron

It is not the Israel Defense Forces military censor preventing publication of the document at the heart of the new police probe into the Harpaz affair – a probe that could turn into a full-blown criminal investigation if the army’s information security department informs the national fraud squad that the document indeed includes military secrets.

The delay in making it public is for other reasons. After blacking out classified details it can be published, from a security point of view. However, it is hard to see how the IDF information security department will depart from its usual ways and look charitably on this and other documents in the assemblage that reached the state comptroller and unidentified persons, and from them to the McCann-Erickson public relations and advertising agency. That may be arbitrary and petty; it is natural to wonder what exactly all the excitement is about. Except that the information security department would not be itself if, for the first time in its history, it would decide that top secret information is actually not top secret, and that it is not too terrible if such information reaches people not authorized to receive it.

Indirect proof of this can be seen here, in the actions of the military censor. The censor – being subservient to the law and court rulings, and also being party to security and political considerations that are not restricted to the monovalent question of secret/not secret – is usually more permissive. And, it would be right to say, much more permissive than the army’s information security department. If that department has a reason to express an opinion on a matter with which the censor has finished dealing – for example, manuscripts of books by civil servants, submitted as required by law to the ministerial committee on books – it will be more heavy-handed in assessing the manuscript in places where the censor trod more lightly.

If, despite this pattern of the good censor and the bad information security department, the censor has insisted since last week – when the Haaretz report on the police probe was submitted to it – on blacking out parts of the documents, that is a sign that the head of information security, Col. Uri Horowitz, will be no less strict in this case than Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, the military censor, and will decide that the documents include classified information prohibited for publication. (The forged documents sought to thwart Yoav Galant’s chances of becoming the next IDF chief of staff.)

Like the state comptroller, Horowitz can be expected to deem the material top secret. That is, assuming the contents of the material could assist enemy intelligence to formulate a picture of the IDF’s situation (with emphasis on the various systems of Military Intelligence and their weaknesses), and assist the enemy in assessing the sources that provided the enemy with information during the period in which Galant speaks authoritatively, as a former candidate for chief of staff, who had deeply explored the subject and was exposed to all of its layers at the end of 2010 and 2011.

McCann-Erickson insinuated itself, on a whim, into the quarrel between former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. The PR firm had nothing to do with the affair, but jumped into the swamp and is now trying to get out of it. McCann is connected to a global corporation that cannot be thrilled that its Tel Aviv office is at the heart of a police investigation, published an ad three and a half years ago in favor of Barak and Galant, and against Ashkenazi and former IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu. A mystery man who asked Ilan Shiloah, the part-owner of McCann-Erickson, to publish the ad turned out, in the course of a civil proceeding by Benayahu objecting to publication of the ad, to be Ilan Shiloah. The case is over, but only after McCann sought to plant a paper mine – and detonated it.

This mine is the material that the state comptroller collected – or at the very least was conveyed “after the comptroller’s report on the Harpaz affair was made public” in 2013, a sufficiently ambiguous formulation to determine a chronological connection and not necessarily a causative one. Someone selected material out of the abundant documentation that the state comptroller used, and from the recorded conversations – particularly between Ashkenazi and his close associates, including Boaz Harpaz – gave those documents to McCann, The entire selection, 41 documents, including three documenting Galant’s version and one documenting Barak’s version (in addition to a statement Barak submitted at the request of McCann), was given to the court and to the satisfaction of the curiosity of anyone who cared to look at the files.

In intelligence terms, the source of the secret documents is McCann. However, the investigators will not be looking for the source, but rather the source’s source. That source, directly or indirectly, it may be concluded, is one of the individuals investigated by the state comptroller, who received the material from the comptroller and quickly passed it on to McCann.

The unauthorized passing of classified information is a criminal offense. The individual who receives such information, “who obtains, collects, prepares, documents or possesses classified material when not authorized to do so” is at risk having committed a criminal offense. A certain risk, therefore, hangs over not only the mysterious source’s source – from the first circle of the subjects of the comptroller’s report – but also over McCann. To extricate himself from this risk, that individual must prove “that he did nothing unlawful to obtain the classified information and that he obtained, prepared, documented or possessed [this information] innocently and for a reasonable purpose.”

Thus, the dispute could revolve around the question of whether use of classified information in a civil proceeding can be considered a reasonable and innocent purpose.

The signatory to the statement conveying the Galant documents and the other material is Alon Stern. “I serve as the chairman of Universal McCann, Ltd., of the McCann-Erickson Group, Ltd. (below: ‘McCann’) and I have been authorized to make a statement revealing the documents for the above,” Stern wrote on April 18, 2013. Stern will have a hard time denying his action. He confirmed the correctness of the document and signed it after he was warned “that he must tell the truth and that he may expect to be penalized by law if he does not do so.”

The statement released Friday by McCann said that the company’s “directors” had not been in communication with Barak or Galant. The term “director” was apparently selected carefully so as not to include all the representatives of McCann – for example, lawyers. On July 1 last year, Barak signed a statement for McCann and wrote that he was doing so “at the request of attorney Ron Berkman,” one of McCann’s attorneys.

Benayahu’s attorneys, who directed the attention of investigations as far back as late March to the classified material, claimed that Barak and a journalist close to him – who, according to the transcript of his conversation with the state comptroller, had appointed himself as mediator between Barak and Ashkenazi and warned the chief of staff at the end of July 2010 that if he angered the defense minister, the latter would announce his candidate for chief of staff in August; but if he proved his loyalty, he would continue in his term until November – “cooperated with the PR firm in the legal proceedings and the possibility should not be ruled out that they are the source of some of the documents handed over.”

Benayahu’s attorneys, Eyal Rozovsky and Tzion Amir, quoted the list of witnesses from McCann’s documents, including the names of Galant, Barak’s chief of staff Yoni Koren, and a female journalist close to them, who “met with the PR firm’s attorneys and gave them information and documents.

“It is entirely possible,” the attorneys wrote to police Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, head of the fraud squad, “that the classified documents were given to the PR firm by one of these individuals or through them, and clearly the matter must be examined.”

As opposed to journalists who obtain classified documents from their sources and give them immunity that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the courts (as a rule) tend to respect, there is no such protection for PR firms, or other civilian-commercial entities. The fraud squad investigators will find it relatively easy to crack the identity of the source’s source, from among Barak’s close associates, Galant’s inner circle, or from another direction entirely – for example, journalists whose involvement exceeded professional reporting, and would not be entitled to immunity if they served as a conduit between key individuals in the Harpaz affair and the PR firm.

The entanglement of McCann in the Harpaz affair is another intriguing twist in the plot that began with the forging of a document by affixing to it the logo of a competing PR firm, headed by Eyal Arad. McCann presents itself as the largest PR firm in Israel. Among its many clients is the Home Front Command, which paid McCann almost 10 million shekels (about $3.5 million) over the past two years.

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