How I Was Almost Accused of Espionage

Although the Anat Kam affair, which has also turned into the Uri Blau affair, is being presented as a "security affair," it also concerns press freedom in Israel.

The vigorous activity of the Shin Bet security services vis-a-vis Blau, the details of which have now been revealed, attests to the dire situation of freedom of the press and the real danger faced by journalists covering defense matters.

For the sake of proper disclosure it should be explained that, 15 years ago, I was questioned at length by the police on suspicion of possessing top-secret document, and at the end of the interrogation, the police recommended that I be tried for "aggravated espionage."

As in Blau's November 2008 article, which was based on the documents that were ostensibly passed to him by Kam, the article about which I was questioned had been transmitted to the censor and approved. In that instance I had prepared a television report dealing with the failure of the Patriot missiles that were supposed to protect us from the Iraqi missiles in the first Gulf War - in the report I presented a secret document, which as mentioned, had passed the test of the censor.

Presumably there was no reason to complain to a journalist who had done his work faithfully and did not try to bypass the censor, but it turns out that the law in Israel relates to any involvement with "confidential information" as espionage, and it makes no difference if the person involved is a journalist.

Section 112 of the penal law, in the chapter dealing with espionage, states that it is not even necessary to publish the confidential information, or to pass it on to someone else, in order for its possessor to be accused of espionage. According to this section, anyone who obtained, gathered, prepared, wrote or possessed confidential information without being authorized to do so faces a seven-year prison sentence.

But there isn't a single military correspondent who doesn't commit this crime of espionage on a daily basis.

Section 113, on the other hand, states that anyone passing on confidential information without being authorized to do so will face a 15-year prison sentence.

But the publication of any information, essay or article based on a secret document or on classified information is like "passing on confidential information," which confronts the journalist with the possibility of being tried for espionage and being sent to prison for 15 years.

Incidentally, if at the trial it is proven that he intended to harm state security, adds this section, he will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Fortunately for the Israeli media, those in the defense establishment who are responsible for safeguarding confidential information and preventing its leakage have generally played according to the rules of the democratic game and have not made use of Section 113, even when almost every day they could have accused one military correspondent or another of espionage, only because he possessed "confidential information."

By silent acquiescence it was decided that as long as the journalist submits the material to the censor and does not try to bypass him, even if the report is based on confidential information, the espionage laws will not be cited against him.

Unfortunately for me, one of the senior members of the defense establishment decided that in my case, after I had published the article that had passed the censor, Section 113 should be used, and thus I was suspected of a crime whose punishment, in the best case (if and when it is proven that I had no intention of harming state security) is 15 years in prison.

The affair ended with the decision of the attorney general, who received the police recommendation to try me for espionage, "to shelve the case for lack of public interest."

We can assume that the senior member of the defense establishment who wanted to use Section 113 against me did not really think that I was a spy, but intended to scare me and to convince me that I had better not continue to publish criticism of the body that he headed.

As far as I know, Section 113 has not been used since then against a journalist who "passed on confidential information" through publication in the media. And now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the defense establishment is once again making use of draconian law.

The Shin Bet's demand that Uri Blau hand over the secret documents he received was accompanied by threats to use the espionage section against him. In his case the parties reached an agreement in which Blau handed over secret documents he had received to the Shin Bet, and no investigative proceedings were instituted against him.

But apparently the Shin Bet is not satisfied with the material it received and is claiming that Blau has many additional documents that he did not hand over, thus violating the agreement and rendering it void. Now Blau faces the danger of being accused of serious espionage.

The State Prosecutor's Office has already explained that Blau is wanted for questioning, and that it can reasonably be assumed that he is liable to be accused of "serious espionage" according to Section 113. Once again, a journalist who did his work faithfully is liable to be turned into a spy, to his detriment.

Blau did not publish anything from the documents that the Shin Bet claims he still has. And in what way is he different from all the military correspondents who today, as on any other day, possess confidential information?

Apparently he is being singled out because the article he published in Haaretz, which is what first brought the entire affair to light, was critical and exposed improper behavior on the part of senior officials in the defense establishment.

Stay in London, Uri Blau, in the hope that in the final analysis it will be decided that you are not a spy after all, and then you can return without being pursued by the threatening shadow of Section 113.