Israel Aims to Criminalize Releasing of Data on Mossad Agents

Transgressors could receive up to life in prison if their goal is to harm national security.

Netanyahu with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, September 2015.
Emil Salman

The government is preparing new rules criminalizing the collection or publication of information on Mossad operatives past or present, and increasing prison sentences for infractions.

Suspects would be tried for espionage and could face a seven-year prison sentence. If the suspected motive is harm to national security, that number could rise to 15 years to life.

The new regulation stipulates more specifically what constitutes secret information and is designed to make irrelevant the excuse “I did not know.”

The cabinet received the wording of the new rules last week, and if no minister raises objections over the following seven days, a vote will proceed without a debate.

According to the proposal, with the approval of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, information will remain confidential about Mossad employees. This also goes for soldiers who served in the agency, national service volunteers in the Mossad, and the organization’s service providers.

These details will include the person’s address and information about his or her relatives and Mossad facilities.

As with the Atomic Energy Commission, the Mossad does not operate based on a law. The ban on publishing information stems from Israeli censorship law and the general prohibition against publishing “secret information.”

It is not clear why the government has decided to address the issue now. The law governing the Shin Bet security service already contains such prohibitions, but the penalty for breaking the law is lower – one year for the release of information due to negligence and three when it is intentional.

The new rules also aim to prevent former Mossad operatives from revealing that they worked for the organization, and people who assisted the Mossad from boasting about their actions. Still, the Mossad chief may allow publication of certain details.