Just How Many Israelis Have Got Classified Documents at Home?

The IDF should also collect all the classified documents floating around out there with impunity.

In the wake of the affair concerning Anat Kamm, Uri Blau and the documents from the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, the state should declare a "return-secret-info" operation: It should call upon citizens to turn in any classified documents they may have in their possession, and promise not to put them on trial or punish them. The public should be invited to come to police stations and army bases and divest themselves of any classified papers, diaries, computer files and photos they may have at home.

Former Central Command clerk Kamm is not the only person who has collected classified souvenirs from the army. Just read any memoir of a retired security bigwig and you will understand that many Israelis have in their possession transcripts or summaries of discussions, operational plans and documents from army headquarters. It is, after all, impossible for a 70-year-old retiree to quote from memory the contents of dozens of reports, discussions or meetings to which he was privy many years earlier. Clearly, if he mentions such information, he has relied on documents either collected during his tenure or in a private diary that he kept, in violation of security rules. And never mind those who left in anger and in a huff, and have kept a "black file" documenting all the wrongdoings and corruption of their rivals.

Flawed security procedures have been evident not only in the bureau of former GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, but also in many other military and civilian offices. And anyone who had a senior position did not even have to steal documents or to ask a secretary to download them onto a disc: He or she could simply take envelopes full of material home.

Every few years the IDF declares a campaign for the return of military equipment and weapons, giving people several weeks to return these items to police stations with impunity, and without identifying themselves. The quantity and quality of the returned equipment boggle the mind: In the last effort of this sort, about a year and a half ago, the IDF received MAG heavy machine guns, 66 Kalashnikov rifles, 23 M-16 rifles, hundreds of hand grenades, 1,466 explosive bricks and of course huge quantities of ammunition and uniforms. The vast majority of the returned ordnance and other equipment was in usable condition.

People who keep weapons and ammunition at home run two risks: of negligence that could cause injury or death to family members or guests, and of enabling such stolen military equipment to fall into the hands of criminal or terrorist elements.

The equipment-return campaigns always make one wonder: Who would want to keep a mortar shell, an LAU missile or an RPG launcher at home? What could one possibly do with heavy MAG or IDF communications equipment? Try maneuvers in the field or at the beach? Invite the guys over to practice marksmanship in the backyard? Nevertheless, many soldiers are tempted to risk turning their homes into weapons depots.

Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin has described Kamm's collection of classified documents as something the enemy would be happy to read. Furthermore, they embody a serious security risk, he claims, because it became difficult to control their distribution once they were removed from the IDF's computer on the base. After she copied them onto her personal computer, Kamm lost the discs onto which the documents were downloaded. Who knows where they are today: At a garbage dump? Or, perhaps at Hezbollah headquarters?

Secrecy is not an eternal phenomenon; it is time- and place-dependent. The "targeted assassination" document that Blau published in Haaretz in late 2008, and which contained instructions concerning IDF attacks on the Islamic Jihad in Nablus, was secret and confidential before the operation. However, the moment the wanted men were shot and killed, the secrecy became totally unnecessary; they were no longer able to hide. In addition, the document that was published did not detail the operational methods, which could indeed be employed again in the future, but rather only general instructions. This is apparently why the censor did not prevent its publication.

Punishing the soldier

The quotes from General Staff discussions during the Second Lebanon War published by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff also lost their secrecy value after the cease-fire and therefore were allowed for publication. In the same spirit, after that same war, the Northern Command's operational plans were revealed, even though they had not been fully carried out and ostensibly could still be used against Hezbollah. As distinct from revelations that emerge from the army after wars, when committees of investigation issue their findings, the military censor prevents publication of reports that concern nuclear issues or arms sales even after decades.

It is not clear how exactly Kamm gave Blau the documents and how many of them are still relevant and should be kept secret. The establishment wants to punish the rebellious soldier in the name of the principle that one does not steal classified material - and certainly not in such quantities - if only because of the potential danger the exposure could cause.

It is impossible to erase classified information from the minds of people who know it. If the army and Shin Bet are sincerely concerned about security-related damage because some very highly classified documents are floating around in private hands - they should take advantage of the public awareness aroused by the Kamm-Blau affair and call upon anyone who has secret documents to come in and purge themselves of them.

The Shin Bet's insistence upon destroying Blau's computer shows they are not content with paper-shredding at home or reformatting of a hard disc. Just as they proposed to Blau that he return the documents and be done with it, they should issue a similar call to anyone who has served in the army or any other security organization. Just as the authorities collect MAGs and mortar bombs - they can also collect documents and discs full of information kept by former privates, majors and chiefs of staff. No doubt they will make interesting reading.