Mediocrity, Not Malice

In their demands for a commission of inquiry into wiretapping, ministers Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann have essentially been arguing that the matter involves a vast conspiracy, a plot hatched by an evil cult of police officers and prosecutors.

In their demands for a commission of inquiry into wiretapping, ministers Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann have essentially been arguing that the matter involves a vast conspiracy, a plot hatched by an evil cult of police officers and prosecutors. The targets were marked in advance - politicians, especially prime ministers and justice ministers, whose power threatens the cult - and all means of attack were legitimate.

But the reality is far more gray and mundane. If, in July, a minister forces a kiss on a female soldier and votes in favor of going to war, and in August the prosecutor loosely monitoring his police investigation goes on a three-week holiday and is oblivious to what is happening in the case, the conspiracy falls into the gap between indifference and maliciousness. Directly in the crosshairs are Brig. Gen. Miri Golan, then head of the National Fraud Unit; the head of the investigation team, Chief Superintendent Eran Kamin; Tel Aviv District Attorney Ruth David; and the prosecutor, Ariela Segal-Antler. Here a notation was left out of the notebook, there a form was left unfilled. It was improper, untidy, inappropriate, undisciplined. In addition, Golan pressured the soldier who had been kissed to file the complaint, which the court later ruled to be justified. All this, however, does not amount to a task force against a suspect, a citizen, a justice minister.

According to the conspiracy approach, the Gang of Four, inspired by their superiors, were out to get Ramon, listened in on his conversations (and if not his, then those of the complainant, suspects and witnesses) against the law and in secret; or, as was claimed elsewhere, the wiretaps included findings whose timely disclosure would have prevented Ramon's conviction. This impression, if it has been formed, is galling but distorted. The wiretaps were legal, and their content did not help Ramon's defense.

It was not a conspiracy that caused Ramon to be convicted, but rather his chosen defense strategy - denying and attacking, instead of confessing and expressing remorse. When retired justice Shalom Brenner began looking into the wiretapping affair, as Ramon and Friedmann demanded, Ramon's lawyers chose to postpone their meeting with Brenner until after the sentencing. The judges who convicted Ramon of indecent behavior wrote that they refused his request to set aside the guilty verdict even after "the defendant, in his last words, expressed sorrow for the act, which he called 'unethical and immoral.' The belated expression of remorse is inconsistent with the way in which the defendant managed his own defense, when all of the defense arrows were aimed at the complainant, [seeking to] besmirch her name and trample her dignity in public, including the presentation of three perjuring witnesses who only fanned the flames. Our ears still echo with the words that the defendant shouted at the complainant when she testified as a rebuttal witness: 'You are a liar.' How is this statement compatible with internalization and remorse? Pretty words cannot cleanse what has happened."

The Brenner report, which was submitted to the attorney general and made public a year ago, suggests an embarrassing series of missteps and failures on the part of the police and prosecution. The process is cumbersome, but the result would have been the same in any case. Sometimes an unnecessary but harmless addition was scribbled down, at other times treasures were left to languish unused. One case, which involved a suspicion that became an indictment, referred to another case, which was closed; the two could have been united, as in many other cases, into a single case with two sections. A working routine familiar from any organization. The police are not an elite team, and neither is the prosecution. They are mid-ranking teams, defined by mediocrity, not malice.

Those who visit (as Brenner did) the "sketch" rooms - police code for the secret wiretaps of the National Fraud Unit or the central units in one of the districts, Jerusalem, for instance - see a handful of police officers, men and women, sitting at long desks, their eyes fixed on computer monitors, listening intently. They, who make in a month what the attorneys representing high-ranking defendants charge for a day, are the transcribers who deal with the raw material of the conversations. At the next stage, evaluation officers are supposed to comb through the raw material and decide whether it should be designated as investigative material, intelligence or rubbish.

Wiretaps, all conducted with the approval of a chief district judge (a District Court president or his deputy), are used only in cases of suspected crimes - murder, rape, bribery, drugs, witness tampering - not for indecent behavior. However, when wiretaps used in cases of suspected witness tampering produce evidence of indecent behavior, that is appropriate usage too.

The truth that Brenner discovered is the opposite of the general impression: After the investigators requested and received permission, tapped the lines and put the transcribers to work, they lost interest in the taped conversations. No one can accuse them of being overly zealous, just as such a charge cannot be leveled at their former commander, Moshe Mizrahi, in a previous wiretapping affair. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will probably reach conclusions similar to those that his predecessor, Eliezer Goldberg, reached five years ago: Wiretaps are legal, but not economical. It is good that wiretaps are used, and bad that their products are put to so little use. A vast conspiracy? No, just a small routine.