Secret Shin Bet Probe Clears Police Chief of Wiretap Charges

Cohen himself was not questioned, nor were complainants contacted for further evidence to bolster allegations.

The Shin Bet carried out a secret investigation in October 2008 leading to the dismissal of allegations that Police Commissioner David Cohen had tapped into the telephone conversations of Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev and current Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, his attorney at the time.

Allegations that Cohen had violated the privacy of telephone exchanges between the former commander of the Southern Police District, whom the commissioner had dismissed, and his attorney were raised during a meeting that Bar-Lev had with the former Minister of Public Security, Avi Dichter.

The minister brought the matter to the attention of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who also ruled on the matter following the Shin Bet security services probe.

In February, in response to a Bar-Lev petition to the High Court of Justice against his dismissal, Dichter announced that Mazuz had examined the allegations and "dismissed any possibility" that eavesdropping had taken place. However, Dichter and Mazuz, who backed Cohen in the case, did not reveal that the Shin Bet had been the organ which examined the charges.

In its first comment on the case, the office of the attorney general described to Haaretz the Shin Bet's investigation as a "short check carried out by technical means," which was carried out by "an authorized organ that is not the police."

The description suggests Shin Bet technicians carried out a scan of the various eavesdropping systems that the organization controls, and were convinced that the regulations governing wire taps had not been circumvented.

Cohen himself was not questioned, nor were Bar-Lev or Neeman contacted for further evidence that could bolster the allegations.

The police and other law enforcement bodies who are authorized by law to carry out wiretaps as part of their investigations into alleged criminal activity rely on the Shin Bet for the technical work. In order to carry out a wiretap they must receive a signed warrant from the president of the District Court or his deputy.

All police wiretaps, which are authorized by a superintendent or a higher ranking officer, are reported to the head of investigations and intelligence, a post that Cohen established in 2005, as well as to the head of intelligence in the department and the head of electronic intelligence.

In emergencies, authorization of the police commissioner is sufficient, but only for a 48-hour wiretap and the attorney general should be informed.

The police commissioner presents the attorney general with a monthly report on the ongoing wiretaps.

Until an amendment to the law on wiretapping in 1985, senior officials in the security services could eavesdrop on conversations without any practical limits. During the early 1980s Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan ordered the unit charged with communications security in Military Intelligence to eavesdrop on the generals at the General Staff and report on their conversations.

Dichter, who was head of the Shin Bet until May 2005, provided Mazuz with the findings of the probe into the allegations against Cohen. Mazuz assigned the investigation to the current Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin.

The investigation of allegations against the police commissioner by the Shin Bet is unique, though the other way around has already taken place, at least in one case. Police commissioner David Krauss and his assistant (later commissioner Yehuda Wilk) checked the version of Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom and that of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1984's Bus 300 affair, and decided against the Shin Bet chief.

Among the few people with insider knowledge about the probe, in addition to a handful of Shin Bet personnel, was Mazuz's assistant, Raz Nizri, and the legal counselor at the Ministry of Public Security, Yoel Hadar.

Cohen said he was pleased to hear that Dichter had informed the court that the allegations against him had been found to be false, but was enraged when he learned recently that the matter entailed a Shin Bet probe.

A source at Mazuz's office told Haaretz that he wished "to clarify that there was no Shin Bet investigation in the matter and certainly not a Shin Bet investigation against the commissioner."

In response to a Haaretz question on the matter, the source stressed that the work relations between Mazuz and the commissioner "were and are very good.' And that the probe against Cohen had no effect on their professional ties.