Thanks to Wiretaps

Attorney General Elyakim is a nice man, a real softie who wouldn't be much at home with a gang of murderers and thieves and is not responsible for failures that preceded him. But his attitude toward intelligence and investigations reflects a combined ignorance, hypocrisy, obduracy and feigned innocence.

If Yigal Amir, Osama bin Laden and the heads of organized money-laundering syndicates in Russia were allowed to vote for their Man of the Year, Elyakim Rubinstein would likely have a good chance of nailing one of the top spots. This would be thanks to the report he released on Sunday, known as "Department for the Investigation of Police File No. 2403/02."

Rubinstein is a nice man, a real softie who wouldn't be much at home with a gang of murderers and thieves and is not responsible for failures that preceded him. But his attitude toward intelligence and investigations - he and the wiretap industrialists are in the same shocked-and-dismayed chorus - reflects a combined ignorance, hypocrisy, obduracy and feigned innocence.

These are the seeds that eventually foster the growth of serious crimes, when the authorities are deterred by what the State's Attorney General calls "over enthusiasm." Yitzhak Rabin's assassination was not prevented partly due to respect for the privacy of an intelligence sergeant by the name of Shlomi Halevi. He revealed a tiny bit of what he knew about the scheme being hatched and made up a story about hearsay testimony from someone "in the bathroom of the central bus station."

Rubinstein, with the refinement that he showed at the sight of photographs of certain suspects who were photographed in compromising situations between kid-gloved individuals, presumably would have forbidden the over-deep delving into this version of events had he confronted it during his tenure in office.

Rubinstein disapproves of sticking the ears of government into the private matters of families of suspects. Not every family is named Corleone, but criminals are capable of sending messages through relatives - secret accomplices or not - and in simple code. American intelligence, which heard Al Qaeda operatives on September 10, 2001 announcing that a "wedding" was being held the following day, were unable to intercept the "celebration." With Rubinstein, intelligence operatives would not have been allowed to make a transcript of the conversation.

The National Unit for Serious Crime was given the added title of "International" when the Israeli system starting being exposed to imported and sophisticated organized crime - the upper crust of the underworld. There have always been criminals here, but it was only a few years ago they began to try infiltrating the national and local ruling bodies and authorities.

There's a bigger payoff in can pulling strings to appoint a bank governor or fraudulently gain control of a bank, than there is from robbing a bank.

Collaborators and conspirators are wary of agents, which requires investigators to improve the technical means at their disposal - cameras, and especially microphones. The court, and Rubinstein, approved surveillance of very specific subjects who also happened to operate in the political world. This is a huge improvement over the brand of political espionage practiced in the times of David Ben-Gurion, at which time Maayanot, a unit of the Shin Bet, installed microphones in the offices of Meir Yaari and Menachem Begin and, of course, in the offices of the Communist and Arab parties.

None of the secrets wiretapped by the National Unit for Serious Crimes were leaked. They were submitted to and kept by the commander of the unit, since not every junior wire tapper is let in on the context and complexity of an operation, especially when the wiretap subject or his associates might in turn be spying on the unit.

One recalls the "300 lines" affair in 1995, and the self-glorification of an associate of Arie Deri who claimed that the Shas people knew who was being wiretapped, and how. A commission headed by retired police major general Moshe Gidron determined that the Shin Bet and police had been derelict in keeping these secrets.

The individual who compromised the "secrets thoughts of the individual," in the bombastic expression of the attorney general, was in fact Rubinstein. In the investigation of Ariel Sharon, Rubinstein and the head of the Justice Ministry's Department for the Investigation of Police, Eran Shendar, permitted themselves to scan and cross-reference telephone numbers of imaginary links in a possible chain, lest they discover sources and acquaintances.

Rubinstein has been in the civil service for three and a half decades, but always in positions of second-in-command, head of bureau, secretary, diplomat, or advisor, never as commander or decision-maker. Nor did he grow up in the prosecutor's office, where tough decisions have to be made.

A retired veteran policeman, who was extremely disappointed to read about Rubinstein's lashing out at Major General Moshe Mizrahi, yesterday said he expected the head of the general prosecution to mount a charge in the vanguard of his subordinates - not shoot them in the back.

What protected Israel from the octopus of foreign organized and violent crime in the past decade was a handful of prosecutors - especially women prosecutors - and policemen. These included Assaf Hefetz, Sando Mazor, Hezi Leder, Moshe Mizrahi, and their counterparts. The Attorney General was not there, and according to State Prosecutor Edna Arbel and her colleagues in their counter-report, he also missed a few points. In their eyes, Mizrahi is not only innocent, but worthy of praise.