The Comptroller's Strange Logic

The Knesset yesterday received a State Comptroller's report on the State Comptroller. In the report, the State Comptroller pulls no punches in his criticism of the State Comptroller.

The Knesset yesterday received a State Comptroller's report on the State Comptroller. In the report, the State Comptroller pulls no punches in his criticism of the State Comptroller.

To come up with a conclusion on whether the comptroller's criticisms fulfill their purpose, the comptroller asked himself: "Has there been a significant improvement in the functioning of an entity examined by the comptroller?" Since government ministries continue to fail and continue to function stupidly, as if they are not subject to comptroller critiques, the comptroller has failed, the comptroller determined.

Absurd? No, it's just a way of taking to its logical conclusion the comptroller's own logic on the subject of police electronic eavesdropping, as reported last week. The comptroller leaped to the defense of innocent citizens subject to invasive eavesdropping by the authorities, improper use of power, and a waste of the material that gets collected.

The goal is positive, the measure is strange. Electronic eavesdropping is justified, says the comptroller, only "if it leads to information, for intelligence or investigative purposes, that is connected to the person and crime for which the approval of the wiretap was given, or for a related crime."

Of course, the report's reverberations echoed all the way to the usual suspects, meaning the standing enemies of the Criminal Investigations Department [CID] headed by Commander Moshe Mizrahi - the suspects, the criminals and those who send them.

Yet, according to the comptroller's own criteria, a medal should be given to CID, where the rate of electronic eavesdropping by its national units (the International Crimes Unit and the Fraud Squad) is higher than those of the central investigative units in the districts, units that are run by Intelligence Branch.

"Public figures," whose taped conversations with police targets - as distinct to being themselves under direct surveillance - supposedly shocked hand-wringers, are supposed to know that if they lie down with dogs they'll end up being tapped along with the fleas. That's what happened to Likud power brokers in Jerusalem overheard asking for help from major crime families under investigation.

An officer well acquainted with Moshe Karadi's thinking said this week that Moshe Karadi, the next police commissioner, might give the unification of CID with Intelligence Branch to Mizrahi, perhaps making him his deputy, as a super-monitor for Miri Golan, who is expected to be promoted from the Fraud Squad to head of CID.

Criminals are careful about wiretaps. They'll stay silent for months and end up getting caught by a temporary lapse. They make sure to only talk on their car phones, which are relatively immune to wiretapping - but they are helpless when it comes to incoming calls, which can pick up the whispering inside the car.

"Routine" family conversations that were picked up - and therefore bothered the comptroller - included wives of suspects telling their friends or relatives "he just went out with the friend with the scar" or "he took the suitcase."

The transcripts all go to the defense attorneys, with the rest of the evidence, and the defense attorneys presumably latch onto anything unusual that could be used in their client's defense.

The Shin Bet, geared for security, not legal procedures, can eavesdrop on a broad range of communications by tapping on the modem dialer of a computer. To avoid exposing that capability in court, where the product of police wiretaps is presented, Shin Bet eavesdropping is limited by technology and mostly used for telephone lines and hidden microphones, which have to struggle with some background noise like a suspect's chattering pet parakeet. Solving a case requires the skills and artistry of putting together three words mentioned yesterday with four that were spoken two weeks ago.

Two months ago, the president of the Jerusalem District Court, Amnon Cohen, and his deputy, paid a visit to the central unit of the Jerusalem police. Cohen and his deputy authorize wiretaps at the sworn request of investigative officers with the rank of deputy commander and up. They went to listen to the listeners and four hours later left with wide open ears.

Meeting with Deputy Commander Yoram Halevy, commander of Jerusalem's central unit, his officers and the wiretappers - many veterans of Military Intelligence's 8200 unit - it is possible to be persuaded they aren't looking for cheap gossip. They are the long ears of the judges, and none are so foolish as to risk being fired or jailed just to satisfy an eager commander by following an illegal order to deviate from what is permissible.