Doing press for even the nicest Western secret internal security agency would be a job from hell. Even the best-intentioned, humanist secret security agents must do a lot of unpalatable things to keep the citizens of their countries safe and happy. So when I, an Israeli citizen, criticize the Israel Security Agency (which is what the organization otherwise known as the Shin Bet, Shabak, or General Security Service calls itself on its website) I do so with due gratitude for the benefits I derive from their work.
But when the ISA publishes, on its Hebrew home page, an accusation equating document-leaking with espionage, and making out like it, unlike (ick!) newspaper reporters, is concerned only with the security of the state, then it’s time to say, hey guys, your horse ain’t as high as you think.
Yes, ISA agents are self-sacrificing patriots. But the agency’s record is certainly not pure white innocence. Most famously, in the “Bus 300 Affair” the agency was caught covering up an illegal, immoral extrajudicial murder. Yes, the terrorist (who was subdued and presented no danger to the agents) deserved to die, but no, in a democracy we can’t have security personnel deciding who deserves to live and who to die.
Yes, the ISA must investigate when documents have been leaked from an army command office. And Anat Kam, who was a soldier when she copied the classified documents, will have to stand trial.
But if Kam was party to information that the army was operating illegally, in violation of an express ruling of Israel’s Supreme Court—which seems to be the case—then she, as a soldier, was duty-bound not to pass that over in silence. And by providing a journalist with the documents, she was most certainly not aiding Israel’s enemies.
There could hardly be a better textbook case of the press doing its duty as the watchdog of democracy. Democracy depends on the rule of law, and the rule of law means that even secret security agencies are subject to the law and the courts, no matter what their opinion of the laws made by legislators and the rulings made by judges. And the only power that can hold the secret agents to that obligation is the press.
So, yes, prosecute Kam for leaking (but not for espionage). But from the sound of it the army should commend her for uncovering illegal operations rather than jail her for spying. An army that obeys the law makes Israel stronger, not weaker.