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Military Investigators Chided for Methods of Plugging Leaks

An attempt by the Israel Defense Force to prevent leaks of sensitive military information to reporters has sparked condemnations of the investigators’ methods.

The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, acknowledged Monday that military investigators had obtained records of mobile telephone calls between defense reporters and senior army officers.

Shahak said in a television interview designed to defuse a burgeoning debate over the issue that the investigators had been “mistaken” in the manner in which they attempted to plug the leaks.

But he stressed that the investigators had been within their legal rights to obtain the telephone records, adding that they had procured a court order from a Tel Aviv magistrate.

The investigators were attempting to catch senior officers who were suspected of leaking sensitive material to reporters, said Shahak, who described the leaks as damaging to state security and “unfair to the many officers who do not leak.”

Nevertheless, the investigators had been wrong not to consult with more senior officers within the army before applying for the court order, Shahak said.

He said he would have forbidden the move had the tactic been brought to his attention.

The disclosure of the episode in the local press Sunday triggered an outpouring of condemnation from the left and center of the political spectrum, as well as from the academic community and the media.

The army insisted that it had not bugged the reporters’ phones, but had merely used the records to determine that certain reporters were frequently communicating with certain senior officers — among them officers under suspicion of leaking information.

But the head of the Press Council, former Justice Minister Haim Zadok, issued a strong protest, arguing that the army’s action infringed upon the journalists’ rights as private citizens and their ability to conduct their professional business unimpeded.

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