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Israeli Censorship, National Security, and Keystone Cops

censorshipThe developments from last night’s post about the theft of a computer containing classified documents from the home of the director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, would be hilarious if they weren’t deeply disturbing.  Yesterday, an Israeli source revealed that Shaul Horev’s home was broken into and valuables stolen including his laptop (for the second time!).  The source confirmed the computer contained sensitive State documents concerning Israel’s nuclear secrets.  In this country, national security officials have been fired or disciplined for similar offenses.  But this is Israel, not the U.S.

Since I published my post, Haaretz reported that there was not only military censorship prohibiting publication of Horev’s name, but a police-initiated gag order.  Despite all this, within an hour of my post appearing, the IAEC press spokesperson broke censorship and the gag, to reveal that the crime victim was Horev.  For some reason, one of Israel’s most critical national security agencies either deliberately or accidentally violated two different State secrecy provisions: a fine kettle of fish, to quote Stan Laurel (hence the reference to the Keystone Cops in the title).

The Israeli MSM story (Hebrew) which first exposed Horev, appeared in Yediot Achronot and contained numerous inaccuracies (or lies, depending on how you look at it).  It claimed no computer was stolen and that no classified materials were among the materials taken.

It did reveal there was video surveillance of the home though it didn’t mention an alarm system.  This leads me to believe that this was not a random crime of opportunity, but likely a theft designed to expose Israeli nuclear secrets.  So many nations would want to do so it would be hard to know where to start.  Iran and Hezbollah leap to the top of the list.  But the U.S. too would love to have such information (though I hardly think they’d stoop to burglary to get it).

What I found astonishing about the Yediot report was that there wasn’t a hint of embarrassment from the IAEC or government about the break-in.  Not a whiff of concern that extraordinarily sensitive data might’ve been compromised.  There was concerned expressed for Horev’s security and a suggestion that they might offer him personal security both in his home and outside it (until now his security detail stopped at his front door).

There wasn’t a hint in the report that Israel’s highest level nuclear official shouldn’t have had nuclear secrets inside his unsecured home.  In any western country this would be a huge scandal.  Horev would be fired.  The PM would be hauled before Knesset to explain how it all happened.  But thanks to censorship and a willing press these questions are never asked and Israelis are unaware of the ineptitude of the officials responsible for some the State’s deepest secrets.

Though I try to keep a level head about my impact on the Israeli censorship regime, Barak Ravid implied that my post caused the IAEC to come forward with Horev’s identity.  Ironically, Ravid himself adheres to the gag and doesn’t name Horev in his own report:

The IAEC decision to publish [Horev’s name] came as a result of a series of reports by foreign media on the incident, including the identity of the homeowner [Horev].

There were no “series of reports” which identified Horev (though there were reports on the incident which didn’t name him).  There was only one naming him, mine.

What’s terribly ironic about all this is that it shows both the censor, police and Israeli judicial system have learned nothing from the damage they all did to Israel’s credibility by dropping a veil over Ben Zygier and his imprisonment.  They disappeared him for three years including two entire years after his death.  Given the tremendous embarrassment and negative fall-out, you’d think they’d have decided that secrecy in such situations causes more harm than good.

But censors don’t change their spots.  It seems to be the only way they know to act in the context of Israel’s national security state.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Eden February 27, 2013, 6:16 AM

    Would it not be reasonable for a country to censor information that could damage its security? There is nothing to gain in advertising the name of the person from whom the laptop was stolen. The names of people handling nuclear or other sensitive information should be kept a secret for obvious reasons.
    I don’t understand why one would accept that. After all, I heard that certain people censor off topic messages from their website!! Isn’t that censorship as well?

  • Ken Houghton February 27, 2013, 6:38 AM


    You are assuming that Israel doesn’t want the information disseminated.

    We have pretended for years that Israel does not have nuclear weaponry. Heck, The West Wing made fun of that during the early Sorkin years, which is almost a generation ago.

    Obama and Netanyahu are meeting soon, presumably (as you said) to discuss Iran. Originally, it was to set Binyamin straight that he was not to invade. Being able to say, “Iran now has detailed information about our nuclear capabilities, including locations” might change that discussion.

    • eden February 27, 2013, 7:14 AM

      You should write a book. Maybe in fact Bibi is an Iranian agent and Ahmadinejad works for the Mossad? Did I forget to say that Obama was replaced by a double who works for the MI5?

  • Dave Terry February 27, 2013, 9:24 AM

    “But the U.S. too would love to have such information (though I hardly think they’d stoop to burglary to get it).”

    Now, THAT’S hilarious!! LOL!

  • pabelmont February 27, 2013, 11:27 AM

    I have never understood people’s defense of state secrecy (that is, of censorship and enforcement of do-not-disclose laws) in the case of “secrets” which are already “out”. The populace (here, the Israeli people) are somewhat impeded from learning the truth about their government (here, the embarrassing truth), but all enemies can read about the events in the foreign media (here this web-site).

    Of course, for any Israeli official to confirm the events reported here would make them more nearly “the truth” and not so much “speculation”, “enemy propaganda”, etc. So perhaps the issue is one of truth. and perhaps the issue is the trade-off between Israelis knowing the truth (valuable, since Israeli is a democracy for its Jewish citizens) as against occicials confirming what may seem (to enemies) merely “speculation”, “fabrication”, etc.

    Since I don’t believe anything the israeli government says (e.g., that various prisoners died of suicide or of natural causes rather than after torture), I naturally tend to believe what I read here over anything the GoI says about anything.

    • Eden February 27, 2013, 12:04 PM

      You make a very valid point. You can’t “un-ring” the bell. This being said, I disagree with you on two points. First, while I am very skeptic about government’s announcements, I would be at least as skeptic if I were you of websites which, you would have to agree, have a political flavor.
      Second, I disagree with your statement that ” Israel is a democracy for its Jewish citizens” implying that non-Jews in Israel do not enjoy democracy. Yes, it is much better to be a Jew than an Arab in Israel. I would simply point out that the lack of the equality we would all like to see does not mean there is no democracy. There are 12 Arabs in the Knesset out of 120 members. please compare that to the number of Hispanics or African Americans in the US Congress. Isn’t it much better to be a white man in America?

      • lysias February 28, 2013, 12:32 PM

        The Hispanics and African Americans in the US Congress have far more power. They are potentially members of a majority that has real power. The Palestinians in the Knesset are always frozen out of coalition-forming, even at the times when there is great difficulty putting together a majority.

  • lysias February 28, 2013, 12:30 PM

    I thought Israel’s not officially admitting that it has nuclear weapons was part of a deal Israel struck with the U.S. government under President Nixon, because, once the U.S. government had to admit Israel has nuclear weapons, it would be illegal for the U.S. to provide military assistance to Israel, and no U.S. government wants to pay the political cost that refusing the aid would involve.

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