Friday, April 09, 2010

Anat Kam: Heroine or opportunist?

Some initial thoughts on the Anat Kam episode:

1. Much of the commentary over the Anat Kam affair is based on the story as it was known earlier in the week - while the gag order was still in place. It is, therefore, based on inaccurate and partial information, in particular the notion that Kam was being held under house arrest because she had leaked information implicating the chief-of-staff in illegal assassinations. We now know much more (not everything): that she did not merely expose this one story, but that she allegedly took up to 2,000 classified army documents and passed them on to a reporter. This changes the way we should look at the story.

2. Had Kam just been a whistleblower fighting to expose the army's assassination practises, it would have been possible to see her as a heroine and the authorities trying to cover up the story as the villains. But she is not. She stole thousands of sensitive documents, which included information on military operations, intelligence practises, weapons usage, and much more besides; information which has no public interest whatsoever. The whereabouts of these documents (all but around 50 of them, returned by the Haaretz reporter to the Shabak) is now unknown. She has put Israeli citizens and soldiers at risk with her theft, pure and simple. The authorities have every right - more than that, a duty - to go after her. This incidentally would be true whether she took one document or 2,000; either way, you steal classified documents, you have to be prepared to pay the price.

3. The left is wrong: this is not, let's be utterly clear, an issue of freedom of the press, as initial reports and commentary tried to paint this. The news story on the assassinations policy was cleared by the censors for publication. The press was not prevented from reporting this massive and important scoop, no matter how it was obtained and no matter how much damage it did to the army, the government and Israel in general. The journalist, Uri Blau, was right to want and to publish this story; it was in the public's interest to know. But can he reasonably expect to hold on to thousands of other documents with classified information - information presumably showing nothing illegal, but rather very concrete information about the way the army operates - and be left alone by the authorities? If you believe the answer to this question is yes, then you must say that the army has no right to classify any document - that it must all be open to the public and that all army documents should be scanned by curious journalists. Clearly, this is ludicrous.

4. The gag-order was clearly, from a public relations point of view, a mistake, counter-productive in the long-run. It created the perception that Ms Kam was being 'punished' for leaking damaging information about the army, while in reality she is being held to account for giving away 2,000 classified documents and essentially losing them. And here I agree entirely with Amir; the gag order makes perfect sense from a security point of view. Letting the world know that some random journalist has in his possession up to 2,000 secret documents about the IDF's methods of fighting, plans, personnel etc. is insane.

5. The right may be wrong; this is not necessarily about ideology. A recurring theme on the right has been that Anat Kam was acting out of left-wing motives in order to destroy the army and that she is essentially a traitor (the left, I suppose, employs the mirror-image argument: that she acted out of ideology and is therefore a heroine). However, we simply don't know enough at this point about what motivated her. She didn't - it appears - fight tooth-and-nail to expose one story which particularly enraged her; she stole 2,000 documents, some more important, some probably not very important at all - everything she happened across, in other words, including one explosive story. According to Haaretz's profile of her, she was interested in journalism from her teens onwards. It is entirely possible that she was not fighting for a cause, but simply an ambitious young lady trying to kick-start a career. An opportunist rather than a heroine.

6. Haaretz is right on one thing: all of this does not mean that the army should be let off the hook if it approved assassinations which were illegal.

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