Before leaving his job as a technician at Israel’s nuclear installation in Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu had smuggled in a camera and covertly took dozens of photos of the secret facility – information he later used to help the UK Sunday Times write a story purporting to expose Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
Vanunu was convicted of treason and espionage in 1988, and released after serving 18 years in prison. After his release, he claimed that he was proud of what he did.
Vanunu is still subject to travel restrictions as he is still considered a serious danger to Israeli security.
Naturally, Vanunu is something of a cause célèbre at the Guardian, which has published no less than 76 separate pieces (reports, op-eds and letters) on the convicted felon (dating back to 1986), including an official editorial entitled “In Praise of…Mordechai Vanunu“.
The Guardian’s latest celebration of Vanunu comes in the form of an op-ed written by Duncan Campbell (a long time Guardian contributor), one which evokes Edward Snowden in characterizing Vanunu as nothing less than a hero:
Though the narrative advanced in this latest op-ed overlaps considerably with the the previous 75 Guardian reports and commentaries on Vanunu, Campbell’s evocation of Snowden – whose Guardian-facilitated leaks were characterized by the GCHQ as “the most catastrophic loss suffered by British intelligence” in history – suggests an effort to grant Vanunu the ‘martyr’ status only bestowed by the Guardian Left upon those Israelis sufficiently hostile to their state.
Despite the predictability of Campbell’s apologia, there was at least one passage – containing a classic Guardian obfuscation – worthy of comment.
Last December, he failed in the high court of justice in his latest bid to be allowed to leave. Does Edward Snowden, as he adjusts to life in Moscow, wonder whether he will still be haunted and hunted by the US government for decades to come?
No one seriously claims that the man who was exhaustively debriefed by the Sunday Times nearly 30 years ago has any secrets up his sleeve. The decision to restrict his movements seems to be based more on a desire to inflict punishment on an unrepentant man than for security concerns.
However, Campbell is either being lazy or dishonest, as the Haaretz article he linked to in the above passage quite clearly indicates that there are indeed ‘serious claims’ that Vanunu has more ‘secrets up his sleeve’. Here are the relevant passages from the very report cited by Campbell:
In his latest petition, filed by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, Vanunu argued that a considerable amount of time had passed since he had worked in the Dimona center and committed the offenses for which he was convicted, and that not enough weight was being given to this passage of time. Vanunu also claimed that information about Israel’s nuclear capabilities published since his release “immeasurably exceeds” what he could add today…
The state countered through lawyers Dan Eldad and Aner Helman that Vanunu still possesses unpublished classified information and that he is trying to get the information published. To this end, the state’s lawyers presented classified material that was not made public.
In the decision, written by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis on behalf of himself and justices Miriam Naor and Isaac Amit, the court said that “after examining the extensive material submitted to the court, we are convinced that there is no reason to intervene in the decision of the respondents to extend the validity of the orders for another year.”
Grunis added, “One cannot say that the orders constitute a means of punishment, as claimed by the petitioner. The orders were designed to prevent future dissemination of classified information. In recent years, the court has examined several times the necessity of the orders, and has been convinced, time after time, that they are needed to protect national security.”
Grunis said that from the privileged material shown to the justices it emerges that Vanunu “is still collecting classified information and has not backed down from his plans to disseminate the information.”
So, contrary to Campbell’s contention, the Israeli court evidently not only has reason to believe that Vanunu has national security ‘secrets up his sleeve’, but has seen evidence indicating he intends to disseminate the information if given the opportunity.
Of course the broader truth pertaining to the Vanunu affair – and the media coverage of his ongoing legal battles – relates to the obvious fact that there isn’t a country in the world which wouldn’t act aggressively to prevent national security secrets from being revealed.
Further, characterizing as a “hero” those who betray an oath of secrecy and attempt to bypass established legal means to redress grievances against a particular government policy makes a mockery of the term, and conflates felons convicted of betraying the national security of a democratic state with genuine political dissidents in truly repressive regimes.