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Phone Taps Take In Israeli Who's Who

LA Times, Sat. 5/28/94, pA2

Phone Taps Take In Israeli Who's Who

  Two private eyes are charged with listening in on hundreds of
  people's cellular calls.  The incident is viewed as a warning
  to a security-conscious country.

By Michael Parks
(Times Staff Writer)

  Jerusalem -- What do Israeli President Ezer Weizman, Tel Aviv Mayor
Ronni Milo, the editors and publishers of the country's best-selling
newspapers, two bank managers, and the manager of the Maccabees soccer
team, several big building contractors and the owner of high-fashion
clothing stores have in common?

  The answer is that they were all on a list of 231 Israelis -- many
politically prominent, some financially powerful but a few relatively
obscure -- whose cellular telephones are said to have been methodically
tapped for eight months by two Tel Aviv private investigators.

  But the real riddle -- why? -- so far has no answer.

  The two investigators, arrested in April and facing charges of
illegal wiretapping, are refusing to tell police who hired them or what
they overheard.

  Rafi Friedan, one of the investigators, initially told police that he
had been asked "to gather data" and that he was confident that his
clients' reasons were "personal and family related," according to court
records.  but Friedan has said nothing further, on his lawyers'

  The list of those whose calls were regularly monitored, according to
preliminary evidence given Tel Aviv courts, is a veritable Who's Who of
Israel's movers and shakers -- and a warning to a security-conscious
country of the risks many of its leaders are running in unguarded
conversations on their always-in-use cellular phones.

  "The police have found records of some conversations of some of our
people that are, well, rather embarrassing in their content," a senior
Israeli official commented, asking not to be quoted by name.  "Things
were said that should not have been said on open lines, and then things
were said that were professionally indiscreet.

  "During World War II, American had a saying, 'Zip a lip and save a
ship,' and we had better think the same way.  People have gotten very,
very casual in their use of their [cellular phones].  If two guys in a
Tel Aviv office building can listen to all that they did, just imagine
what a real intelligence service is doing."

  Among the phones that were monitored, according to police, were some
belonging to the Israeli Defense Ministry, senior officials of the
country's security services, two members of the opposition Likud Party,
the state comptroller and the director of an airline used by the
government for charter flights.

  There were also Weizman, top executives of the country's two
television stations, a number of lawyers, the agency that administers
the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, an insurance company, staff
members from the newspapers Yediot Aharonot, Maariv and Haaretz -- and
10 other private investigators.

  Friedan and Yaakov Tsur, his partner in Agam Security Consultants,
were held for three weeks and are now under house arrest.  If convicted
under Israel's laws prohibiting wiretapping, they would face sentences
of three years for each conversation they monitored.

  Although police do not believe the two monitored all conversations,
they have had very limited success in determining which calls they did
record and no luck in finding out what they did with them.

  "Their clients did not exactly pay with company checks," one police
detective said.

  Prosecutors theorize the monitoring operation may have grown out of the
bitter rivalry between Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, which have been
engaged in a long-running circulation war.  But they are at a loss to
explain how it came to encompass such high-ranking officials.

  Friedan, a former undercover policeman, and Tsur listened to the
conversations with a monitor that continually scanned the radio
frequencies used by cellular phones for calls made to and from
specified numbers, according to prosecutors.

  They had rented the $200,000 monitor from its Israeli manufacturer,
ECI Telecom, for "experimentation purposes" prior to its sale to
foreign security services and police departments. Friedan and Tsur
pledged in the contract with ECI to listen only to their own telephones
and those of ECI.

  Friedan has a reputation as a "tapping contractor," working for a
number of clients and taking on cases from other private investigators,
and police and prosecutors have suggested that ECI knew what use he
would make of its monitoring equipment.

  "Even wiretapping for experimental purposes requires permission,"
prosecutor Rafi Levy told a Tel Aviv court this week, "and they did not
get it."