Jonathan Pollard, the former United States navy intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel, was released from prison on parole on November 20th upon completion of a 30-year prison term. Pollard, perhaps uniquely among convicted felons, left the federal penitentiary in North Carolina and traveled to New York City where an apartment in Manhattan and a job at an unidentified investment bank were awaiting him. He was united with his second wife Esther, an Israeli citizen whom he had met and married while incarcerated. By some accounts, Pollard likely has a million-dollar-plus nest egg waiting for him in a bank account somewhere outside the United States, representing his accumulated earnings dutifully deposited for him by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad to compensate him for his arrest and the time spent in prison. Pollard’s first wife Anne, who also did prison time, is currently suing the Israeli government for compensation for her own pain and suffering now that her former husband has been released.
Pollard is on parole and is required to wear an ankle bracelet that monitors his movements, designed to prevent his fleeing to Israel. He cannot leave the United States for five years even though he has been granted citizenship by the Knesset and has both a town square and a residential building in Jerusalem named after him. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared an unofficial holiday in his honor and there will no doubt be a victory parade, as he is regarded as a hero by most Israelis.
Pollard has according to some reports offered to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Two congressmen from New York, Jerrold Nadler and Eliot Engel, as well as the Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu have called on President Obama to let Pollard immediately emigrate to Israel, but there is no indication that the Justice Department will agree. The Pentagon and intelligence community have reportedly voiced strong objections over the risk that Pollard continues to represent due to his alleged photographic memory and his ability to provide context to the documents that he stole.
As I have been following the Pollard case for a number of years, I carefully read many of the media reports on the parole and release from prison. Most were fairly offhand in their coverage, but a number focused on what they discerned to be the main points in the story: that Pollard was spying for an “ally,” that his sentence was alleged to be disproportionately harsh, that anti-Semitism might have played a part in that sentence, and that the information stolen related only to Israel’s enemies. In short, Pollard was a good man only working to help a beleaguered Israel by obtaining intelligence that was being held back by the United States government and who, when caught, was more severely punished than other comparable spies.
As much of the narrative being promoted by the mainstream media is completely false and even hypocritical, it is important to correct the record to demonstrate just exactly what Pollard was as well as what damage he did. Those who are calling for Pollard’s freeing from probation both in Israel and among Israel’s friends in the U.S. should look to the example of how Israel has itself treated Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal in 1986. He was drugged and kidnapped, convicted in a secret trial, and spent 18 years in prison, 11 of which were in solitary confinement. Since his release in 2004, he has not been allowed to leave Israel or speak to journalists and has been re-arrested a number of times.
It is difficult to find a moral high ground when it comes to spying, but Pollard’s friends pretend that the espionage was carried out to help a small and vulnerable ally better defend itself. There is no evidence that Pollard ever thought in those terms himself, and the Pentagon investigation concluded that he was only motivated by money. He reportedly wanted to get rich and before he approached the Israelis he offered to sell his information to several other countries, including Pakistan and then-under-apartheid South Africa. After Pollard was caught, he pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987.
Over the years since Pollard was sentenced I have had the good fortune to speak to several former senior intelligence officials who were involved in doing the damage assessment of what the Israeli spy exposed. They were sworn to secrecy on the details of what actually occurred but were able to make some general comments. They agreed on several points, namely that Pollard was the most damaging spy bar none since the Rosenberg espionage ring betrayed U.S. nuclear secrets to the Soviets in the 1940s; that Pollard exposed entire intelligence collection and deterrent systems that had to be recreated or abandoned at a cost of billions of dollars; and that Pollard, who has never shown any genuine remorse for what he did, should never be released from prison.
When Pollard was awaiting sentencing his lawyers sought to influence presiding Judge Aubrey Robinson into agreeing to minimal jail time, claiming that the espionage was really only a misguided bid to aid a beleaguered friend and ally Israel. Pollard’s wife Anne also appealed directly to the Jewish community to support her and her husband, claiming on “60 Minutes” that “our moral obligation was as Jews.” Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger responded to the pleas by submitting to the judge a letter, which is still classified, detailing precisely the immense damage that Pollard had done. After reviewing the letter, Judge Robinson refused to consider any mitigation and immediately sentenced Pollard to the maximum possible sentence.
In January 2014, M.E. “Spike” Bowman, who was at the time the liaison between the Departments of Defense and Justice and coordinator of the damage assessment, wrote an op-ed entitled “Don’t Trust This Spy” for the New York Times and also provided his assessment of Pollard in a paper presented at the March 7th 2014 National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel Special Relationship. Bowman confirmed the unique damage done by Pollard, observing that there has been no other American spy who provided “information of the quantity and quality that Mr. Pollard has.” To cope with the volume, the Israelis had to install high speed copiers in a safehouse apartment they used with Pollard and it is estimated that he stole 360 cubic feet of documents, enough to fill a room. And it was nearly all information that was beyond secret, meaning top secret and SCI or codeword, which is the most sensitive information that the United States government possesses. The Israelis were delighted and were able to request specific documents from a Defense Intelligence Agency catalog of available intelligence reports that had been given to them by another of their spies in the government, who has never been publicly identified but is generally believed to be a top-level official who served in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Pollard’s high-level clearance meant that he could get his Israeli Washington Embassy-based case officer Colonel Avi Sella, who was also running spy Ben-Ami Kadish at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, anything that he wanted.
For those who hint at anti-Semitism to make their claim that Pollard was treated with disproportionate rigor Bowman notes that it was not a normal espionage case. The conviction was under a special statute (18 US Code 194) that protects information related to “…nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information.” In other words, information that would make the United States vulnerable to attack by an enemy or would limit its ability to respond.
Pollard had provided intelligence to Israel relating to nearly every one of the key national security elements detailed in 18 USA Code 194 and, most particularly, had provided the Radio Signal Notations Manual, which contained details of how the United States collects signals intelligence as well as the known parameters of the systems used by the Soviet Union. The information would enable an adversary to avoid collection by American codebreakers and, if in the hands of a sophisticated adversary like the Soviets, would permit penetration of U.S. systems. Former CIA Director William Casey and others believed that the Israelis provided at least some of the stolen information to the Soviet Union in exchange for the expedited emigration of Russian Jews.
It should also be recognized that the focus on Pollard has obscured the duplicitous behavior by the Israeli government and its proxies in the U.S. I recall when I was in Turkey shortly after Pollard was arrested a delegation of the American Jewish Committee came through town and met with the Consul General and later the Ambassador, insisting that Pollard was some kind of nut and assuring all who would listen that Israel would never spy on the United States. That spin prevailed in much of the media and among the punditry, calling it a “rogue operation,” until Tel Aviv finally ‘fessed up in 1998. The fact is that the Pollard spy operation was approved at the highest levels of the Israeli government and to this day Tel Aviv has reneged on its agreement to return all of the material stolen to enable the Pentagon to do a complete damage assessment. And Israel continues to spy aggressively on the United States, ranking first among “friendly” countries in that category.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.