Professional Liars Have a Field Day

William Stevenson - The Toronto Sun - December 14, 1991

Posted to Web July 12, 2001

Gloating over Seymour Hersh's "revelations" about Jonathan Pollard overshadows more recent evidence that the accusations were based on statements made by a compulsive liar and a self-confessed con artist.

The truth was put together by CNN, the Turner news network. Foreign journalists had already made public their findings about the sources of the Hersh book, The Samson Option, which accused Pollard of giving U.S. secrets to Israel that were subsequently passed over to the Soviet Union.

Hersh, the author, and his publishers refused to believe the sources were discredited. One investigator who taped damning interviews to support the case against Hersh was Steven Emerson whom I first knew at U.S. News & World Report. His refusal to gloss over unwelcome facts led him to write books himself, of which the latest, Terrorists, makes plain his knowledge of international conspiracy.

Reporters like Emerson agree Hersh's claim that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir passed the Pollard secrets to Moscow is a figment of the imagination of a former low-level Israeli defense department translator, Ari Ben-Menashe, who portrayed himself as a top intelligence agent.

Newsweek's national security correspondent, John Barry, said on CNN, "Ben-Menashe is a fabricator... If you were talking about the American Civil War, he would tell you he was the guy who planned Lee's campaign."

The London Times discovered Ben-Menashe had resigned under pressure in 1987 from a poorly paid and menial job. He tried to parlay this into peddling influence among arms dealers. He took unauthorized trips abroad paid for by his mother, to con the merchants of death into believing he knew how to secretly market arms to foreign governments because of his high-level Israeli defense clearances. In fact, his Israeli personnel file described him as "delusional" and he was denied special security clearance in the early 1980s.

He was arrested in the U.S. in 1989 for conspiring to sell aircraft to Iran, but was acquitted because surveillance tapes documenting his activities were not accepted as evidence.

This column likened Pollard to the French victim of anti-Semitism, Alfred Dreyfus. Pollard had seen U.S. intelligence on hostile actions involving Israel's survival, discovered that despite an intelligence-sharing agreement these reports were not being passed on to Israel, so he gave Israel the secrets.

He admitted he had done wrong, and a bargain was struck. The U.S. government was to treat him leniently in exchange for details. The bargain was broken. Pollard and his wife were treated savagely. Pollard's life sentence compares oddly with the short terms of imprisonment handed out to proven U.S. traitors who sold secrets to the Soviet Union.

Pollard acted when he saw Israel sidelined because it had lost its usefulness in the Cold War.

Hersh's book is being refuted by Pollard's lawyers. But nothing can undo first impressions. Time magazine featured the accusations. Others took up the hue-and-cry, not only against Israel but against media mogul Robert Maxwell who was said to have worked for the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

After Ben-Menashe was exposed as a liar, Hersh said he had employed a detective to check out Ben-Menashe's stories. The London Times ran the "detective" to earth, and exposed him as Joe Flynn, the British hoaxer who confessed Hersh's British publisher paid him some US $3,000 to deliver telephone logs "proving" Maxwell was an Israeli spy. No such logs existed. "I am a con man," The Times quoted Flynn as saying.

Ben-Menashe wrote he was a commander on the Entebbe raid to rescue hijacked airline passengers. I can testify that this is not true because I met all Israelis concerned, during and after that operation. The commander was killed.

Ben-Menashe claimed he broke into the Iraqi nuclear reactor to plant a homing device for Israeli bombers in 1981. His whereabouts at the relevant time have been established-he was never in Iraq. He said he personally led assassinations, and was offered the directorship of Mossad. All this has been proven untrue by European reporters who have been approached by this persuasive story-teller with one tall tale after another.

Hersh, in a new story run by the New York Times, is claiming the Reagan administration secretly and abruptly changed U.S. policy to allow Israel to sell several billion dollars' worth of American-made arms to Iran. Hersh says this happened in 1981, after the hostages seized at the U.S. embassy in Teheran were released on Reagan's Inauguration Day. This fits the "October Surprise" Theory that Reagan's election campaign team, led by Bill Casey, later CIA director, made a deal with Iran to delay hostage releases.

The allegation is supported by Hersh's sources among "former government officials." It diverts attention from the hollowness of Hersh's accusations in the Pollard case. Enough responsible observers of all political colors feel the October Surprise was calculated; and this sudden disclosure will help many to forget the discrediting of Hersh's sources concerning Pollard.

The timing of the new allegations against the Reagan administration is strange. It coincides with Israel-bashing in Washington, encouraged by the manner in which the Israeli government has refused to behave like a satrap of the Mid-East peace talks. It takes our minds off Pollard, first victim of the new get-tough policy on Israel.

WILLIAM STEVENSON is a distinguished journalist, having been a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for British and Canadian newspapers. He is the author of numerous books including A Man Called Intrepid - which is the chronicle of the world's first integrated intelligence operation and of its chief, Sir William Stephenson - (no relation to the author) - whose code name, INTREPID, and bold mission were given to him by Winston Churchill.

William Stevenson is a Canadian, although born in England. He was a naval flyer during World War II and met Sir William on special assignment to Intelligence. More recently Stevenson has been a television writer and producer.

See Also:
  • A 20th-century Drefyus? William Stevenson
  • The Hersh Page
  • The Facts Page