Convicted of spying for the Israelis, Jonathan Pollard is serving the harshest sentence in U.S. history for his type of offense. Was he truly, as then-Defense Secretary Weinberger claimed, a "traitor?" Or was Pollard singled out for "special treatment" because he embarrassed the U.S. government by giving Israel information about impending threats to its existence -information the U.S. Government was withholding?
Until the Persian Gulf war, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was widely considered by Americans to be just one more spy nabbed in "the year of the spy," 1985, which also saw the end of the Walker family's 17-year espionage career.
But something astonishing happened in 1991. Saddam Hussein attacked Israel with Scud Missiles, threatening to use his large stockpiles of chemical munitions to destroy the Jewish state. "In the name of Allah," bellowed the Butcher of Baghdad, "we shall cause fire to devour half of Israel." But the Israelis proved to be very well-prepared with an elaborate network of plastic-lined "sealed rooms," specially-designed gas masks and protective "cocoons" for infants, antidote atropine injections, and the requisite distribution system. These preparations, which not only provided Israel with protection against the promised chemical attack, but also allowed her to exercise great restraint and not enter the war, had been the result of five years of painstaking preparation.
Five years - that is, ever since Jonathan Pollard gave the Israelis the U.S. intelligence information regarding Iraq's chemical weapons program - information the U.S. had intentionally withheld from Israel.
Since the Gulf war, many people are having second thoughts about Pollard's actions. Indeed, an ever-growing movement, in both Israel and the U.S. now views Pollard as more of a patriot than a scoundrel, and is actively seeking his release from prison.
But there is a much larger story here than just the spy saga, however fascinating, of Jonathan Jay Pollard. Indeed, buried just beneath the surface of one scandal is what many regard as a foreign policy scandal of vastly greater proportions, dwarfing any breach of trust that could be laid at Pollard's feet. In fact, speculation now abounds that Pollard has been sentenced to life in America's highest security prison because of the ugly secret that the Pollard case reveals.
"Jews are too sensitive about gas"
It was 1984, and Jonathan Jay Pollard was a much-commended, 31-year-old rising star in the American intelligence community. He was fluent in several languages, had almost completed his master's degree, and had been selected to head the Middle Eastern desk at the Navy's Suitland, Maryland intelligence complex.
The Reagan Administration had signed, one year earlier, the "U.S.-Israel Exchange of Intelligence Agreement," in which the U.S. promised to share with the Jewish State intelligence information vital to Israel's national security.
The basis of the agreement was that the Americans would monitor the Arab states, share intelligence with the Israelis, and free up Israeli intelligence assets for use elsewhere. It was meant to provide the Israelis with a comfort level, while continuing the sale of sophisticated military hardware to the Arabs. Regular meetings were held between Israeli and American Intelligence officials to implement the Exchange of Intelligence Agreement, and U.S. officials were briefed privately on exactly what to share and what to withhold from the Israelis. One of the those American officials so briefed was Jonathan Pollard.
But something was terribly wrong. Despite the Exchange of Intelligence Agreement, vital intelligence was being routinely withheld from the Israelis, including details of: Soviet weapons shipments to Arab countries; Iraqi and Syrian gas, chemical and biological warfare capabilities; Pakistan's efforts to build an atom bomb; U.S. Intelligence assessments of PLO-planned activities; Libyan air defenses, and the like. When Pollard asked his superiors in the U.S. Defense Department why information about the poison gas capabilities of Israel's sworn enemies was being withheld from Israel, he was reportedly told: "Jews are too sensitive about gas."
What Pollard didn't yet know -and what his espionage case would eventually reveal -was that a secret American political agenda to substantially alter decades of U.S.-Israeli policy was already being implemented.
Abandoning the "special relationship"
Called variously the "balance of power in the Mideast," the "level playing field" and the "level battlefield doctrine," this agenda has been the covert basis of American foreign policy in the region since the first Reagan Administration, thanks largely to then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. It continues to this day under President Bush and Secretary of State Baker.
The "balance of power" doctrine was based on a flawed premise: that it was Israel and her "reckless use" of military force that destabilized the Middle East equation. This premise held that misguided American policy had, in the past, backed the Israelis, creating a vacuum into which the Arabs were forced to draw the Soviet Union. If the military power of the Jewish state could be curtailed, if the Arabs had military parity, then peace would follow and Soviet influence would be limited. Hence, the only real solution lay in America's replacing its "special relationship" to Israel with a strategic realignment toward the Arab states. Naturally, such a realignment would also guarantee American access to Arab oil.
The Arabs pushing for this realignment, especially the Saudis, found fertile ground in Washington when the Reagan Administration took power in 1981. Weinberger bought their premise, and gave birth to the "balance of power" doctrine.
This doctrine became the basis of American Middle East policy that saw the "cash-and-carry" sale of sophisticated weapons systems and technology to the Arab oil states, a policy still alive after the Persian Gulf War. While three Republican administrations have paid lip service to the "special relationship" with Israel, they have secretly supported the "Level Battlefield Doctrine" and quietly realigned America with new Arab allies in the Middle East.
This shift by the U.S. Government was manifested in the large arms sales, notably the 1981 $8l.5 billion AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft deal to Saudi Arabia, which drew strong opposition from the pro-Israel lobby. Some believe that the 1983 U.S.-Israel Exchange of Intelligence Agreement was an effort to pacify the Israelis.
Stepping across the line
Shocked by the withholding of intelligence from Israel, in seeming violation of the intelligence-sharing agreement, and torn between loyalty to the U.S. and concern for Israel, Pollard lived in a state of constant conflict. "He didn't sleep at night," says Pollard's sister, Carol, recalling the weeks before Jonathan Pollard stepped across the line into the no-man's land of espionage. "He told me that 'terrible things are going on' but he wouldn't say what."
Pollard was what is known in intelligence circles as a "walk-in": He approached the Israelis; they did not recruit him. He was soon delivering classified documents to the Israelis.
It was a classic triple cross: Pollard using the vast U.S. intelligence resources to spy on the Arabs. He provided the Israelis with complete and accurate studies of Arab orders of battle, technical studies on Soviet weapons systems, studies on Soviet weapons systems, studies on Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and on all those problem areas that posed direct threats to the Jewish state, including nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare projects.
Not a trained field agent, Pollard was coached and supported by Israeli intelligence. Working two full-time jobs and trying to please both of his masters, he eventually became sloppy, leaving signposts so big that a blind man would stumble over them. Finally, after a year and a half of heavy spying, Jonathan Pollard was caught.
The Americans knew they had something, but were not sure exactly what. Pollard knew he had been caught, but he had an obligation to protect his "sponsor", his handlers, and to extract himself.
Pollard gave his FBI questioners enough to keep them happy and not arrest him, but at the same time, lead them down a false trail, which bought the time necessary for his own Israeli contacts to leave the country. The FBI also played for time. It needed to make evaluations of the information Pollard was providing, to make a determination as to who his "sponsor" was, while at the same time keeping him on a tight leash. The FBI was more interested in Pollard for his value in "damage assessment," the key objective of counterintelligence. The Israelis were interested in only one thing: pulling their agents, all of their agents, out of harm's way. If there was no live body, they had deniability for political damage control.
After two days of questioning Pollard, the FBI's evaluation of likely sponsor leaned toward...Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Israelis pulled their people out of the U.S.
Ultimately, Pollard was instructed to present himself and his wife at the Israeli Embassy in Washington for extraction. He was to follow an official diplomatic car, driven by a Shin Bet (Israeli secret service) officer, into the embassy grounds. The Israelis knew that the FBI would be following. Jonathan and Anne Pollard did exactly as they had been instructed on November 21, l985. When Pollard's orange Mustang pulled into the embassy grounds, he was reportedly greeted by the Shin Bet officers tasked with extracting him. However, the extraction plan went inexplicably awry, and Pollard and his wife were expelled from the embassy grounds directly into the hands of the waiting FBI.
Running for cover
The government of Israel consisted, at the time of the Pollards' arrest, of a coalition of Labor and Likud. In a rotation agreement, Shimon Peres (Labor) was Prime Minister and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) was Foreign Minister. Then-former Defense Minister Moshe Arens (Likud), on whose watch Pollard had been activated, was then a Minister without Portfolio. Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) was the serving Minister of Defense, under whom Pollard worked. It was into the laps of these four men that the Pollard case was tossed by the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
In the U.S., the Reagan administration turned the matter over to secretary of state George Shultz. While the finger was obviously pointing at Israel, there was not yet enough evidence for an indictment. Pollard wasn't talking, and the FBI, being ever thorough, was not ready to make a call. Sensing blood, Shultz attacked, immediately calling Jerusalem and demanding an explanation., It was pure bluff.
Peres and Shamir immediately replied with personal messages proclaiming ignorance of the situation and a desire to "learn all the facts." Shultz issued a press statement saying that the United States had been "assured of the full cooperation of the governments of Israel," presupposing Israeli guilt.
Having been out-maneuvered by Shultz, Jerusalem set up an ad hoc committee to investigate and recommend a course of action. Code-named "Siren," the committee, consisting of three Likud members and three Labor members (in the spirit of the coalition), ascertained that Pollard worked for an intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry know as LAKAM. They also discovered that he was one of Israel's most prolific agents ever.
The four Israeli top politicians accepted responsibility for the State of Israel, but covered themselves with a false declaration that Pollard was part of a "rogue operation" following the Israeli intelligence community's recommendation of a hard "no comment" position.
Still with no hard evidence, Shultz moved in for the kill. In conversations with Shimon Peres, he extracted a promise for the return of the documents stolen by Pollard. The Americans needed these, he explained, to help in their damage assessment, and they needed to interview those Israelis involved. In exchange for this "cooperation," Shultz assured Peres that the Americans would consider Pollard part of a "rogue operation," not hold Israel responsible, and not indict any additional Israelis.
The Israeli authorities apparently believed that the Americans would eventually realize that this "rogue operation" had done no real harm to them. After all, the reasoning went, it was information due Israel under the 1983 Exchange of Intelligence Agreement. But there was no consensus in the "Siren" committee on whether or not to cooperate with the Americans; the vote split along party lines, with Labor agreeing with Peres to cooperate and Likud disagreeing.
The Israeli intelligence community advised that its government remain silent, without delivering anything. And if the political leadership were to decide to turn over any documents at all, the Pollards should be exchanged for them. But Peres, ignoring this advice, reached an agreement with the Americans. And for the first time in recorded history, a sovereign state turned informer on one of its own agents.
Not only were the Pollards stunned by this, but so were intelligence communities worldwide. The Israeli government's actions tarnished the vaunted image of Israeli intelligence, a stigma that remains even today. Although the Israelis turned over relatively few documents, they were enough to condemn the Pollards. The U.S. Justice Department induced the Pollards into a plea agreement and a damage assessment. One Labor member of the "Siren" committee, Ran Caspi, advised Pollard to "cooperate fully" with the U.S. authorities-and he did.
After Pollard was interrogated for 137 hours under polygraph, the final U.S. damage assessment was that he had not compromised a single American operation, agent, or any "source or method." It did, however, give the Americans a complete picture of Israel's intelligence interests and also pointed out the Israeli government's duplicity in failing to turn over all the pilfered documents. And so, the Americans abandoned their agreement with Peres and indicted those Israelis who were involved in the affair. Interestingly, they removed any mention of Israel from Pollard's second plea agreement at the last minute.
Did Jonathan Pollard damage U.S. security? In October 1991, Random House released Seymour Hersh's book, The Samson Option, in which the author states that Pollard delivered satellite imagery and other data used by the United States to target sites in the Soviet Union for missile attack. He further contends that the Israelis passed this information on to the Soviet Union. However, the official U.S. damage assessment of the Pollard case does not indicate that this sort of information even reached Israel, much less the Soviet Union.
Redefining "friendly espionage"
"I asked Jonathan, two days after he went to jail, why de did it," says Carol Pollard, who recalls his poignant answer. "Saving lives is a priority," he said. "If you're a moral individual, you should save lives." The arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard and his wife Anne left them no options. Facing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, Pollard played the only card left him: He plea bargained. Under the terms of that plea agreement, the Pollards agreed to the polygraph debriefing so as to provide American counterintelligence its damage assessment in exchange for lighter sentences-a routine arrangement in cases of "friendly espionage."
However, the American government apparently had no intention of honoring the Pollard plea agreement. When sentencing day came, U.S. District Court Judge, Aubrey Robinson imposed maximum sentence of life without possibility of parole for Jonathan Pollard, and two concurrent five year terms for Anne-Henderson-Pollard, for being an "accomplice after the fact."
Weinberger, it became clear, did not view the Pollard affair as a case of "friendly espionage." Never before, in a similar case, had a defendant received such a harsh sentence.
Indeed, in the case of United States vs. Abdel Kadar Helmy, Egyptian intelligence had secured missile technology enabling them and the Iraqis, the their partners, to improve the range of Scud-B missiles. The spy, Helmy, received a mere four-year sentence from the U.S. While this technology he stole ultimately was used to kill Americans in the Gulf war, it was still considered "friendly espionage." And although U.S. justice typically serves up more severe sentences for American citizens, such as Pollard, who give away U.S. secrets than spying foreigners like Helmy, the comparison is galling nevertheless to Pollard supporters.
Trying to influence the judge
Prior to sentencing, Weinberger wrote a still-classified memorandum to Judge Robinson. In it he reportedly mischaracterized Pollard as the "worst" spy in over 200 years of American history. He went on to speculate that Israel "might" trade American military secrets with the Soviet Union, in exchange for Soviet Jews. (This was the first time such a scenario, repeated by Hersh in the Samson Option, had surfaced.)
Weinberger's memo was calculated to pressure the sentencing judge to impose the severest possible sentence, despite the government's plea agreement with the Pollards. More unusual and more sinister than the Weinberger memo was the allegation that federal officials met with Judge Robinson secretly (ex parte) without the knowledge of the Pollards or their lawyers. In this pre-sentence meeting, the judge was allegedly told that Pollard had passed American intelligence on to South Africa. Pollard had not, but Judge Robinson is an African-American and the disinformation was calculated to anger him and thereby influence his sentencing decision.
The search for "Mr. X"
There was, of course, fallout over the Pollard affair within official Washington. The administration's point man in charge of retribution was John Martin, then-Chief of Internal Security at the Justice Department. Martin was best known for almost derailing the Anatoly Sharansky spy-swap by asserting that most of the high-profile Soviet Refuseniks were in fact KGB moles. He worked very hard to have Israel placed on the "criteria" countries list, which includes North Korea and Cuba, and continued to characterize several top AIPAC (American-Israel Political Action Committee) officials as "enemy agents of influence."
Stunned by the scope of Pollard's work for the Israelis, Martin decided that it could not have been the action of only one man. Thus evolved Martin's "Mr. X Theory", which held that Israel was running another agent within the United States. That agent, went the reasoning, had to be "high up" in the administration, and Jonathan Jay Pollard was no longer talking because of the betrayal over his plea agreement. So Martin, in conjunction with Michael Quinlan, head of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, set about the task of showing the convicted Israeli spy the error of his ways.
Anne Henderson-Pollard suffers from a rare stomach ailment, a condition that requires daily medication. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons denied her medical treatment for her condition. John Martin made sure that Pollard knew what was going on with his wife, in an apparent attempt to force out the name of the mysterious "Mr. X". Anne Pollard survived her sentence, but upon her release and subsequent arrival in Israel, she was immediately hospitalized for some time. She also suffered a great deal of psychological damage as a result of her ordeal.
For the first year of his imprisonment, Jonathan Jay Pollard was confined to a prison facility for the criminally insane. According to one witness, he was lodged in a nine by six foot cell, 23 1/2 hours a day. The toilet in his cell was normally backed up, inundating the floor with fecal matter. A Bureau of Prisons team wearing biohazard protective clothing would clean his cell daily. According to his sister, Carol Pollard, Jonathan Pollard was advised by a prison guard not to shower because some of the other patients, suffering from AIDS-related diseases, were known to defecate on the shower floor while bathing.
One witness related that the screaming of the "patients" never ceased. During Pollard's stay in the asylum, he was never interviewed by any of the psychiatric staff, nor was he treated for any mental disorder. When word of his treatment finally seeped out, Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) took action to have him moved, pointing out the correlation between Pollard's treatment and that given Soviet political prisoners. Asked why Pollard was being incarcerated in a federal prison psychiatric ward, prison chief Quinlan replied, "for his personal safety."
Jonathan Pollard was moved to the level six, maximum security prison in Marion, Illinois in 1988, where he is currently incarcerated, along with the men who spied on the United States for the Soviet Union, sold explosives to Libya, and the like. In Martin's quest to identify the hypothesized "Mr. X." he periodically sent around a list of names to Pollard. Over the years, that list has included high government officials and prominent American Jews. Were Pollard to simply check a few names, or even one, his situation would presumably improve dramatically. Pollard has yet to name a single person.
Are the Americans listening?
When the Pollard story broke in the media, the Reagan Administration assumed a posture of public dismay, and President Reagan expressed "hurt" over the incident, suggesting that friends do not spy on one another. Administration officials became offended over the mere suggestion that American agents had been active in the Jewish state. This, of course, was news media "spin" and blatantly misleading. In the intelligence world, friends spy on friends-all the time. Indeed, the Israelis have told the Bush Administration that they would be willing to trade for Pollard, but so far, the Americans are not even listening.
In the prevailing atmosphere of fear over dual-loyalty accusations -that many American Jews, especially those in government, still feel -have caused "Official" American Jewry to be very slow to call for a review of Pollard's sentence. Ironically, when Pollard's appeal finally came before the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in March of this year, the vote was 2-to-1 against Pollard, with the single non-Jewish judge casting the vote in Pollard's favor.
If American Jewry has been ambivalent about helping Pollard, the Israeli government's abandonment of him is even harder to fathom. "Israel has used me, and now they throw me away," Pollard recently told Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel, who visited him in prison. "I am broken."
And what of the larger issue? The Gulf war, with its Scud attacks and sealed rooms, may have exposed the occasionally beneficial aspects of spying. But what effect, if any, did it have on the American government's "level playing field" doctrine? America's new chief ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, was found wanting. With a population three times that of Israel, with billions of dollars' worth of the most sophisticated Western arms, the Saudis cowered before Saddam Hussein and cried for help. But as the coalition forces gathered for the rescue, America's erstwhile ally regained some of its composure, as well as its antagonism toward Israel.
Having been pulled from the very brink by the rapid deployment of American forces, the Saudis demanded that the Jews not retaliate should Israel be attacked by the Iraqis. They even went so far as to hint darkly about joining the Iraqis in a war against Israel. Further, they demanded that coalition forces not be allowed to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein.
When the Scuds began falling on Israel in January of 1991, Bush Administration officials, caught in the grip of years of bad foreign policy, were reduced to minions of Saudi Arabia. For its part, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, lined up behind its friend, the United States, and restrained itself. Israel could do this because it was prepared for the worst, thanks to Jonathan Jay Pollard. Without those preparations, which is to say, without Pollard, there is little doubt that Israel would have entered the war, and even less doubt as to what it would have done to the Iraqis.
The "level playing field doctrine" has proven over the years to be one of the most malignant foreign policy postures the United States has ever assumed. The sad reality is that it is alive and well, and still in effect. In fact, it underlies administration policy for Arab-Israeli peacemaking. It appeases the Saudi-backed Syrians, promises Israel will make disastrous "Land-for-peace" concessions regarding its security, and, at the behest of Arab states from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, assures the Palestinians that they have the "most to gain." And Jonathan Jay Pollard, the man who exposed this policy, who helped strengthen the Jewish state, and by extension the America-led coalition in the Gulf war, languishes in a U.S. prison.
William Northrop is the Jerusalem Bureau Chief of New Dimensions Magazine - The Psychology Behind the News. David Kupelian is the Managing Editor.