Who's Afraid of Jonathan Pollard?

Elliot Goldenberg - Palm Beach Jewish Journal South - February 7, 1994

DEFENSE SECRETARY LES ASPIN'S declarations that Jonathan Pollard included intelligence information in his letters from prison has become a front-page news story in the New York Times. It's obvious that Pollard's freedom may no longer be imminent, as certain Clinton administration officials - like Reagan and Bush administration officials before them - appear to be closing ranks in an effort to keep the onetime spy behind bars.

But Pollard's attorney, Theodore Olson, was quoted in the Times as saying that neither he nor Pollard had ever been told that Pollard's prison letters violated national security.

Neither was I told this. As the recipient of some of the information Aspin may be talking about - and author of the Spy Who Knew Too Much which details the extensive government cover-up to keep the truth about what Pollard learned secret - I believe the American public has the right to know what is in those letters. The fact that those letters had to be cleared by Navy Intelligence (Pollard's mail out of Marion Prison was always read, and censored) would seem to be prima facie evidence that they did not violate U.S. national security, as Mr. Aspin claims, and are therefore part of the public domain. As a journalist, it was within my First Amendment rights - and within the First Amendment rights of my publisher - to publish their contents.

A former civilian Navy Intelligence analyst, who passed on classified U.S. military information to the Israelis, Pollard was arrested, in 1985, and charged with the crime of espionage. Although he plea bargained for what he hoped would be a relatively light sentence, in 1987 Pollard was given a life term in prison - a sentence never before handed to an American who spied for an ally.

In another article also appearing recently on the front page of the New York Times, writer David Johnston noted that Clinton's advisors are now recommending, however, that the president reject a petition for clemency.

"Faced with solidifying opposition within the administration," Johnston wrote in the Times, "officials said it appeared unlikely that Mr. Clinton would shorten Mr. Pollard's sentence despite an intense lobbying campaign by American supporters and a personal plea to Mr. Clinton, last month, by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel."

Clinton's advisors may be taking the advice of Joseph E. DiGenova, a former United States attorney who prosecuted the government's case against Pollard, and called what Pollard gave Israel "the largest physical compromise of U.S. classified information in the 20th century."

DiGenova, meanwhile, adds that a precise assessment of what damage Pollard actually caused to the United States remains classified.

I'm not surprised. I believe that what DiGenova continues to allege is really the same old "sources and methods" smoke-screen, anyway. Yes, there is always a legitimate concern in the intelligence community that TOP SECRET documents - even when transferred to a friendly power - may somehow fall into the wrong hands, thus compromising U.S. sources and methods, the protection of which is considered vital.

But, no, I do not believe that the indirect compromising of U.S. sources and methods is why Mr. DiGenova and his friends want Mr. Pollard to remain behind bars - and, most importantly, barred from talking to the media.

The greatest barrier preventing Pollard's freedom may, instead, be a web of conspiracy that existed (and perhaps still exists within the bowels of our government to make sure that what the controversial spy accidentally stumbled upon, they tried to sabotage - regarding a U.S. policy to strengthen Arab despots, often at the expense of Israel - would, "for the good of the country," never be revealed.

For instance, why was the U.S. secretly arming Saddam Hussein even after the war between Iraq and Iran had ended? The answer, it seems apparent, is a legitimate fear of fundamentalist Muslim revolutions which, at some point, could seriously threaten our oil supplies. This would especially be true if such a revolution occurred in Saudi Arabia.

And what about Israel? She was apparently caught in the middle as the U.S. could not allow the Jewish State's sworn enemies like Saddam Hussein or Syria's Hafez-El Assad to fall from power - thereby creating a vacuum which fundamentalists would soon fill.

Ironically, on the same day the first Pollard article appeared in the Times, there was another article, on page seven, with the headline" "Charges Dismissed in Senator's Case." This had to do with the dropping of criminal charges against Sen. David Durenberger R-Minn.) for allegedly submitting false expense claims to the Senate. It was Durenberger, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who once claimed the U.S. was using an Israeli military man to spy against Israel during the 1982 war in Lebanon.

The U.S. continued to deny this ever happened, of course, until June 5, 1993, when Israeli sources officially identified that spy as Maj. Yosef Amit.

Instead of admitting the existence of a double standard, however, Mr. DiGenova manages to pound away by taking his sources and methods argument one step further, alleging that what Pollard passed on to the Israelis "may" have cost* the lives of informants and rendered information useless that cost billions of dollars to gather.**


*J4JP Note

Suggesting that Jonathan's actions "may have cost the lives of informants" is unethical and false. If there were any merit to this particular argument the government would have formally charged him with having compromised the identities of the agents. But since this never happened, it is totally inappropriate - if not down right unethical, for DiGenova to accuse Jonathan of a crime he never committed and for which he was never indicted!]


**J4JP Note

The claim that Jonathan may have rendered useless information which "cost billions of dollars to gather" is a baseless charge, deliberately intended to sensationalize the case. It was only after Jonathan had been sentenced that people like DiGenova who were desperately trying to justify their conduct, began making the abstract claim that he had caused an estimated $3 billion worth of damage to the U.S. intelligence community. Although Mr. DiGenova has never been able to document exactly how he arrived at this remarkable figure, the sum just happens to match the amount of aid annually appropriated for Israel. This was no mere "coincidence."

J4JP Adds: One question which none of the government apologists has ever addressed is how much all the intelligence and technology were covertly transferred to Iraq essentially cost us during the Gulf War. Unfortunately, that sum can be measured both in terms of dollars and lives.]

He adds that the "damage assessment" of what Pollard did - even if Pollard did not intend this information to go into the wrong hands - is why Pollard deserves his life sentence.

Using Mr. DiGenova's logic, let's imagine I'm a store-owner in any American town or city. An elderly woman slips on, say, a banana peel in front of my store, hits her head on the pavement, and dies. No doubt, it could be argued that I indirectly caused this person's death. Perhaps a court will decide that I am negligent.

But, am I a murderer? And do I deserve the same punishment as someone who walks into that same store, points his gun at the store owner, and shoots him in cold blood?

Nevertheless, I do agree with Mr. DiGenova on one basic point: This case is unlike any other case of espionage in American history because - as the former U.S. Attorney has often suggested - what Jonathan Pollard did was potentially far worse than merely spy for an American ally. His greatest crime may have been that he got too close to the truth.

Elliot Goldenberg is an investigative reporter for the Jewish Journal.