Cover-Up In High Places

Uri Dan, Dennis Eisenberg - The Jerusalem Post - November 10, 1994

Last week, the entire leadership echelon of the CIA got a fierce tongue-lashing from the American Senate Committee for Intelligence. The reason: its incompetence in dealing with superspy Aldrich Ames.

For over 10 years, Ames betrayed his country in order to enrich himself. Far worse, he was directly responsible for the capture and execution by the KGB of at least 10 Russian and possibly more agents operating in the Soviet Union on behalf of the US. Ames betrayed them in cold blood, to please his paymasters in the Kremlin and swell his bank accounts.

Not a single member of the seriously negligent CIA hierarchy was held accountable for the laxity of the men running the organization, the Intelligence Committee reported, with barely restrained anger. The case shocked most Americans.

Their astonishment at the CIA's whitewash of the organization's bosses was understandable. For the "mole" Ames had been allowed to report undisturbed to his Russian masters for many years.

When he was sentenced recently to life imprisonment without parole in a plea-bargain deal, his case was called the worst such incident in the history of the CIA.

The organization's reputation was torn to shreds by cartoons showing Ames sitting at his desk in Washington, with Russian telephone directories by his side and lapels on his jacket saying, "I love Moscow".

This unprecedented criticism by the Senate Committee evoked different feelings in different men.

For present CIA boss James Woolsey, appointed shortly after President Clinton came to office, there was a sense of injustice.

As he is fairly new to the job, he knew nothing about Ames being allowed to operate undetected for over a decade. Nevertheless, as CIA head, he had to bear the brunt of the criticism, the more so because there had been clear signs of a mole at work.

For past chiefs of the organization such as Robert Gates and Judge William Webster, there was a sense of relief. They are out of the CIA and needn't face the sting of public condemnation, even though Ames was toiling away undetected during their periods in office.

Another man, incarcerated in 1985 for life in a top-security prison, must also be feeling a very deep sense of injustice.

Jonathan Pollard's harsh sentence was handed down because then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger damned him in a personal pretrial letter to the judge.

Unaware that Ames was the one who had betrayed the agents in Russia, Weinberger wrote Pollard's judge saying that information supplied by Pollard had reached the KGB in Moscow, causing America great harm. The implication was that this leak had led to the agents' deaths. This angered the judge.

Ames's plea-bargain was honored. The court also agreed not to press serious charges against his wife if he told everything he knew.

No one died because of Pollard, a Jew who wanted to help Israel. And yet his plea bargain was ignored. The judge also overlooked the fact that Pollard had been working for a "friendly power" - never considered a very serious crime.

Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, all government leaders when Pollard was arrested, must surely be undergoing a trial of their collective conscience.

They didn't just abandon Pollard to his fate. They did far worse. They admitted that Israel had received highly valuable information from Pollard, particularly concerning Russian help in building up Syrian capability to launch a war against Israel.

Pollard had also revealed the rapid acquisition by Syria and Iraq of biological and chemical weapons. The Israelis promised to return every single document Pollard had sent to Jerusalem, documents they well knew were of vital importance to Israel.

Pollard's explanation of his actions was that, contrary to the US's agreement that it would share matters of interest to Israel, Weinberger had given specific instructions to keep Israel in the dark about such vital matters.

And Weinberger himself? Saved by president Bush from court action for his role in the arms to Iran scandal, he is now clearly aware that Pollard had nothing to do with the deaths of the Soviet agents working for the US.

He knows he falsely blackened Pollard's name, sending him to prison for the rest of his life, and knows too that Pollard's lawyers, who claimed that none of the information Pollard sent to Israel could possibly have been forwarded to the Soviet Union by Jerusalem, were telling the truth.

If Weinberger had a conscience, he would be disturbed by the fact that he was directly responsible for the false charge of high treason laid on Pollard. His conscience would be pricking him over the fact that Ames probably fingered Pollard as the man feeding Moscow, to divert attention from himself.

Surely a man of honor would speak out. Surely the directors of the CIA would also speak out.

And the Israeli leaders who so willingly sank Pollard?

Bowing and scraping to the American administration, they ignored the warnings by a senior Israeli government official that they were making a terrible mistake in returning Pollard's reports to the US. Without them, the US security services wouldn't have had enough evidence of Pollard's spying activities to send him to prison on a serious charge. They condemned him by supplying the smoking gun.

The Israeli official suggested that the prime minister should remind the Americans that, under their own "activist" CIA chief William Casey in the 1980s, the US had been caught red-handed recruiting Israelis to sell him information. These included at least two army men. One of them, Yosef Amit, passed Casey important data.

Israel didn't make waves in Washington over this transgression. It was suggested that Washington treat the Pollard affair the same way.

So why should Shamir, Arens, Peres and Rabin feel conscience-stricken?

Because they ducked the issue. With one voice, they claimed to know nothing about Pollard. It was a "rogue affair," they said. They pointed the finger straight at the prime minister's intelligence adviser, Rafael Eitan.

This veteran and heroic Mossad operator, part of the team that organized the coup which led to Adolf Eichmann standing trial in Jerusalem, became the government's scapegoat.

And Jonathan Pollard became the Jewish scapegoat of Caspar Weinberger and the CIA.

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