A New Wrinkle In The Pollard Case

November, 1996 - The Jerusalem Post
Uri Dan & Dennis Eisenberg

It was in the mid-1980s. A stockily-built man stood perspiring in the sweltering heat of a summer day in what little shade there was close to the clock tower in Jaffa. Removing his jacket, he unfastened his tie. He went and bought himself a bottle of ice-cold mineral water, then returned to the rendezvous point.

Increasingly restive and impatient, he repeatedly glanced around him.

Suddenly a number of men could be seen heading for the clock tower, simultaneously, from different directions. Unhurriedly, like a well-rehearsed ballet sequence, they closed in to from a circle around the now white-faced stranger.

One of the new arrivals spoke to him in Russian in a low, firm voice. "Don't make any fuss," he said. "Follow us quietly."

In this way did a top-ranking espionage chief, a colonel on a mission direct from Moscow, fall into a trap laid by Israeli intelligence officers in one of their greatest coups.

Details of this heavy blow to the prestige and international functioning of the KGB were revealed for the first time by Oleg Kalugin, another senior KGB officer who turned up in the U.S. in 1986. He revealed some of the story to Ha'aretz in an interview on October 11.

Kalugin claimed that the Soviet Union had been using the green-domed Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, across the road from the police station in the heart of Jerusalem, as the nerve Center of all U.S.S.R. espionage activities in Israel, after Moscow broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War.

Disguised in the priestly robes of both high- and low-ranking church dignitaries, these KGB agents conducted full-scale spying activities in Jewish State.

The arrest in Jaffa of the colonel, who had come to Israel in the guise of a German tourist, but was really here to brief his operatives and pick up documents and micro-film gathered by them, set alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin. It was immediately clear to the KGB that it was being betrayed by one or more agents in Jerusalem.

Almost immediately afterwards a senior KGB operative in Jerusalem left the Russian Compound area in a hurry and sought asylum in Israel. With him was his wife, a decoding a cipher expert. Amid immense secrecy, the couple not only told Israeli intelligence everything they knew about KGB activities in this country, the wife also explained the system of KGB coding used in spying activities throughout the West.

This was at a time when American intelligence was still struggling with the Soviet Union's coding methods. As a bonus, the wife brought her manuals with her. Within a short space of time the couple were flown to the U.S., where they continued to reveal what they knew.

It is true that every KGB station has its own particular code. But with the principles of the system laid bare before the experts, the CIA now had a major lead in prying open the Soviet Union's codes. It was truly a major blow for the KGB, just as Kalugin said.

The defector claimed that the KGB had sent hundreds of its spies to Israel in the guise of new immigrants. "There were 250 from Leningrad alone," he told Ha'aretz. Whether he was simply leading the Israeli journalist on or spreading mischievous rumors is impossible to determine without further details.

This column may now reveal why the husband-and-wife team decide to betray their country and offer Israel vital information about KGB activities in Jerusalem. Such a thing had never happened before they made their decision in the early 1980s.

The mystery revolved around the wife. A dedicated Communist from her early youth, she was so trusted that the KGB taught her all there was to know about their complex and "unbreakable" coding system. She was sent to advanced intelligence courses, passing out as best graduate of Moscow's top training school.

So what happened?

During her time in Jerusalem, she spent much of leisure time exploring the city. We were told by a veteran Israeli intelligence official, "She returned again and again to the Western Wall, and even mingled amongst the women praying there. She found their devotion difficult to understand as she believed religion was the opium of the masses.

"After defecting, she explained that as she listened to the sounds of the devotions, something stirred deep inside her. She remembered that as a little girl she used to hear her grandmother praying on Friday nights in a 'funny language.' The sounds she heard at the Western Wall echoed again and again in her mind.

"Only then did she remember that her grandparents had been Jews. It had meant nothing to her. She was taught Communism in high school, and her entire family had abandoned Judaism.

"Now as she spoke to religous Russian-born Jewish women at the Wall, she suddenly became interested in her Jewish past. 'The more I learned about what being a Jew meant, the more I was compelled to seek out my roots,' she confessed after she and her husband made their decision never to return to the Soviet Union.

Nothing is known about her husband's reasons for defecting with her. It was considered safer for the couple to travel to the U.S. There, after she handed over her manuals and specialist information to the American authorities, the couple were given new identities.

There is an important link in this story to a man unjustly rotting in an American high-security jail.

The U.S.'s claim has always been that

Jonathan Pollard

transmitted secrets to Moscow via Soviet agents operating in Jerusalem.

But had that been the case, surely the wife of the double-agent couple, the cipher specialist, would have let the Israelis know about it?

It has long been no secret that Pollard's alleged betrayal of U.S. agents in the Soviet Union can be laid at the door of another man, the unmasked U.S. traitor Aldrich Ames. The revelations detailed above turn American claims about Pollard's role in that betrayal, which led to the death of U.S. agents, on their head.

It is the height of cruelty and injustice for the American authorities to persist in blaming Pollard when they know full well that he betrayed not a single soul to the KGB. Their damnation of Pollard is as false as the religous guise of the "priests" who masqueraded as men of G-d in a cathedral in the heart of Jerusalem.

A final irony: a year ago Israel handed over Russian property in the compound area to Moscow.

Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg are authors of  The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.