Pollard Revisited: Is Mr. X Spying Again in Washington?
May 18, 1997 - Yossi Melman - L.A. Times
Yossi Melman, a journalist for the Daily Ha'aretz, specializes in
intelligence and terror affairs. He is coauthor of "Every Spy a
Prince: The Complete History of Israel's Intelligence Community"
TEL AVIV - What do they mean when they say "Mega"? Is it an innocent code word used by
the Israeli Mossad to describe the CIA? Or is it a sinister cipher referring
to an American traitor who works for Israeli intelligence? Since last January,
these uncertainties have poisoned the usually good and collaborative relations
between the intelligence communities of United States and Israel. They have
also revived bad memories of the Pollard affair.
Ironically, the latest espionage scandal began when U.S.-Israeli relations
seemed to be back on track. In January, Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet signed
off on a U.S.-brokered agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli
troops withdrew from Hebron, and handed most of the city over to Yasser
Arafat's police and security forces. As a guarantor, Secretary of State Warren
Christopher gave the two sides two different letters spelling out the U.S.
commitments. The Clinton administration revealed the content of the two
letters in only general terms.
Eager to see the exact wording of the letter given to the Palestinians,
Netanyahu asked Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar to get him a copy. Newly
arrived in Washington and lacking good contacts in the capital, Ben-Elissar
turned to the chief of the Mossad station at the Israeli Embassy. The chief,
whose name Israeli censors refuse to reveal, was reluctant to comply with his
request. He called his immediate superior, a senior official and head of the
Tevel (universe) unit at Mossad headquarters. Their short conversation was
intercepted by listening posts of the National Security Agency. According to
the Washington Post, the station chief said: "The ambassador wants me to use
Mega to get the letter." His superior replied: "We do not use Mega for this."
As a matter of procedure, a translated transcript of the intercepted
communication was disseminated by the NSA to the other U.S. intelligence
agencies. FBI counterintelligence experts suspected that Mega was a code word
for a senior and well-connected administration official with access to the
letters, as well as to other Middle East top secrets.
For more than a decade, the bureau and officials at the Department of
Justice have been obsessed with the suspicion that Israeli intelligence is
running a mole inside the administration. This conviction originated in
November 1986, following the arrest of Jonathan J. Pollard at the gates of the
Israeli Embassy. Pollard, a U.S. citizen of Jewish origins, worked as an
analyst at the counterterrorism center of U.S. Navy intelligence. He was
sentenced to life in prison for spying on behalf of a secret Israeli
intelligence unit called Lakam, a Hebrew acronym for Scientific Liaison
U.S. prosecutors and investigators believed that Pollard and his Israeli
handlers were helped by another American, referred to as Mr. X, who probably
was a senior administration official. Mr. X provided the reference numbers
that helped Pollard pull out requested files from America's most-secret
intelligence computers. But the investigators could not uncover Mr. X. Now,
the FBI is eager to determine whether the old Mr. X of the Pollard affair is
Mega. (See Jonathan Pollard's comments below)
Israeli officials have denied all. The Mossad has explained to the CIA that
Mega is a code word it uses to describe its formal liaison relations with the
spy agency. According to Rafi Eitan, a former senior Mossad official and
former head of the disbanded Lakam, and who personally handled Pollard, the
word Mega was derived from Megawatt. During the '70s and '80s, it was the name
of an international gathering of representatives from a dozen Western
intelligence organizations, including the Mossad and CIA, who exchanged
information and assessments of Soviet capabilities and intentions. That body
no longer exists.
Yet, the Clinton administration refuses to accept Israeli explanations at
face value. Nor does it rule out the possibility that Israeli agents are
involved in illegal activities on U.S. soil. The Pollard affair sowed the
seeds of this mistrust.
In defense, Israeli officials claim they have learned the lessons of the
Pollard case. "We shall never again run agents in the U.S.A." vows Eitan. He
and other intelligence experts also point out that it was not a coincidence
that Pollard was handled by Lakam, not the Mossad. The Mossad and the CIA have
long enjoyed warm and cordial relations. Mossad operatives are stationed,
under diplomatic cover, at the Israeli Embassy in Washington as liaison
officers to the CIA. U.S. spies posing as diplomats maintain their contacts
with their Israeli counterparts through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
In the United States, Mossad has not only avoided spying on American
targets, but has also refrained from operations against third parties, mainly
Arab installations. Nevertheless, Nahum Admoni, the Mossad chief during the
'80s, must have known that Lakam was running Pollard. So must have Israeli
Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres and Defense Ministers Moshe
Arens and Yitzhak Rabin.
On the other hand, since the CIA is reluctant to operate against Israel on
Israeli soil, it uses other intelligence agencies to obtain information it
wants. The late Yitzhak Rabin told me after Pollard's arrest that Israel had
uncovered five American spies operating in sensitive nuclear and industrial
facilities in the late '70s and early '80s. The spies were questioned but
Israel's flexible legal system made it possible for the government to release
and expel them, thereby avoiding conflict with its best ally.
"It is clear to us," admits a former senior intelligence official, "that
both countries, despite their friendship and strategic cooperation, are
constantly involved in espionage against each other. The big difference
between the U.S. and Israel is in the methods of information gathering." While
Israel has relied more on "humint" (operating agents), the United States has
mainly used "sigint" and "comint" (intercepting communication of all sorts and
electronic signals). This operational difference is a result of capabilities
The aerial forest on the roof of the four-story U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is
evidence of the NSA's capabilities and intentions. These antennas intercept
virtually every single phone call, fax transmission and other means of
communication originating in Israel. But the most impressive coup by the NSA
was, probably unwittingly, revealed during the Mega crisis.
All Israeli diplomats and intelligence officers assigned abroad, and
especially to the United States, are briefed to act as if their communication
was intercepted. But now Israel knows for sure that the United States broke
the Mossad code. Israeli code breakers, operating on "worst-case analysis,"
assume that other codes, including those of the military and foreign ministry,
have also been broken. In such circumstances, concludes an Israeli Cabinet
minister, the damage to our national security is far greater than Pollard or
maybe other Israeli operations might have wrought in the United States.
Jonathan Pollard Comments:
The American government has had documented evidence in its possession for
the last 13 years that clearly refutes the existence of "Mr. X".
Recycling the "Mr. X" theory which the government knows is clearly a lie,
raises serious questions about the motive and intent of the US in doing so.
Was there another U.S. spy tasking Pollard? - Mr. X' exposed
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