I Spy A Clear Double Standard
May 23, 1997 - Richard Chesnoff - The New York Daily News: Op-Ed Page
Washington has decided to beat up on Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu. Annoyed by his slower pace on the peace
process, the Clinton administration has ditched any semblance of
a honeymoon relationship with Bibi and opted for a little
First there was the organized outrage over that new Jerusalem
housing development, the one Netanyahu's building on unused land
that's been mostly Jewish-owned for more than 50 years, the one
that's part of a plan to build homes for both Arabs and Jews.
Then there was the fury over a United Nations report that Israel
employs tough physical measures in questioning suspected
terrorists. Torture is an abomination, but I don't have too many
problems with shaking up some thug if it sways him to reveal
plans to blow up another busload of civilians.
Then came the topper: a Washington report that those treacherous
Israelis are spying on America again. The report revealed U.S.
spying on Israel - including the tapping of diplomatically
inmmune phones and facilitating publication of Israeli secret
codes, all in order to suggest that an ally may have a mole in
the upper reaches of the US government.
The Israelis deny the story, even disparage it. I don't know if
they do or they don't have an agent in sensitive places. Seems to
me that after the Pollard affair of 12 years ago, that's one
stupid mistake they wouldn't want to repeat. But I do know, that
when it comes to Israel, and Netanyahu, elements within the
Washington intelligence community often have their own agendas. Just look at the inequitable handling of convicted spy Pollard, for whom Netanyahu had promised to seek amnesty.
I've just had my own experience with that. Last year I applied on
behalf of US News & World Report for permission to interview
Pollard, the former Navy intelligence aide who was caught passing
US security information to Israel. He's now serving a life
sentence for that crime - by far the toughest punishment ever
meted out by America to anyone found guilty of spying for a
friendly, allied nation.
Both Pollard and the federal prison authorities at Butner, North
Carolina, where he's imprisoned, readily agreed to the interview
request. But then I was passed on to Navy intelligence people.
They demanded to know all my questions in advance, to monitor the
interview -- and to break it off if they thought it was touching
on "security sensitive issues". They also insisted that all my
interview tapes and notes become US government property.
I've faced less stringent conditions interviewing Libya's
The Navy justified its conditions by citing the terms of
Pollard's plea bargain with the government -- which the US
reneged on when they sentenced Pollard to life in prison. And
they claimed "national security considerations", though it's hard
to believe that someone who's been isolated in prison for more
than a decade still has access to information that could endanger
Nonetheless, I did agree to some security checks. What I would
not -nor could not agree to was turning over any tapes or
notebooks over to the government. That's a blatant infringement
on press freedom -- not to mention Mr Pollard's civil rights.
Pollard, who gave the Israelis secret information about Iraq and
other Arab states who threatened Israel, was wrong to do so, no
matter what his motivation. And it was both stupid and wrong of
the Israelis to have employed him. But if convicted Soviet super
spy Aldrich Ames - whose treachery reportedly ended in the deaths
of US agents - can speak freely to the press, why can't Jonathan
Yesterday at a Daily News Editorial Board meeting, I asked
Secretary of the Navy John Dalton to explain. Amazingly, he
expressed unfamiliarity with Pollard's case, but promised to look
Pollard is certainly not immune from sharp scrutiny. Nor are
Israel and Netanyahu immune from criticism. Still, there is such
a thing as balance.
Washington has had much to say about Israeli
housing and tough treatment of suspected terrorists. But consider
this: Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority recently proclaimed a
death sentence for any Palestinian guilty of the "crime" of
selling property to a Jew. So far, two Palestinian land dealers
have been brutally executed.
And all we've heard from the White
House is some mumbling.