The CIA's obsession, verging on the psychotic, that Jonathan Pollard harbors the identities of Israeli "moles" even now burrowing deep into the heart of American intelligence, is a major reason for the US administration's determination never to let Pollard out of prison.
The unfairness of Pollard's life sentence is so blatant that the European Parliament, normally no friend of Israel, called on the US three years ago to release Pollard without delay.
Declared the Strasbourg deputies: "His sentence was grossly disproportionate for a spy acting for a friendly power." The parliament added a rider, which no Israeli official has ever had the courage to say out loud: "We are astonished by defense secretary Weinberger, said to have an almost visceral dislike of Israel, sending a message to the trial judge one hour before sentence was passed, requesting the stiffest possible sentence...."
"Why did you do it?" we asked Pollard. He replied: "When I saw a photo of the world's largest poison gas factory being built in Northern Iraq, I asked permission to transmit it to Israel - as the US was obliged to do by prior agreement.
"My chief said no, adding: 'We all know how sensitive Jews are to gas.' That's when I became a spy for Israel."
Although not indicted for treason, but on a much lesser charge, Pollard was accused by his interrogators of treason, of having knowledge of a mole in the CIA.
From Butner prison in Carolina, where he is jailed among child murderers, drug dealers, serial killers and the like, Pollard told a writer of this column: "They carried out 52 lie-detector tests on me, each time naming some high US official. All were negative. I knew of no mole. I worked only with my four Israeli handlers - Rafi Eitan, Colonel Aviem Sela, Yossi Yagur, and Irit Erb."
Weinberger became aware that leading intelligence officer Aldrich Ames had used Pollard as a cover to conceal his own role as the worst CIA traitor ever. Ames made believe that it was Pollard's spying that resulted in an Israeli leak to the KGB, causing the deaths of 25 US agents in Russia.
Ames's arrest embarrassed the CIA. So, to avoid another scandal over its incompetence, it decided to ensure that Pollard stayed in prison permanently - even though he has no knowledge of any moles.
Whenever there is tension between Israel and the US, Pollard's name gets dragged in as yet another example of Israeli perfidy. As foreign policy strategist Gerald Steinberg puts it, "this becomes the killer issue."
Pollard fares just as badly with the Israeli administration and its intelligence communities.
He said: "The only Israeli leader who ever made a real effort to have me freed was prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. In 1996 Rabin reminded the White House of its promise made a decade earlier, that if Jerusalem was muted about my unprecedented sentence I would go free after 10 years."
Rabin told President Clinton in Washington that Israel had lived up to its promise not to spy on the US any more. But he drew a blank. Close associates said the prime minister was preparing a second letter to Clinton shortly before he was assassinated.
Pollard revealed that Shimon Peres promised President Weizman that he would complete Rabin's letter; but nobody heard any more about it.
All Rabin's pressure on the White House achieved was to provoke a knee-jerk reaction from US intelligence: Smear Pollard.
A leak to Time magazine "revealed" that a key National Security Agency compendium of communication frequencies used by countries all over the globe and costing billions of dollars had surfaced in Moscow. The insinuation: Pollard and an Israeli mole or moles were the guilty parties. No evidence was ever produced.
Responds Pollard: "I never had access to any cryptographic compendium material at Naval Intelligence. I wasn't even charged with such a crime."
There was a similar "hatchet job" within a week of Pollard's lawyers petitioning the Israeli High Court last month, declaring that Pollard had worked as a Mossad agent. The lawyers sought a temporary injunction challenging the government's official position that he was part of a rogue operation.
Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, Israel's ambassador to Washington, recently echoed the official line: "I'm relieved," he said, "by the knowledge that the Israeli government was not involved in a rogue operation."
But denials of state involvement were torn to shreds a decade ago by a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee under Abba Eban, which pronounced: "The burden of ministerial responsibility devolving on Rabin [involving Pollard] is beyond any doubt. Rabin was defense minister for 14 months of the affair."
A month ago the Washington Post "discovered" another pro-Israel mole at work. Although the story of purported Israeli chicanery involving an (innocuous) letter from former secretary of state Warren Christopher to Yasser Arafat was ludicrous, it had a sinister purpose.
The Post made a statement to the effect that if its story was true, it was even more serious than "the espionage case involving Jonathan Jay Pollard."
When last month's Pollard petition was brought to the High Court, Israeli security chiefs tried to ban publication of the details. But they had already been aired on TV and radio for a full 12 hours.
Within two days a US prison official warned Pollard "on orders from above" that visits by his Israeli attorney, Larry Dub, were to be restricted, and that he would not be allowed to sign any more documents in Hebrew (which he needed for the High Court action.)
Then, in a matter of days, the Washington Post suddenly burst into print with its curious Mega mole story. The coincidence seems extraordinary.
Israel's reluctance to have Pollard's case presented to the High Court reveals just how akin Jerusalem's attitude is to the US intelligence bid to keep Pollard gagged.
It was after Pollard's arrest in 1985 that the National Unity Government turned its back on him. Then prime minister Peres, foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir and defense minister Rabin bowed to Washington's demand to return documents Pollard had sent to Israel. It was a shameful betrayal of an agent.
Arik Sharon's lone voice objected. As he declared last year in an interview: "The cabinet refused to accept responsibility for Pollard's actions. By sending the documents, we doomed Pollard to a life sentence.
Sharon then cited Shamir's response: "A country needs to know how to sacrifice a person."
Israel's present government must do no less than the European parliament. It must speak up boldly for a Jew who served Israel in a major way.
(The writers are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israel Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.)