Damage, Duplicity -- And Justice
November 28, 1997 - Op-ed by Kenneth Lasson - Baltimore Jewish Times
Even in the icy world of international espionage, it is still
somewhat startling that "equal justice under law" is little more
than a palsied proverb.
Consider these three cases of law and perfidy:
Why have these three been treated so differently? All we know
is what we've seen. The U.S. Government -- which expressed
official outrage at Israel's "arrogance" and "ingratitude" in the
Pollard case -- has handled the Saudi-Schwartz situation with kid
gloves and virtual silence. The Government of Israel -- which for
twelve years had claimed that Pollard was part of a rogue
operation, but has now been forced by its own Supreme Court to
acknowledge that he was formally and officially an agent of Lakam
(an ultra-secret intelligence unit of the Ministry of Defense) --
has sent back American spies with barely a slap on their wrists.
Why are these cases different? Because, we can reasonably
surmise, of the causes being pursued.
- From November 1992 to September 1994, U.S. Navy Lt.
Commander Michael Schwartz delivered secret American defense
information to Saudi Arabia. Schwartz was indicted for violating
various federal statutes as well as the Uniform Code of Military
Justice. He pleaded guilty, and was given an "other than
honorable" discharge from the Navy. No fine, no prison -- and no comment.
In fact the government is remarkably mum about Mr. Schwartz.
Neither the Clinton Administration nor the Pentagon will disclose
any information concerning his case -- nor, apparently, has the
Senate Intelligence Committee shown even a modicum of curiosity.
Was any formal protest ever lodged against the Saudis? Do they
continue to recruit American spies with impunity? Have they
returned (or acknowledged) the stolen documents? Inquiring minds
may want to know, but they're not going to find out by asking the
Navy or the White House.
Or could it be that the United States fears offending its oil-rich ally -- much the same way as during the Persian Gulf War when
it ordered our soldiers to risk their lives defending the richest
Arab monarchy, but not to celebrate Christmas on Saudi soil?
- In 1986, Major Yosef Amit, who served in elite intelligence
units of the Israel Defense Forces, was arrested at his home in
Haifa and charged with providing classified military information to
the United States. An Israeli court found him guilty and sentenced
him to twelve years in prison. But in October of 1993 Amit was
pardoned by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, and set free.
Few Americans would know anything about Amit were it not for
the fair-mindedness of Senator David Durenberger. In 1987 the
former chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence
disclosed that the United States had "changed the rules" by using
"an Israeli to spy on Israel, and he got caught." He was referring
to Amit, but nothing ever came of his comment save for a scathing
rebuke of Durenberger by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar
This was not the only recent case of Americans spying on
Israel. In the past ten years at least two Americans on academic
and industrial exchange programs have also been caught gathering
secrets -- one from the nuclear research center in Nahal Soreq
(south of Tel Aviv), the other at a state-owned weapons development
company in Haifa. Israel's response? Simply to ask both agents to
leave the country at once.
Where is Schwartz now? Amit? The American scientists?
Neither the American nor Israeli governments seem to know, at least
not according to the Pentagon and the IDF.
- There is no such problem with Jonathan Pollard, whose
whereabouts everyone knows. Pollard is the former Navy
intelligence analyst who was arrested in 1985 and charged with
passing classified information to Israel. The federal prosecutor
engineered a plea agreement under which he would seek leniency in
exchange for cooperation -- then (after the defendant pleaded
guilty) promptly reneged on his promises.
The judge not only ignored the plea agreement, but solicited
a secret memorandum from Weinberger that offered up all sorts of
speculative evidence and specters of unprecedented treachery.
Neither Pollard nor his lawyers were ever able to challenge the
last-minute charges proffered against him. Weinberger called him
one of the worst traitors in history; the judge sentenced him to
life in prison; the duplicitous prosecutor recommended that Pollard
never be paroled.
And indeed he hasn't, already having served thirteen years of
by far the harshest sentence ever meted out for a similar offense.
Where is Schwartz, who gave American secrets to the Saudis? Or
Amit, who gave Israeli secrets to the United States? The U.S. and
Israel know the full and precise extent of the damage done by the
two of them -- and that the damage done by Pollard was paltry in
comparison. In thirteen years not one stance has surfaced (or
documented in the Victim Impact Statement authored by his
prosecutors) of any actual harm caused by Pollard.
With the Saudis, it's petro-politics: Oil among allies is a
powerful balm for soothing the slights that come with the territory
in the world of international intrigue and espionage. With the
Israelis, a different standard is at work. There is ample reason
to believe that Weinberger and his minions exploited Pollard for
two purposes: to call into question the "dual loyalty" of American
Jews, and to put Israel in its place as a strategic but beholden
ally. Saudi Arabia's oil, after all, is much more marketable than
Israel's democratic pragmatism; the Jewish State's chutzpah is
somehow deemed more galling than that of the morally bankrupt House
What's the difference between Amit and Schwartz on the one
hand, and Pollard (the lone spy of the three who was caught out in
the cold, and has been kept there) on the other?
Only that "equal justice under law" does not apply -- nor does
the damage done matter -- when there are greater political "causes"
Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.