The Spy Left Out In the Cold Too Long
November 19, 1998 - Jonathan Kellerman - The Jewish World Review
In his JWR debut, Jonathan Kellerman, America's foremost author of psychological thrillers, ponders the strange case of Jonathan Pollard with the eye of an individual who very well could have written the case's storyline. But, then, that would have been fiction. Pollard's case, however, is real-life.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's request for clemency for Jonathan Jay Pollard during the recent Wye River Mid East negotiations unleashed a storm of outrage from Pollard's prosecutors and from sources within the US intelligence community. These mavens would have us believe that Pollard's spying for Israel was the most egregious act ever committed on American soil, but their sputtering is more than just a bit disingenuous.
Even a casual reading of the Pollard Case reveals that Pollard's offenses, though substantial, were significantly less damaging than numerous acts of espionage committed by spies who've received far lighter sentences. In fact, Pollard's
life sentence wasn't even requested by his prosecutors, but was handed down because of literal eleventh hour pressure exerted by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, in what can only be regarded as a remarkable act of judicial tampering.
No one debates that Pollard committed a serious crime; transferring classified US documents about Arab countries to Israel while employed as a Navy intelligence analyst. But no evidence has ever been offered that these thefts endangered US security. The circumstances leading to Pollard's conviction are straight out of a Le Carre novel.
Arrested on November 21, 1985 in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington after being denied entry by his handlers, Pollard pled guilty to a single count of espionage as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, and handed over documents and satellite photographs. Espionage,
not treason, because even those who oppose specific policies of the Israeli government generally agree that Jerusalem in one of Washington's most consistent allies. There is not a shred of evidence that Pollard's actions led to even the minor injury of a single American operative.
Pollard's prosecutors were well aware of this and had requested that Pollard receive a multi-year sentence but not a life sentence. Then one hour before judgment was to be handed down, Weinberger cut a 47 page classified memo demanding harsh punishment. The plea bargain was abrogated after the fact, and Pollard received life without parole.
Contrast this to the nearly identical case of another Navy intelligence analyst, Robert Kim who spied for South Korea and was given a
nine year sentence. Yet another Navy officer who spied for that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia - the same Saudi Arabia that has refused to cooperate in the investigation of the bombing deaths of scores of US soldiers - was merely dismissed from his job. Harold J. Nicholson, the highest ranking CIA official ever convicted of espionage, who betrayed his colleagues to the Russians, was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months. Fellow Russian informant, Robert Lipka, received 18 years. Even the notorious Walker family spy ring wasn't treated as harshly as Pollard, who for the first 7 years of his term was forced into solitary confinement.
Most fingers point to Weinberger, who, during his tenure in the Reagan administration, often displayed a special animus toward Israel, and who, despite Jewish ancestry, has always avoided identification with anything remotely Semitic. An oft repeated phrase in the Jewish community is "Self-haters are our worst enemies", and perhaps this has come to roost in an especially brutal way in the case of Weinberger vs. Pollard.
Or maybe there is fear that Pollard's release would bring to light the facts Weinberger and his colleagues desperately want hushed up. If so, these data must be of a political, rather than a national security nature, because Pollard's files were passed to Jerusalem over 15 years ago and not even a hint of military damage caused by the transfer has surfaced.
Compare that to the Nicholson case and to that of another convicted spy, Aldrich Ames, both of whom worked for the Soviets when Moscow's nukes were still aimed at us and whose betrayals led to the brutal executions of numerous US agents. Ames received a life sentence, but with the possibility of parole, and he was released into the general prison population - treated with kindness compared to Pollard.
There have been suggestions that the documents Pollard delivered to Israel dealt with Iraq - specifically the US government's cozying up to Saddam Hussein and other major-league Reagan era blunders that helped to bring about the invasion of Kuwait. If so, Pollard's life has been ruined simply to prevent embarassment to Weinberger and his buddies.
Thirteen years after Pollard's conviction, it's difficult to conceive of any facts that would justify the treatment he has received. Republicans aren't likely to help get the truth because Weinberger and his minions were their boys, and President Clinton, never any great arbiter of morality, has shown no inclination to get involved, even prior to the distractions of Hanky-Pankygate. (It is not implausible that Wye River itself was cobbled together as a wag-the-dog distraction from stains on blue dresses rather than genuine statesmanship.)
Nor has the Israeli government exhibited much concern, up until now, about the operative it used and then abandoned, and given the ease with which Mr. Netanyahu relaxed his demand for Pollard's release, one can only assume political posturing for the electorate back in Jerusalem, rather than genuine compassion.
That leaves Pollard one last possible advocacy group: American Jews. But most self-appointed Jewish leaders, shudderingly self-conscious in the post-Rosenberg era, are afraid to speak out, fearful of accusations of divided loyalties.
Granted, it's hard to muster sympathy for an American who handed over state secrets to even a friendly government, but fairness dictates that the specifics behind the Weinberg's manipulation be brought to light.
All indications are that such objective fact-finding will reveal Pollard to have been a misdirected young man exploited by two governments rather than some evil agent of doom. Let the truth come out.
Let this spy come in from the cold.