Chinagate and Jonathan Pollard

March 12, 1999 - Editorial, The Jewish Press (N.Y.)

The scandal over China's acquisition of American missile and weapons technology is upon us and appears to be a story that, as they say, has "legs." Surely, the probability that a sworn enemy of the United States seems to have had access to our deepest secrets is frightening and of concern to all Americans.

But what especially piqued our interest was not only that the infiltration occurred, but that the Clinton Administration has apparently known about the problem for several years but has not taken serious steps to deal with it. As William Safire and others have pointed out this past week, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Justice Department officials, the FBI and the CIA all seemed to have taken a collective pass. And the latest reports are to the effect that, at best, the FBI, the CIA and other investigatory bodies all engaged in their own version of rule book foot-dragging.

Here is what The New York Times said this past Tuesday in an editorial entitled, "Chinese Nuclear Espionage": "Careless security procedures have been a long-standing problem at America's nuclear laboratories under Democratic and Republican administrations. But a report by The Times's James Risen and Jeff Gerth makes clear that after the 1995 discovery of possible espionage at Los Alamos the Administration moved too slowly to investigate and to weigh the implications of the case."

To be sure, in the same editorial The Times attempts to put the questions raised in the context of a desire to cultivate China as an ally. But we cannot help but recall the furor beginning in 1997 over allegations of improper fund-raising by the Clinton campaign involving China. Although the so-called Chinagate hearings of Senator Fred Thomson never got anywhere, they did pose some lingering questions. Thus, while it is unthinkable that President Clinton or his officials sold out to the Chinese for campaign contributions, we cannot help but think that the fear of uncovering some inappropriate links to Chinese officials may have contributed to the go-slow attitude of many Clinton Administration officials.

Which brings us to our point. It will be interesting to see whether CIA Director Tenet will resign over the disclosures of foot-dragging. It will be remembered that Director Tenet very publicly threatened to resign if President Clinton released Jonathan Pollard. He said at the time that the release of Pollard would only be a cynical political gesture and would compromise all anti-espionage efforts of the United States. Well, we wonder what his reaction and that of some of the other sanctimonious folk who were so vocal against Pollard's release will be. After all, this is China, a sworn enemy of the United States, which has missiles aimed at us this very day! Indeed, according to Safire, "The theft of our nuclear secrets enabled China to leap a generation ahead with warheads that can be launched from under water... Paul Redmond, the C.I.A.'s former counterintelligence chief who caught the Soviet spy Aldrich Ames, assessing the impact on our defenses of this Chinese espionage": `This was far more damaging to the national security than Aldrich Ames.'"

And Aldrich Ames has heretofore been considered the most damaging spy ever.

China is certainly not a valued ally, as Israel, which was probably entitled to the information Pollard disclosed anyway.

This is not to justify Pollard's crimes. It is, however, to put them in some perspective. As we have said in this space several times, and as the Times editorial acknowledges, there are very few absolutes in public affairs. Judgments and balancing are the order of the day. Even something as heinous as disclosing state secrets must be viewed in an operational framework.

Unfortunately, in the Jewish community, people in a position to make a difference on issues of Jewish concern, such as Senator Joseph Lieberman and many of our precious organizational leaders, seem to take an absolutist view when it comes to Jewish issues. Perhaps it is an outgrowth of a fear of a charge of dual loyalty. But Jonathan Pollard continues to languish in a federal penitentiary under a wholly Draconian sentence only because Israel was the beneficiary of his crime. And as such, his case is a continuing affront to the Jewish community. It is time that his case is recognized for what it is.

It is noteworthy that the black community does not share our qualms over advocacy. The shooting of Amadou Diallo by New York City cops, the alleged racial profiling of motorists on New Jersey highways and similar questions are now the subject of federal probes only because of the single-minded importunings of the black community. Our community should take a cue. For all of our posturing, we really don't know how things get done.

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