Jonathan Pollard and Washington Secrets

Rabbi Bruce Warshal - Jewish Journal, Broward, Fla. - November 11, 2003

In early September Jonathan Pollard made his first public appearance in 15 years before a U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C. It may auger well for him in his bid for freedom. What it did for a surety is reignite passions in the Jewish community over the Pollard affair.

The conservative ideologue Mitchell Bard wrote a column titled, "Let Pollard Rot." In it he labeled Pollard a traitor, even though he was never charged as such, only as a conspirator to commit espionage for a friendly country. The usual sentence for this latter crime is five years in jail, not a life sentence, as Pollard was dealt. The more common reaction of late in the Jewish community is the recognition that Pollard has served enough time for his crime. After 18 years in prison, Jewish organizations ranging from the Orthodox Union to the UAHC (Reform Judaism's central body) are asking for clemency.

I had always assumed that the government reneged on its plea bargain with Pollard based on at least a tinge of anti-Semitism. Why else would then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger write his famous secret brief to the judge practically demanding a life sentence? But I have changed my mind, based on a recent article written by my friend John Loftus, a former Justice Department attorney and spy maven, and the author of "The Secret War Against the Jews." (St. Martin's Press). Loftus points out that immediately after the Pollard incident more than 40 American agents in the Soviet Union were either captured or killed. It was assumed by the Defense Department that Pollard gave their identities to Israel where a Soviet spy in the Mossad picked them up and transferred them to Russia. This would make Pollard complicit in mass murder. This not only explains Weinberger's plea to the judge, but the harsh treatment Pollard received after incarceration. He spent more than a year in solitary confinement, incommunicado, in a ward reserved for the criminally insane. This was followed by five years in solitary confinement in Marion, Ill., one of the toughest prisons in the federal system.

But the assumption was wrong. Pollard did not provide these names to Israel. As Loftus points out, it has come to light that the Navy Department, where Pollard worked, kept these names in a locked safe with a "blue stripe' security clearance, a level that Pollard never reached. Subsequently, the CIA agent Aldrich Ames and the FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen have been convicted of passing these names to the Russians. Both had "blue stripe" clearance.

So why, at this point, do not the Washington spooks admit their errors and agree to clemency for Pollard? It could be out of bureaucratic hubris, which demands that you never admit that you made a mistake, or it could be something more embarrassing. Loftus claims that Pollard sent Israel the names of Arab terrorists in the employ of Saudi Arabia, secretly financed by the American Defense Department. Loftus met Pollard in jail and Pollard verified this.

Why would America want to finance Arab terrorists, including one young man by the name of Osama Bin Laden? Simply because we were using them to attack the then Soviet regime in Afghanistan. In essence, we created a monster that eventually turned on us. (This in analogous to the Mossad creating Hamas as a counterbalance to the PLO in the late 1980s. They are living with the horror of their own creation today.) Loftus maintains that it is this fact that keeps the Washington establishment insisting on Pollard's continual incarceration. As a free man he could embarrass the Defense Department, the spy agencies and many influential current leaders in the Administration who were involved in this case.

There are no winners in this saga. The U.S. government violated its plea agreement, and has not confronted its own mistake of blaming Pollard for the actions of Ames and Hanssen. But Pollard and Israel are not blameless. Starting with Pollard. He is no hero. He is an embarrassment to the Jewish community. As a naval intelligence analyst, he owed an allegiance to this country. He violated that commitment in passing along classified information to Israel, albeit a friendly ally of the United States. He deserved to be incarcerated, but not for life.

Israel committed a much graver error than Pollard. We know that it is common for nations to spy on its own allies (the United States was caught spying on France about 5 years ago,) but for Israel to use an American Jew endangered the American Jewish community. It exposed us to the anti-Semites who have falsely charged us with dual loyalty. It was a stupid act with no consideration for its consequences. It is a testimony to the liberality and openness of American society that there was no anti-Semitic backlash from the Pollard affair.

Meanwhile, Pollard has shown genuine repentance. In his appeal to President Clinton asking for a pardon he wrote: "I fully appreciate that what I did was wrong. Grievously wrong. My intent was to help Israel, but I had no right to violate the laws of this country or the trust it had placed in me. I had no right to place myself above the law." In that plea to the President, Pollard spoke of his "unmitigated remorse." Instead of aiding Pollard, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak pressured Clinton for a pardon for Marc Rich. So much for Israeli integrity. Rich continues to live in freedom in Switzerland, while Pollard is slowly dying in jail in North Carolina.

This whole affair was best summarized by Rep. Anthony Wiener, who attended the recent Pollard hearing: "Jonathan Pollard committed a very serious crime, but he has now served 18 years for a single plea of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of an ally. Thee is no case in American history that has been judged so harshly

Rabbi Bruce Warshal is publisher emeritus of the Jewish Jjournal.