Fictionalizing Facts on Pollard

Kenneth Lasson, Angelo Codevilla, Lawrence Korb, and John Loftus

The Arizona Republic - December 29, 2010

'Tis the season, apparently, for leaking and spinning government secrets, from both the Right and the Left.

Now comes retired Navy captain M. E. Bowman, who claims in The Intelligencer (a journal for professionals in national security) to know the real damage that Jonathan Pollard caused the United States by having passed classified data to Israel over a quarter-century ago. Meanwhile Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic, asserts definitively that Pollard "spied . . . for both Israel and Pakistan (!)"

Both are reacting vituperatively to a growing international momentum on behalf of clemency for Pollard. They are entitled to their opinions, but not to fictionalize the facts.

Do either presume to know the particulars better than James Woolsey (former director of the Central Intelligence Agency) or Dennis DeConcini (former chair of the Senate's Select Intelligence Committee), or Michael Mukasey (former Attorney General under George W. Bush)- all of whom have come out publicly in support of commuting Pollard's sentence to time served?

It is now widely acknowledged by intelligence professionals that the vague, secret charges initially leveled against Pollard for somehow causing the then-unexplained loss of U.S. agents working in the Soviet Union were for crimes actually committed by two others: Aldrich Ames, who had been in charge of CIA counterintelligence for East Europe but was actually a Russian mole, and Robert Hanssen, an FBI Special Agent who confessed to having betrayed American agents. (Ames was finally caught and convicted in 1994, Hanssen in 2001.)

The intelligence community had been chasing along a false trail. Moreover, their failure to realize that Pollard lacked the Blue Stripe clearance necessary if he were to betray our spy networks seriously impaired the subsequent search for the real traitors.

Thus they focus on things like a "secret" manual listing the physical parameters of every known signal link then used by the Soviet Union, and a daily log of the Navy's Sixth Fleet Surveillance Facility reporting the location of all ships in the Middle East during the previous 24 hours. The truth is that such links are out there for anyone to measure, and knowledgeable intelligence agents (both American and Russian) understand the neglible usefulness of ship data because it is so quickly outdated.

Moreover, there is no credible evidence Pollard ever passed information to a third country. In fact he kept his part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors under which he agreed to cooperate fully with its investigation in return for a less-than-maximum sentence; by all indications the government did not. The judge ignored the agreement and sentenced Pollard to life in prison. Most who were there believe he was heavily swayed by secret declarations from then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Both the Intelligencer and New Republic pieces amount to little more than damnation by hearsay and innuendo - observations that are utterly incompatible with the government's own carefully-crafted submissions to the court. The official Victim Impact Statement (designed to state the harshest provable case against the defendant) portrays, at worst, short-term friction between the U.S. and unnamed Arab countries, and a temporary reduction in bargaining leverage by the U.S. over Israel. In fact no permanent, irreversible, and overwhelming damage to U.S. national security is even alleged, much less proven.

The real reason that various shadowy figures in the intelligence community persist in their loud anti-Pollard whispers reflects their lingering defensiveness about U.S. policy in the 1970s and '80s - in particular their disastrously failed support of Saddam Hussein and Saudi Arabia (which remains the principal sponsor of Al Qaeda's anti-American terrorism). The security establishment was outraged when Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, after which they cut the Israelis off from the normal interchange of intelligence.

Pollard wrongly took it upon himself to remedy that failure. But it is now more clear than ever that he is being severely punished for deeds he never did, nor was ever charged with doing. You don't have to go to law school to understand how much this violates the bedrock principles of American fairness, justice, and compassion.

When the system fails, we pride ourselves on relentless self-scrutiny so that truth might ultimately prevail. That noble sentiment was recently endorsed by 39 members of Congress who wrote President Obama urging clemency for Pollard - as well as hundreds of religious leaders of different faiths, all of them declaring in unison their fundamental belief that "Justice, only justice, shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Do either Bowman or Peretz have greater moral suasion than Charles Ogletree (the Harvard law professor who is the President's friend and mentor) or Elie Wiesel (the Nobel Laureate), each of whom have expressed similar sentiments?

Last month Jonathan Pollard completed his twenty-fifth year behind bars. In this season of good will and sincere wishes, let us hope that President Obama has the courage and character to set him free.

Kenneth Lasson is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Angelo Codevilla served as a senior staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee (1978-85); Lawrence Korb was Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-85); John Loftus is a former U.S. prosecutor and Army intelligence officer.

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