From the first revelation that U.S. Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard was spying for Israel, one question has puzzled almost everyone knowledgeable about Israeli-American relations: considering how close the two countries are and how much is already shared, what could Pollard have provided that would be worth the risk?
After investigating the Pollard case for more than a year, and interviewing dozens of U.S. and Israeli officials, I have learned some of what Pollard provided to Israel. My information suggests that far from the small-time bungler portrayed in some new accounts, Pollard was a master spy, who provided important information to the Israelis.
Leon H. Charney, a New York lawyer who briefly represented Pollard and is close to senior Israeli officials says: "His help was clearly invaluable to the security of the State of Israel."
The motivation of my sources telling me about the case was complex. Some Israeli and American sources wanted to show that Pollard was an Israeli hero. Other sources in Israel and America provided details because they believed the public deserved a fuller accounting of the Pollard case.
The intelligence provided to Israel included specific material dealing with the following general areas:
America's refusal to provide this chemical-warfare material directly to Israel had angered Pollard, according to one knowledgeable source. Israeli officials said that the first documents Pollard gave Israel, which greatly impressed his handlers, included the layout of eight Iraqi chemical warfare factories.
Despite the official Israeli claim that Pollard was part of a rogue operation. Israeli officials speak of him in terms that suggest he may prove to be one of the most important spies in Israel's history.
Indeed, Pollard's Israeli handlers even compared him to the legendary Israeli spy in Damascus, Eli Cohen, who rose to the top echelon of the Syrian government in the mid-1960s but eventually was exposed and executed. When Pollard was given an Israeli passport containing his picture as a token of Israel's appreciation, the name on the passport was "Danny Cohen" - the implication being that Israel once had an Eli Cohen in Damascus and now had a Danny Cohen in Washington.
In general, Pollard gave Israel the pick of U.S. intelligence about Arab and Islamic conventional and unconventional military activity, from Morocco to Pakistan and every country in between. This included both "friendly" and "unfriendly" Arab countries.
Pollard, 32, was arrested outside the Israeli embassy in Washington on Nov. 21, 1985, after attempting to obtain political asylum there. He pleaded guilty to espionage charges and his wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, 26, pleaded guilty to lesser charges involving unauthorized possession of classified documents. Both of them are scheduled to be sentenced on March 4.
Why did Israel recruit and run Pollard? Some U.S. officials argue that the operation wasn't necessary, since Israel gets virtually everything it wants from American intelligence agencies. But Israeli officials, living on a thin margin of security, apparently were not convinced of this logic. They feared that the United States wasn't supplying everything. And what the United States wasn't supplying could be essential for Israel, especially in the area of sophisticated reconnaissance photography and electronic intercepts, where Israel's capabilities are limited.
Pollard had all the proper credentials, as far as Israel was concerned. He was intelligent. And he was a dedicated Zionist. Indeed, Pollard told me in the only interviews he has granted since his arrest that he was obsessed by the need to help Israel "personally."
Pollard held "Top Secret" security clearance. According to the pre-sentencing memo submitted last month by U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, Pollard had access to "Sensitive Compartmented Information," (SCI) principally data about technical systems for collecting intelligence "as well as the intelligence product collected by the systems." A relatively small percentage of individuals who have "Top Secret" clearances are also approved for SCI access, the court document said.
Throughout the Washington area there are secure libraries containing this kind of extremely sensitive intelligence information which is accessible only through computer terminals requiring codewords, diGenova's memo explained. He said Pollard could "readily access these libraries, repositories and computer terminals to obtain data in order to perform specific duties."
The court documents suggest lax security and sloppy procedures in the military intelligence facilities where Pollard worked. Like other intelligence analysts, he was supposed to operate on the honor system, meaning that he would limit his access to that information for which he had an official "need" to know," according to diGenova's memo. But since he had the appropriate access codes, he could easily obtain information unrelated to his duties.
In addition, according to diGenova, Pollard had a "courier card," permitting him to leave these libraries without having his belongings checked by security personnel. In short, he had all the credentials to become an extremely valuable spy.
In fact, diGenova says that Pollard provided Israel with more than 1,000 classified documents, some of which were several hundred pages in length. Stacked up, the tens of thousands of pieces of paper could have filled a small hall. Most of the documents, according to a pre-sentencing memo, "were detailed analytical studies containing technical calculations, graphs and satellite photographs." Other information included "highly classified message traffic and intelligence summaries" as well as data on "specific weapon systems." He apparently was able to take copies of this material - including satellite photos - with him out the door.
Citing security concerns, the U.S. government has refused to release the exact nature of these documents. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, in a classified affidavit presented in camera to U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson, said that Pollard had indeed provided Israel with extensive information, according to two U.S. sources who are familiar with the memo. Weinberger reportedly complained in his memorandum to the court that because Pollard had already given away so much information, the U.S. intelligence community's bargaining power in official exchanges with Israel was severely reduced.
An Israeli intelligence official told me that some of the information was "so breathtaking" that it justified the risk Israel was taking in running an agent in Washington. Pollard's handlers - including Air Force Brig. Gen. Aviem Sella, veteran intelligence agent Rafael Eitan and former science counselor at the Israeli Consulate in New York, Yosef Yagur - told him that he was "a one-man intelligence agency" for Israel, one source said.
What Pollard did was to make virtually the entire U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus available to Israel, completing the picture in those areas where Israel's knowledge was limited. His Israeli contacts, knowing where Israel was in need of specific information, "tasked" Pollard on a weekly basis to obtain it, according to the American prosecutors.
The Israeli government has maintained officially that the Pollard operation was "unauthorized," part of a "rogue" unit that ran amok. Israel formally apologized to the United States and later cooperated in the investigation by making available for questioning to a visiting delegation of U.S. officials some of the Israeli operatives involved in the ring.
Some American intelligence sources remain very skeptical about Israel's denials. They argue that the unit that recruited Pollard, known as "Lekem," was created years ago to collect scientific intelligence. They also assert that Israeli intelligence experts had to know that only an inside American agent could supply the massive quantity and quality of satellite photography that they were getting. Israel lacks that capability and Israeli experts knew the U.S. was not supplying that information to Israel officially.
Israel had to set up a special unit in New York and Washington to obtain Pollard's documents. Court documents show that Irit Erb, a secretary at the Israeli embassy in Washington, was given a second apartment where she operated sophisticated photocopying equipment for the documents provided by Pollard. Typically, he would deliver a large suitcase full of papers on a Friday evening on his way home from work and retrieve them on Sunday evening in order to return them to the appropriate national defense repositories the next morning.
Pollard told me in interviews that he was motivated by his anger that the United States was withholding from Israel information that was vital to the security of the Jewish state. He had been a member of the American delegation on two official intelligence exchanges with Israel, so he had a good sense of what was being shared and what wasn't.
"I was very frustrated at the end of these two sessions. And the frustration builds," he told me during a lengthy interview at the federal prison outside Petersburg, VA. Eventually, he added, his frustration became "relentless" and led him to pass to the Israeli government the information they were being denied - information he describes as "horrifying."
Wolf Blitzer, the Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, is the author of "Between Washington and Jerusalem: A Reporter's Notebook."
Note: In the ensuing decade since this article was published, the American Jewish leadership have never made any meaningful effort to resolve a case that has such dire implications not only for the American Jewish community but for the State of Israel as well.