Appeasement of Iraq Made Me A Spy

by Jonathan Pollard

The Wall Street Journal - Originally published February 15, 1991
Posted to Web November 4, 2002

JONATHAN POLLARD: ....the photos that I turned over to the Israelis were of a number of Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing plants which the government did not want to admit existed. Why? ....What the administration was really concerned about was being placed in a position where it would have to admit that it had tacitly condoned the creation of an Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing capability.

Introduction - Wall Street Journal -February 15, 1991

In 1985, my son, Jonathan Pollard pleaded guilty to providing Israel with information about the military capabilities of Arab states, including Iraq. Today he sits in a basement cell, in isolation 23 hours a day, serving a life sentence.

Jonathan was never accused of or indicted for treason, because he did not commit treason. He was indicted on one count of passing information to an ally, Israel. Abdel Kader Helmy, an Egyptian American rocket scientist, participated in a scheme to illegally ship ballistic missile technology to Egypt - technology later used to help increase the range of Iraq's Scud-B missiles. Mr. Helmy got less than a four-year sentence. Jonathan who warned Israel about Iraq's capabilities, got life.

America is now fighting a war with Iraq, while the one person who tried to warn Israel about Iraqi threats sits in jail. In a 1989 letter excerpted below, Jonathan wrote to an American rabbi from his cell that America would have to go to war against Iraq if we failed to prevent the completion of chemical facilities that we knew were under construction. How right he was.

Morris Pollard


Dear Rabbi,

My name is Jonathan Pollard and I am currently serving a life sentence due to my activities on behalf of Israel.

Lest you labor under a false impression, Rabbi, I want to state quite categorically that I do not consider myself to be above the law. I fully appreciate the fact that I must be punished for my activities however justified I may have felt them to be. That being said, I do not believe that the draconian sentence that was meted out to me was in any way commensurate with the crime which I committed. Nowhere in my indictment... was I ever described as a "traitor," which is hardly a surprise given the fact that the operation with which I was associated actually served to strengthen America's long-term security interests in the Middle East.

Notwithstanding [then Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger's disingenuous opinion, any objective examination of the record will show that no American agent, facility or program was compromised as a result of my actions - not one. But this salient fact was conveniently overlooked by Mr. Weinberger, who felt that I deserved the death penalty for having had the audacity to make Israel "too strong."

In retrospect, perhaps one of the worst things that the Reagan administration did to Israel during the course of my trial was that it purposely distorted the nature of my activities in such a way as to leave the impression that Israel had somehow become a threat to the national security of this country. So, by intent, the subsequent sentence that I received was an arrow aimed directly at the heart of the US-Israel "special relationship."

The case of Mr. and Mrs. Abdel Kader Helmy appears to be yet another instance where the political aspects of an espionage trial have been of paramount concern to the government. As you'll recall the Helmys are Egyptian-born US citizens who were accused last year of funneling highly sensitive ballistic missile technology to their native land. At the time of his arrest on June 24, 1988, Mr. Helmy was a senior propulsion engineer who held a "secret" level security clearance from the US Department of Defense. According to a 36 page affidavit filed by the Customs Service ... US customs agents searching [Mr.] Helmy's trash found handwritten notes outlining how to work with carbon-carbon fiber material used in rocket nose cones and "stealth" aircraft; instructions on building rocket exhaust nozzles; a description of an extremely sensitive microwave telemetry antenna; and a complete package needed to build or upgrade a tactical missile system.

Although there is no public evidence linking [Mr.] Helmy directly with the Iraqis, intelligence sources have indicated that the Egyptians have used [Mr.] Helmy's expertise to help Baghdad modify its stockpile of Soviet-supplied Scud-B ballistic rockets. His principle responsibility, however was to ensure the success of an Egyptian-Iraqi missile program which had encountered some developmental problems. Code named BADR 2000 by the Egyptians and SAAD-16 by the Iraqis, this Argentine-designed weapon has an estimated range of 500 to 1000 miles, and from what I've been told, figures prominently in Arab strategic planning against Israel.

If one compares the way in which the government responded to my affair with the soft-pedaling of the Helmy case, the existence of a double-standard becomes apparent. Firstly at the insistence of the State and Defense Departments, all espionage-related charges against Mr. and Mrs. Helmy have been quietly dropped.... [T]he administration has done everything it can to reduce the notoriety of the Helmy affair.

The problem ... lay in the fact that many of the photos that I turned over to the Israelis were of a number of Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing plants which the government did not want to admit existed. Why? Well, if no one knew about these facilities the State and Defense Departments would have been spared the embarrassing task of confronting Iraq over its violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which banned the use of chemical weapons in war. You have to remember... that at the time of my sentencing the massacre of Kurdish civilians in Halabja had not yet occurred, and what little concern was being voiced over Iraq's apparent use of poison gas was largely ignored by the administration which did not want to anger the Arab world by criticizing the use of such barbaric weapons against Iran. The photos I gave Israel, though, if "compromised" would have jeopardized the administration's policy of callous indifference to this issue, in that they constituted hard, irrefutable proof that Iraq was indeed engaged in the production and wide scale use of chemical weapons. What the administration was really concerned about was being placed in a position where it would have to admit that it had tacitly condoned the creation of an Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing capability.

Once the atrocity of Halabja had occurred though, the White House was placed in a rather awkward position. On the one hand the US Intelligence community did not want to be accused of having failed to keep an eye on Iraq's burgeoning chemical weapons arsenal. Then again, the CIA ... could not very well confirm the existence of the Iraqi poison gas plants without running the risk of compromising the Reagan administration's policy towards these facilities.

After a few days of "soul searching," the State Department finally admitted that the US had intercepted some Iraqi Intelligence communications which indicated that lethal gas had, in fact, been used against unarmed Kurdish civilians. The Iranians had astutely outmaneuvered them, though, and the issue had to be "contained" before it caused a rift in US - Arab relations. Certainly, confirming the undeniable operational employment of chemical munitions by the Iraqis was preferable to describing the exact dimensions of their poison gas plants, which would have raised some uncomfortable questions on Capitol Hill.

Thus in attempt to recapture the moral "high ground," so to speak, from Iran, the White House evidently decided that it would be better for the US to be seen as leading the public denunciation of Iraq rather than the Ayatollah Khomeini. As it was though, the Administration still managed to salvage its standing in the Arab world by preventing Congress from imposing any punitive sanctions against Iraq. In essence, then, what I did by passing satellite photos of the Iraqi poison gas plants to Israel, was to endanger the Reagan Administration's pro-Saudi political agenda, not the intelligence community's "sources and methods."

According to the prosecution, there were two reasons why the government refused to tell Israel about Iraq's poison gas plants: 1) fear of compromising the KH-11 [intelligence] system and 2) concern over Israel's probable reaction once they recognized the threat these facilities posed to their survival.

What the Israelis would actually have considered was a preventative attack on the Iraqi chemical factories before they had become fully operational. Once they had come online, you see, and the Iraqis had been able to disperse their arsenal of chemical munitions, these plants, like the ones in Syria, would only have been attacked either in war time where the idea of a preemptive strike is valid, or in a clandestine sabotage campaign aimed at slowing their production of poisons. This was the same reasoning, by the way, that lay behind the Reagan Administration's desire to bomb the Rabta industrial complex before the Libyans had had the opportunity to complete its construction.

The crisis over the Rabta plant does beg the question, though: If the Reagan administration felt justified in its desire to eliminate what it perceived to be an impending Libyan chemical threat to our national security, why was it so unwilling to grant Israel the same right of preventative self- defense with regard to Iraq's poison gas manufacturing facilities?

So what was I supposed to do? Let Israel fend for herself? If you think that is what I should have done, then how can we condemn all those ... who during the Second World War consciously participated in the abandonment of European Jewry? Seriously, Rabbi, what would be the difference between what they did and a decision on my part to have kept silent about the Iraqi poison gas threat to Israel? I'd rather be rotting in prison than sitting shiva for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who could have died because of my cowardice.

Jonathan Pollard

J4JP Post Script

: As America again prepares to go to war against Iraq in 2002, the above written by Jonathan Pollard and published in the Wall Street Journal in 1991 is both timely and relevant. It was political self-interest which caused America to ignore Iraq's violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and to turn a blind eye to its amassing an arsenal of non-conventional weapons which now threaten the world. It is the same kind of political expedience and indifference to the truth concerning America's role in the arming of Iraq which permits the blatant injustice of the Pollard case to continue to this day.

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