Pollard's Weinberger Problem

October 30, 1997 - Kenneth R. Timmerman - The Forward

See bolded paragraphs for Pollard / China Spy Case Connection.

Israel's High Court this week heard a petition by former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in an American jail for having passed classified documents to Israel in the 1980s. Pollard is demanding that Israel publicly claim him as one of their own, "and not part of a rogue operation."

While that distinction is critical for Pollard, the answer is obvious. Pollard never could have embarked on an operation to pass classified documents to Colonel Aviem Sella unless the operation had been blessed by the highest reaches of the Israeli government. Sella was known to Pollard before Pollard began spying for Israel as the head of Israeli Air Force Operations and chief pilot on the operation to bomb Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

Information is emerging about the life sentence without parole handed down against Pollard in March 1987. The sentence is extraordinary not only because Pollard was spying for a "friendly" country -- subsequently, "friendly spies" for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and South Korea were released without jail or handed reduced sentences -- but because the government reneged on an agreement he had negotiated with Pollard. Pollard pled guilty, relinquished his right to a trial and cooperated with investigators. In exchange, the government pledged not to seek a life sentence against him. Instead, they threw away the key, on the basis of a 46-page classified "Victim Impact Statement" prefaced by Secretary of Defense Weinberger, which accused Pollard of treason, a charge never contained in the indictment against him.

Pollard's crime, as shown by the statement, boiled down to having "threatened the U.S. relations with numerous Middle East Arab allies." Those allies can now be named. They are: Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Pollard turned over documents that showed the existence of the Saad 16 ballistic missile plant in northern Iraq, prompting Israel to pressure America to cut off sales to Saad 16 and other Iraqi weapons plants. He supplied Israel with information detailing production rates at Iraqi chemical weapons facilities and naming the German companies that had helped build them. He also documented Egypt's cooperation with Iraq in acquiring technology for a long-range missile known as Condor-II, which would have given Iraq the capability of targeting Israel with chemical or even nuclear weapons.

When America arrested an Egyptian scientist, Abdel Kader Helmy, in 1988 for running a missile procurement ring for the Iraqis, Helmy was indicted on smuggling charges and received only a 46-month sentence. Helmy had a Top Secret Pentagon security clearance and could have been tried for espionage, since his ultimate boss in the operation was none other than Egyptian Defense Minister Abu Ghazala, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case. Pollard's role in exposing Egypt's connection with Iraq contributed to a life sentence -- for Pollard, not for Helmy.

A document obtained by Pollard under the Freedom of Information Act shows Saudi Arabia may have played the determining role in ensuring that Pollard's case was never heard in an open court.

In a request to the State Department seeking copies of correspondence from Arab states regarding his pending trial, Pollard recently obtained a letter, sent by Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Assistant Secretary of State Murphy on June 13, 1986, asking Mr. Murphy to transmit an urgent letter to Secretary of State Shultz.

Although the contents of Prince Bandar's letter remain classified, it is reasonable to suspect they covered Saudi Arabia's arguments against granting Pollard a public trial, and that primary among those was the fear Pollard would expose Saudi Arabia's negotiations with China to obtain CSS-2 long-range ballistic missiles.

In a recent telephone conversation, Pollard claimed he told the Israelis about the Saudi missile negotiations with China in 1985, "and if somebody at my level was aware of it, many others higher up the food chain were also aware of it." Despite this, when the Saudi purchase of 2,400 kilometer range CSS-2 missiles first became public in 1988, America feigned "surprise" and "outrage." If Pollard is to be believed, the Americans knew about the negotiations as early as 1985 -- more than two years before the first missiles were delivered -- and refrained from informing Israel. Prince Bandar's June 1986 letter appears to have been aimed at keeping the secret -- at least until the missiles could be delivered.

A far more sinister scenario is also possible: that America was not only aware of the Saudi-Chinese negotations, but actually facilitated them. The Reagan administration, which by then had made a dramatic "tilt toward Iraq," may have been seeking to bolster the Arab coalition against Iran.

Clearly, if Pollard had been allowed an open trial, the risk of his exposing sensitive operations was great. The man who had the most to fear was Mr. Weinberger. So it is no accident that Mr. Weinberger delivered the statement on the damage Pollard's spying had done to American interests.

Mr. Weinberger's ire over Pollard also had personal overtones. It was Mr. Weinberger who was the strongest promoter within the Reagan administration of the intelligence exchange between America and Iraq, which began as early as 1983, when the State Department removed Iraq from the list of terrorist nations. Besides providing the Israelis with satellite photographs of Iraqi weapons sites, Pollard says he also gave them evidence of the transfer to Iraq of U.S.-manufactured weapons -- a leak that made Mr. Weinberger furious, since he was the official who would have had to approve such a covert transfer.

Clearly, significant damage to national security was caused by the Reagan-era intelligence cooperation with Iraq. Western technology went toward improving Iraq's SCUD-B missiles that helped kill American soldiers and Israeli citizens during the war. U.S. intelligence techniques helped the Iraqis preserve strategic capabilities from Allied air strikes -- and perhaps also from United Nations inspectors, who continue to accuse Iraq of hiding stockpiles of biological agents and chemical weapons production equipment.

Pollard's spying obviously did no permanent damage to American relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt or even Syria, all of whom joined the Desert Storm coalition. But a public trial of Pollard in 1987 would have endangered top politicians, including Mr. Weinberger, an architects of the failed policy toward Iraq.

Should Pollard still remain in jail to protect politicians who are no longer in power? Twelve years after his arrest, he possesses no more secrets that could damage national security. Pollard has paid for his crimes -- in fact, has paid far more heavily than other "friendly" spies. It's time to let him go and close this shameful chapter of American duplicity.

Mr. Timmerman is the publisher of The Iran Brief, a monthly newsletter, and is author of "The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq (Houghton Mifflin).

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