The Pollard Case
Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American Who Spied on His Country for Israel—And How He Was Betrayed.
by Wolf Blitzer.
Harper & Row. 368 pp. $22.50.
On November 21, 1985, the United States government arrested Jonathan Jay Pollard, a junior civilian employee of the Navy, on charges of spying for Israel. The news shocked and astonished Americans and particularly Jews who had assumed that Israel would not compromise its relations with the United States by engaging in such acts. Their shock turned to horror when they realized that Israel had here contravened a longstanding and rarely breached practice of shunning the use of a target country’s Jewish community for spying. On March 4, 1987, Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced Pollard to life imprisonment, and his wife, Anne Henderson Pollard, to five years in jail. It seemed peculiarly harsh treatment: Pollard had cooperated with the government, after some initial evasiveness, and his wife had been only marginally involved in his activities.
Wolf Blitzer’s Territory of Lies is a tightly written, riveting, and deeply troubling account of the Pollard affair—altogether a superb piece of journalism. Blitzer, the Washington correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, conducted one of the first interviews with Pollard in prison, in November 1986. Unwittingly, Blitzer thereby paved the way for Pollard’s life sentence, for in granting the interview Pollard violated a pre-trial agreement that he had signed with the American government. Prompted, perhaps, by a sense of responsibility for this outcome, as well as by a natural curiosity, Blitzer decided to tell the Pollards’ story. His account, based largely but by no means exclusively on long interviews with Pollard, as well as with other principals in the case, goes a long way toward explaining what happened.
The bare bones of the case are these. In the spring of 1984 Pollard, then a twenty-nine-year-old intelligence analyst working for the Navy, approached a famous Israeli Air-Force colonel on leave in the United States, Aviem Sella, and offered to spy for Israel. Pollard was thus a “walk-in”—an unsolicited, as opposed to a recruited, spy. He was “run” as such by several officials of LAKAM (Lishka l’Kishrei Mada), the Scientific Liaison Office of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The mastermind behind the operation was Rafi Eitan, a former deputy chief of operations of the Mossad, Israel’s civilian espionage agency. There, Eitan had a reputation as a brilliant operative, but a man with no political sense. Not surprisingly, therefore, he had been eased out of the Mossad, winding up eventually as the head of LAKAM. One of Eitan’s reasons for running the Pollard case may well have been a desire to show up those who had denied him positions (as head of the Mossad or the SHABAK, Israel’s counterintelligence service) that he thought he deserved.
Pollard spent the next year and a half spying for Israel. During that time he routinely delivered piles of classified material to a Washington apartment where a secretary from the Israel embassy in Washington used elaborate photocopying equipment to reproduce it. The quantity of documents he handed over was staggering: it was later estimated that they would have filled a room six feet by ten feet by six feet. In return, he received (tax free, obviously) several thousand dollars a month, plus free trips to Europe and Israel during which he and his wife received regal treatment.
There can be no doubt that Pollard provided the Israelis with intelligence otherwise unobtainable by the Israeli government. According to Blitzer, he gave them, inter alia, technical data on Soviet weapon systems in the hands of the Arabs; satellite photography of Israel and Arab states; material on Syrian air defenses and on chemical-weapons production in Arab countries; and information on American intelligence-gathering, including a communications-intelligence handbook. Both Blitzer and Pollard himself claim that this material paved the way for the Israeli air raid on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis, allowing Israeli aircraft to avoid detection and strike their target with precision.
It is quite clear from Blitzer’s account that although the operation was officially “off-line,” the upper echelons of the Israeli government were probably well aware of it. The precise tasking of Pollard—he was given detailed shopping lists of documents to acquire—and the lavish reception he got in Israel all suggest that this was hardly a rogue operation, at least in the usual sense.
There may have been some unease in Israel about employing a spy in the United States, and particularly an American Jew, but the gains seemed worth it. Besides, Eitan and others were convinced that the United States had done the same to Israel. Blitzer quotes Senator David Durenberger of Minnesota as saying that the CIA accepted an Israeli military “walk-in” during the war in Lebanon in 1982.
Yet despite its payoff, the Pollard operation was, from the Israeli point of view, and as many Israeli national-security experts have argued, an act of appalling stupidity. As we shall see, even a slight acquaintance with Pollard should have revealed that sooner or later the operation was bound to be compromised—he was too unstable a person not to make a slip, or even to speak openly about his activities.
But even had Pollard been a model of discretion, such an operation was highly risky. The short-term payoffs could not begin to approach the long-term costs to Israeli foreign policy if (or rather when) Pollard should be caught. And indeed, those costs have now come in the form of the anger and suspicion with which Israel is regarded by the U.S. defense and intelligence establishments, and the resentment of the American Jewish community at this twin betrayal. Blitzer also suggests (though here perhaps he exaggerates) that American Jews working for the government in sensitive national-security positions now live under a cloud of mistrust which has blighted more than one career.
The Pollard operation was undertaken at a time when Israel had become more dependent on the United States than ever for military aid, and when military cooperation between the two countries had reached a peak. It was, after all, in the mid-1980’s that the U.S. Sixth Fleet increasingly began to pay visits to Israeli ports, and agreements for strategic cooperation began to bear fruit. Israel had particular reason to get along with the United States following the war in Lebanon and the tense confrontation with U.S. Marines in occupied Beirut—another set of incidents that has left its scars on U.S.-Israel defense relations. From the point of view of realpolitik alone, then, Pollard’s controllers behaved with a reckless disregard for long-term considerations.
Furthermore, although allies do gather intelligence on one another, the Pollard affair represented a departure from norms of behavior between friendly nations. It is one thing to eavesdrop on an ally’s radio transmissions or take pictures of his airfields from a satellite, or even to listen to an indiscreet or disgruntled soldier or bureaucrat. It is quite another to suborn an official employee of a friendly country, to exploit his disloyalty indefinitely, to corrupt him with illegal payments, to ask him to commit massive and repeated violations of his nation’s security. When that ally is not merely a friend but a generous and powerful benefactor, the wrong is all the worse. There are only two things to be said in the Israelis’ favor: they did not recruit Pollard, and they will probably refrain from such behavior in the future.
The short-sightedness of Eitan and his subordinates became clear when the affair broke. No plans had been made to allow Pollard to escape the United States, and when, in desperation, he managed to enter the Israel embassy, he was evicted by panicky officials.
Pollard, legitimately believing that he had been abandoned, began to cooperate with American investigators, and soon the Israelis were asked to do the same. Blitzer notes that they had two choices: to stonewall and refuse all cooperation, or to assist the American efforts fully. They did neither. Israel made available photocopies of a mere handful of low-level documents stolen by Pollard. It denied American investigators access to many of the principals and, in two crowning pieces of folly, gave Eitan a cushy job as director of one of Israel’s largest government-owned firms and promoted Colonel Sella, assigning him to one of the Israel Air Force’s most prestigious commands. Under American pressure the latter action was reversed, but once again, only after the Israelis had managed to get themselves the worst of both worlds.
Alas, there is more than enough stupidity in the Pollard affair to go around. When one turns to the American side of the story one is appalled by the ineptitude of our procedures for screening those who have access to our country’s secrets. Before going to work for the Navy, Pollard had been turned down for a job by the CIA, which apparently had some concern over a history of drug use in college, but the CIA never shared this information with the Defense Investigative Service. Later Pollard got into trouble for claiming to have contacts with South African military-intelligence officials. Blitzer quotes the U.S. News & World Report account of that investigation in 1981:
Pollard told naval investigators “fantastic tales about having lived in South Africa and his father’s being [CIA] station chief there.” One senior Naval Intelligence official said: “It became obvious the guy had to be unstable. . . . He wasn’t on anybody else’s wavelength. And that’s when the system got nervous about him.”
Sufficiently nervous, in fact, to strip him of his clearances and recommend that he see a psychiatrist. But after seeing one—who told him that he was not mentally ill—Pollard threatened to sue the Navy, and Rear Admiral John Butts restored his access to classified information.
Despite this episode—or perhaps because of it and others, which had given him the reputation of being an unpleasant oddball—Pollard was transferred to the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center (ATAC) in June 1984. There he quickly became known for telling tall tales, failing to get his work done, checking out materials which had no bearing on his area of responsibility (the Caribbean), and taking classified information out of the office at unusual times (late Friday afternoon). When his boss became suspicious and brought Pollard to the attention of the head of naval counterintelligence, the latter is reported to have said, of the Israelis, “Are they really that stupid that they would hire Jay, of all people?” Unfortunately, one detects no trace of irony in this remark.
Once Pollard was arrested and began to confess, the government was aghast at what it learned. Yet the government agreed not to ask for the maximum sentence, on condition that Pollard would cooperate fully and abide by a number of rules, one of which he violated by granting interviews while in prison awaiting sentencing. Blitzer and Pollard speculate that this represented deliberate entrapment by the government. But it actually stemmed from two simple facts: first, the government has a great deal of control over the activities of convicted felons, but not of unsentenced (albeit jailed and confessed) suspects; secondly, as evidenced by events leading up to Pollard’s arrest, the United States government is simply not as well-organized a monolith as conspiracy theorists would like to think.
The government did provide Judge Robinson with a 46-page memorandum, almost all of which is very highly classified, that describes the damage done to national security by Pollard. In a related document, its author, the then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, declared, “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”
Weinberger has become a bête noire to Pollard apologists: Pollard himself insists that Weinberger wanted, all along, to paint Israel as a threat to the United States no less great than the Soviet Union. It will be decades, if not longer, before we discover what was in that memorandum, but enough has been learned to make it clear that it is a cool account of the materials stolen by Pollard, not 46 pages of anti-Semitic ravings.
What damages did Pollard do? To begin with, if Blitzer is correct, Pollard compromised a wide range of intelligence sources, both human and technical, and it would appear that the injury was real, not merely potential.
Nor, from the security point of view, did it matter that the spying was done by a friendly government. This is the point which is perhaps least understood among those who, without excusing Pollard, feel that he was treated too severely. For one thing, there is a real danger that a friend who has stolen material will unwittingly lose that material to a common adversary. Soviet spies have been active in Israel since before the state was founded. In 1961, for instance, former Lieutenant Colonel Israel Beer, who had served as a senior military aide to the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces during Israel’s War of Independence, and who had been hand-picked by David Ben-Gurion to write the official history of that war, was exposed as a Soviet agent. He died five years later in an Israeli prison; other Israeli members of Soviet spy rings (Shabtai Kalmanovich and Marcus Klingberg) still languish in Israeli prisons today. Thus, U.S. material compromised to Israel is in danger of going, willy-nilly, to the Soviets as well.
Secondly, contrary to many misapprehensions, the United States by no means shares its most sensitive intelligence with its friends, including its most valued intelligence partner, Great Britain. Nor, for that matter, does Israel. It is true, as Blitzer points out, that Israel has provided the United States with a great deal of useful information about Soviet hardware and other subjects. In return, Israel has received not only intelligence but vast quantities of financial aid and large numbers of some of the most advanced weapons in the American arsenal. But the Israelis by no means share all their secrets with the United States. The Israelis are as fearful that the United States will compromise their security as the other way around. When the Israelis share data they often bargain hard for it, quite properly: the United States government would fail in its obligations if it did not do the same. Jonathan Pollard therefore arrogated to himself the responsibilities of the President and Cabinet-rank officials, who are responsible for determining how and under what circumstances information should be shared.
Thirdly, if the United States were in the habit of being lenient to “friendly” spies, it would open itself up even more, than it already has to so-called “false-flag operations,” that is, recruitment attempts by agents of one country posing as agents of another. This is a common ruse. Jerry Whit-worth, the Soviet spy, claimed that he believed the information he was delivering was going to Israel.
Despite all this, the United States government did not press for a life sentence for Pollard. The goverment did ask for “a substantial period of incarceration and a monetary fine” to deter others and to minimize Pollard’s continuing threat to national security. Pollard, unfortunately, has a near-photographic memory for the documents he has seen which will make him a danger to national security for some years to come. But the life sentence (no fine was imposed) was a decision reached by Judge Robinson and Judge Robinson alone. A surprisingly tough-minded appointee of President Carter, Robinson was outraged not merely by Pollard’s deeds, but above all by his attitude. Pollard had willfully broken his pre-trial agreements by talking to the press. He had, in addition, shown not the slightest remorse for his actions, nor left any doubt in the mind of any observer (including Blitzer) that he regarded his obligations to Israel as above those to the United States.
Robinson’s anger touched Pollard’s wife, Anne Henderson Pollard, as well. He sentenced her to five years in prison for “conspiracy to receive embezzled government property,” and for being “an accessory after the fact, to possession of national defense documents.” Did she merit such treatment?
After her courtship with and marriage to Jonathan Pollard, Anne had begun a career in public relations, doing freelance work for a firm that was trying to win a contract from the People’s Republic of China. To bone up on Chinese affairs she asked Jonathan Pollard to bring back some articles on China from his office. He obliged with a number of long classified studies which Anne read, took notes on, and used for her work (although she did not pass them to the Chinese). These documents, and others, were later found in the Pollards’ apartment.
In the course of Jonathan’s career as a spy—which Anne knew about and approved—she benefited from the lucrative illegal salary which came his way (a good bit of which ended up in jewelry and clothes for her) and the deluxe trips overseas, during which she enjoyed the attentions granted a celebrity’s wife. When Pollard was caught she assisted him in trying to conceal evidence of his espionage. And, in an act which, like so many others in this sordid tale, combined brazenness and witlessness, she appeared on the television show 60 Minutes the Sunday before sentencing. The Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting her, David Geneson (a Jew, as it happened), read portions of the interview to the court. Had she known what she was getting into? “Very much so.” Would she do it all over again? “I feel my husband and I did what we were expected to do, what our moral obligation was as Jews, what our moral obligation was as human beings, and I have no regrets about that.” As her frustrated lawyer (who had not known of her intention to give the interview) watched, the prosecutor repeated the phrase, “No regrets.” It is not surprising, therefore, that Judge Robinson was little inclined to have mercy on her, either.
What then of Jonathan Pollard himself? Was he a misguided idealist, eccentric perhaps, but well-intentioned, driven to a thoughtless deed by his love of Israel and by a justifiable anger at American refusal to share information with Israel? Does his tale have tragic overtones, the story of two loyalties that came into conflict? Blitzer suggests that he thought as much when he first interviewed Pollard:
To some extent, Pollard impressed me as a son of the American Jewish community run amok. I felt that American Jewry was partially responsible for having created him. . . . Pollard, that day at Petersburg, reminded me very much of other bright young Jews for whom religion wasn’t necessarily Judaism, but Israel—an ideological passion for the country as a birthright for all Jews. Their image of Israel is often highly exaggerated, not very realistic. But for the grace of God, I said to myself, any one of them could have wound up like Pollard under similar circumstances. And that bothered me.
Blitzer does not return to this theme, and I suspect that, although he thinks Pollard deserved a lesser sentence, he found his own early view untenable.
Consider, for a start, the non-Israeli dimension of Pollard’s espionage. Not only did he steal those classified documents bearing on China. He also provided, gratis, classified intelligence documents to two friends who were professional investment advisers, and with whom he was involved in a business venture, and he gave a third friend other documents to help further his career. Misplaced idealism, dual loyalties, or a grim sense of urgency about Israel’s security problems had nothing to do with these criminal actions. Indeed, Pollard’s claim that he wanted to give Israel intelligence material because he knew of terrorist threats concerning which the United States had not warned Israel was equally bogus. He worked at the Caribbean desk at ATAC, not the Middle East desk, and his Israeli handlers told him specifically not to waste his time with material on terrorism.
What motivated Jonathan Pollard? To answer that question, one must ask who he is. By recording his conversation and interviewing his friends, Blitzer has done a brilliant job of helping us make a judgment on that score.
Pollard, the son of a distinguished scientist teaching at Notre Dame, grew up in a Jewish though not an overly religious household. His father had served in the Army during World War II and had some minor contacts with American intelligence thereafter: despite Pollard’s fantasies, however, he was not a CIA agent or anything like it.
Pollard tells horrifying tales of anti-Semitism encountered in his youth, although he was soon sheltered from these by attending a private school. Whether, in fact, he encountered quite as much anti-Semitic bullying as he says is another matter. He spent the summer before his junior year in high school at a special camp in Israel, at the Weizmann Institute. He recalled it later as “one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had in my life. . . . I saw people who didn’t have the Diasporic [sic] hangups.” A Weizmann scientist, Dr. Harry J. Lipkin, had another recollection. Pollard
left behind him a reputation of being an unstable troublemaker, the worst case of this kind in the history of the summer camp. In one fracas, he was injured in a brawl and had to be taken to a hospital. This is the only time such a case has occurred at the camp.
At Stanford, where he was an undergraduate, Pollard went around saying that he was a colonel in the Israel Army, and telling his friends that the Mossad had paid his tuition. He also, during this time, had at least one paranoid episode brought on by the heavy marijuana smoking that was later to get him turned down by the CIA, and which so alarmed his parents that his father flew out to Palo Alto to see him through it.
At the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts (where he studied for a time without completing his work for a degree) Pollard continued to swagger about his Israeli connections, maintaining that he had served in the Israel Army on the West Bank, and boasting of (imaginary) espionage-related jobs at various think tanks.
Israel, then, clearly meant something special to Pollard, but in an odd way. This strange relationship is reflected in his rhetoric, which is not merely intemperate but subtly weird. For example, he speaks frequently of his “racial obigation” to Israel. Yet American Jews almost never refer to themselves as a race, and indeed the very words “race” and “racial” carry overtones of prejudice and bigotry at best, and of hideous memories from the Holocaust at worst.
The issue of dual loyalties, like the notion that Pollard is the hapless product of a confused American Jewish community, is quite false. American Jews routinely can and do make choices. Some honorably decide that they want to become Israeli citizens. They emigrate, serve in the army, and settle for good in their new land. Others attempt to help Israel by raising money, by lobbying, or through advocacy of Israeli causes—all entirely legal activities. American Jews in government, including those in sensitive national-security positions, may maintain a special affection for Israel but do not allow it to impinge on their responsibilities, compromise their integrity, or twist their word of honor. Conceivably, although no instance comes to mind, a Jewish official could find himself so torn that he could not balance his loyalties and affections, but in that case he could, again honorably, protest to his superiors or resign his position.
Jonathan Pollard took none of these courses. His Jewishness was not a faith that lent strength to his character and set bounds on his conduct but rather a springboard for his darkly exuberant imagination. A fantasist rather than an idealist, he recklessly broke his word of honor for profit and indeed for whim; he did grievous harm to America’s security; he showed himself incapable of remorse, or even of understanding how despicable his conduct had been. Blitzer makes too much, I think, of the notion that Pollard was “corrupted” by the money the Israelis decided to pay him; the real corruption had deeper roots than money can reach. Whatever betrayal he suffered, it is insignificent compared to that which he committed.