“Arts, Culture, Reverence, Honour, all things fade.
Save Treason and the dagger of her trade . . . “
—Oscar Wilde, “Libertatis Sacra Fames”
The Pollard treason case is so unusual that I want to start my review of this book with a review of the reviews. I do this because the first-hand story by the Washington correspondent of The Jerusalem Post and the book’s equivocal subtitle attracted some exceedingly well-informed people as book-reviewers—George A. Carver Jr., Walter Laqueur, Joseph Sobran, and Stephen Green. (Green’s two articles covered a full page of The Christian Science Monitor.) What they have to say about the book is worth reporting. I will save my own opinions and analysis for last.
First, the facts in the case, all of which were admitted in Federal Court by Pollard and his wife in their guilty plea made on March 4, 1987. (He is serving a life sentence and his wife, five years.) Pollard became a junior US Navy intelligence analyst in 1979. His earlier job application had been turned down by the CIA. In 1984 he was assigned to the Threat Analysis Division of the Naval Investigative Service’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center. That appointment gave him access to classified materials, including satellite photos and top secret communications intelligence. For 18 months, Pollard, known in the trade as a “walk-in” (that is, a volunteer spy), presented his Israeli handlers with 360 cubic feet of documents, or 850,000 pages. Over half of the documents were classified as “Top Secret” or higher. As Blitzer puts it, “Pollard made virtually the entire U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus available to Israel.”
The Pollards were arrested in November 1985 outside the Israeli embassy in Washington to which, with the FBI in hot pursuit, they had fled for asylum, and from which the embassy chased them away. That is the betrayal the book’s subtitle refers to: Pollard’s Israeli handlers hadn’t planned his escape in case of detection. Presently, there is a Justice for the Pollards movement in New York and a Citizens for Pollard committee in Israel. Professor Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who is the Pollards’ attorney, wants the life sentence overturned. Now to the reviews.
Carver, a former CIA executive, is a John M. Olin senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His review ran in the May 15 Washington Times. Carver praises the author for his “unflinching intellectual honesty” because “Mr. Blitzer never lets his personal judgments skew his evidence.” While Blitzer is “reluctant” to pass such a judgment. Carver concludes that the Pollard operation was “explicitly authorized by the Israeli government’s topmost levels”—i.e., from Prime Minister Shamir on down—although the Israeli government has always insisted that this was an “unsanctioned” rogue operation of which it knew nothing. (Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg sniffed at the “rogue” alibi, in view of the fact that Pollard’s handlers were promoted after the scandal broke.) Carver also says that Blitzer “surfaces” but does not explore some intriguing possible connections between the Pollard case and the Iran-Contra affair.
Carver is persuaded that there must be—or must have been—another Israeli spy within the US intelligence community, since Pollard was “frequently told exactly which sensitive documents to look for, identified by the title, code-word classification and even, on occasion, document number,” details no outsider could have known. Carver argues that the House and Senate Intelligence Oversight Committees ought to ask the FBI or other members of the counterintelligence community to testify “on the history of Israeli espionage against the United States.” The aim of such a congressional investigation, says Carver, would be “not to harm the American-Israeli alliance but to strengthen it.” Stephen Green has prepared a chronology, “Israel’s 40-Year History of Espionage Against the United States,” which lists hitherto unpublicized cases of such spying.
Laqueur’s review, which ran in the June 5 New Republic, begins with a dramatic (at least to me) revelation. In 1956, a member of the Polish Politburo, Stefan Staszewski, handed over the text of Khrushchev’s sensational anti-Stalin speech (now that was a piece of real glasnost!) to an Israeli journalist, Philip Ben, a correspondent for Le Monde and Ma’ariv. In turn, Ben passed on the speech to what Laqueur says was “an Israeli connection,” who then conveyed it to James Angleton, head of the CIA’s counterintelligence operation, who gave it to Allen Dulles, who gave it to The New York Times. Thus began, says Laqueur, himself author of a book on US intelligence, A World of Secrets, “a long period of cooperation between the American and the Israeli intelligence services.” Such cooperation, says Laqueur, is “the rule between friendly nations . . . At the same time, such cooperation has always been less than total.”
Laqueur argues that Pollard was not an “evil man” because he did not engage in espionage, as Kim Philby did, to harm his country and to aid its enemies. Pollard was, however, “disloyal, he lied constantly, and he was incredibly stupid.” (Laqueur’s argument here is weak, since Pollard may indeed have harmed, however unwittingly, the US. Israeli intelligence, after all, is also vulnerable to penetration. In fact, two Israeli KGB agents are now in jail.) Like Carver, Laqueur believes that the authorization for hiring Pollard must have come from higher up. “It would be interesting to know what this person (or these people) thought when he (or they) gave the green light to an operation that was bound to end in disaster sooner or later.” The “worst case” question not apparently raised by top Israeli decision-makers was this: what would be the costs to the special relationship between the United States and Israel were the operation exposed? The Pollard case, Laqueur writes, is “a prime example of an intelligence coup turned failure precisely because the question was ignored.”
What was “scandalous” about the Pollard affair, says Laqueur, was “the ease with which Pollard collected documents that he had no business seeing.” In light of other penetrations, it would appear that the US intelligence community “has become infinitely more vulnerable than ever before.” The time has come, he insists, to ask “searching questions—not about deterrent sentences for culprits like Pollard, but about the general value of our present-day intelligence operations.” I would add a demurrer to that sweeping indictment. Laqueur seems to have forgotten the Church-Pike investigations of the CIA and what those probes did to counterintelligence, as well as their aftermath, the leaks and exposes, and Philip Agee’s treason. (It’s startling to think that someone like Agee, who publicized names of CIA agents and exposed them thereby to infinite peril, walks the streets free, lectures for money, and travels the world over continuing to expose US intelligence, while Pollard is in the slammer for life.)
Joseph Sobran, a controversial editor and columnist, compares Pollard to Colonel Oliver North (National Review, June 16). Like North, Pollard “felt frustrated that this country was apparently ‘unwilling to defend its own interests,’ and he feared Israel would pay the consequences.” Pollard considered Caspar Weinberger an enemy of Israel and a friend to the Arabs. It was the then-defense secretary’s still classified 46-page memorandum to the court regarding the damage Pollard’s actions had done American security that was crucial in Judge Aubrey Robinson’s decision to sentence Pollard to life. Yet, as Sobran points out, the US-Israeli relationship “peaked during the Reagan years.” Pollard, says Sobran, took refuge “in a Jewish racial mystique:”
Worst of all was the Israeli government’s behavior, says Sobran. Having pledged to cooperate with the US to undo the damage, the Israelis “then lied, stonewalled, and evaded. They displayed contempt for the sensitivities of American Jews and for their American benefactors in general.” That behavior must have been the reason why the Washington lawyer Leonard Garment, whose services were sought by the Israeli government during the Pollard crisis, removed himself from the case. According to Blitzer, Garment concluded after a few weeks “that Israel had no intention of fully cooperating with the United States.”
The most important article is Stephen Green’s, published in the May 22 Christian Science Monitor, titled “Damage Caused by ‘Friendly’ Spies.” A lot of Green’s information, he says, came from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and from interviews with current FBI counterintelligence agents, or with retired FBI and Justice Department officials.
Green is critical of the Blitzer book because it “allows Jonathan Pollard to pick apart selected portions of the US government’s case while ignoring or misrepresenting other portions.” Interestingly, Green discounts the possibility of another spy. Early in his espionage. Pollard supplied a compendium of current classified military documents that is updated every three months. This lists and describes tens of thousands of documents, “a virtual road map for Pollard’s handlers. No need for Mr. X.” So when Israeli intelligence asked for certain documents, they knew exactly what they wanted because of the compendium. But what was it they wanted? Green says that many of the documents sought “had nothing to do with the Middle East at all.”
The purloined documents contained, according to Green, details of US and Soviet intelligence, communication and military capabilities, details about US naval positions, aircraft stations, tactics, and training operations. “Much of this material,” writes Green, “could have been of interest to only one country—the Soviet Union.” Green says that during the Pollard investigation, an (unnamed) Soviet defector in US custody revealed that in addition to the two Soviet spies serving prison terms in Israel, “there was a third who had not been caught. He was well placed in the Defense Ministry, and still ‘active.'” Former CIA Director Richard Helms was recently asked—in connection with the Pollard affair, says Green—whether the US government should distinguish between those who sell secrets to “friends” or to “enemies.” Helms said no, “for the simple reason that we don’t know about the security of those other governments.” (So much for what Blitzer calls “friendly espionage.”)
Now, as someone who has written extensively about espionage and is fairly well versed in the literature, as well as being a founding member of the academic Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, what do I think? What questions has Blitzer’s book raised in my mind?
1. Pollard was traveling around Europe, staying at luxurious hotels, eating at three-star restaurants, buying jewelry, flaunting his credit card, and in general living far beyond his means. In Washington, too, he and his wife lived lavishly. Is this normal behavior for the average US intelligence employee? Is it the expected thing for an intelligence employee to walk out three times a week with “suitcases” of stolen classified documents and to deliver them to a “safe house” for copying? Pollard was supposed to be studying the possibilities of terrorism in the Caribbean, not in the Middle East. I suppose one could argue that Pollard’s “need to know” gave him the right to ask for documents on Soviet weapons systems and the military capabilities of Arab countries. Nevertheless, the question remains: what was the US counterintelligence system doing throughout all of this?
2. Pollard says he was pressured to take $2,500 a month for his treasonable employment. Living as he did in a free country, he could have refused the money. Even taking it. Pollard might have stashed away these sums unused. But not only did he receive and spend the money, he accepted an Israeli offer of a Swiss bank account for future bonuses. And now that he sits in jail Israel has doubled his monthly salary, presumably to make a nice nest egg for him when he gets out.
3. Blitzer says that Pollard took the money because “it could be useful in getting secret documents.” What does that throwaway line mean? Was there someone else that Pollard felt could be suborned to treason?
4. Blitzer says that even though, upon his arrest. Pollard was ordered held without bail, a professional bondsman showed up trying to get him out on bail. Who was the bondsman, who hired him—what’s all that about? Blitzer doesn’t speculate.
5. It is meaningless to say, as Blitzer does several times, that the Israeli government “has returned to the United States all such documents in its possession or under its control.” Don’t the Israelis have copying machines?
6. Since a good deal of money was changing hands, it is difficult to believe that Pollard’s was a rogue operation. Does Blitzer mean to suggest that anybody can walk into the Israeli treasury, sign a chit, and walk out with several thousand dollars?
7. Blitzer makes a statement that I find particularly indecent: “I felt that American Jewry was partially responsible for having created Pollard.” If Joe Sobran had written that, I’d be jumping up and down with indignation. Perhaps Blitzer will one day tell us how he apportions the responsibility.
8. This so-called lover of Israel also took secret documents and distributed them to his social acquaintances and to professional investment advisers, presumably to help them in their business ventures. Pollard did this, according to Blitzer, in the hope of someday returning to a career in private life.
9. I think Israel deliberately “betrayed” Pollard because it had no alternative to doing so. Had Pollard been spirited out of the country to Israel, and had the US government demanded his extradition, could Israel have refused to hand Pollard over?
There are many morals to be drawn from the Pollard affair, but the most important of them is this: The reason for the American-Israeli “special relationship” is that both countries are democracies, both countries share common values. A large sector of the American people, not merely Jews, have an affection for Israel. It is the land of the Old Testament. There is a sense of trust between both peoples, and presumably between the two governments. This trust, supported by American public opinion, has given Israel a unique status in American foreign policy and, indeed, even in American domestic policy.
That trust has been badly damaged, as Blitzer concedes and as statements from leading Jewish organizations and their spokesmen confirm. Is the damage irreparable? Those of us who value this single outpost of freedom and democracy in a hostile region can only hope that this tawdry episode will be overcome. Why seemingly intelligent survivors like Shamir, Peres, and other Israeli policymakers allowed it to occur in the first place and, having done so, permitted it to continue as long as it did, remains a mystery.
In the Talmud, when certain questions, after long debate among the sages, were found to be inexplicable, the debate ended with “tayku.” This is a Hebrew acronym—Tishbi yetares kushiot vbeayot—meaning that on Elijah of Tishbi’s return to earth all these questions will be answered, and that until Elijah’s return there is no good explanation as to why highly intelligent people often do stupid things.
[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 (New York: Harper & Row) 336 pp., $22.50]