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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weinberger, Pollard, and the Question of Guilt

In January, 2009 former CIA director James Woolsey, who several times over the years voiced support for the release of Jonathan Pollard, told Newsweek, "We're now coming up on a quarter of a century, [a duration typically reserved for] only the hard-line Soviet bloc spies." But Pollard was neither accused nor convicted of passing information to an enemy, let alone the Soviets. So what might account for his excessive and continuing punishment? I suggest that the Pollard Affair may not be as obvious as it appears at first glance, that factors and actors played a part in his espionage, trial and conviction which raise serious questions regarding who was guilty of what.

It is “common wisdom” among antisemites, Israel bashers (often the same), and the more defensive within our American Jewish community that Pollard was a traitor who betrayed his country for money. He always admitted to spying for Israel, that he received money in the course of his activities. Do those two admissions validate the assertion that he “was a traitor who betrayed his country for money”?

According to the US Constitution, “treason” applies to three specific acts: "levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." To the best of my knowledge the United States and Israel were not in a state of war in the 1980’s, so none of the above applies to Pollard. In fact he was never charged for treason. What he was charged and convicted of was passing information to an American ally, Israel.

Regarding Pollard accepting payment from his Israeli handlers, this posed a problem for the conscience of the man, and he initially refused. In the end it came down to salary as a condition of employment. That this was the case was confirmed to me in 1989 by a ranking figure in the operation.

Why would payment be a condition of service? I never asked that question but one purpose suggests itself. “Walk-ins,” persons who volunteer to spy, may change their minds in the future, decide to quit. Payment psychologically binds spy to spymaster; it also represents a paper trail, evidence which, if disclosed, would result in arrest.

There are very serious question surrounding the hire of Jonathan Pollard by Naval Intelligence (NI). His hire is even more suspect given the fact that he had been turned down by the CIA before applying to Naval Intelligence. The CIA found him unsuitable for several reasons, one of which was his open ideological ties to Israel and Zionism. So how explain that the Navy, not known as particularly philosemitic, overcame prejudice and hired him?

The Navy Department falls under the direction of the Secretary of Defense who, in Reagan administration years, was Casper Weinberger. Weinberger, an Episcopalian by choice, had always been defensive about his “Jewish” name, inherited from his grandfather, a convert to Christianity. Confidants considered him an antisemite and some of his policies as defense secretary, such as overcoming strong administration doubts to sell AWACS aircraft to the Saudis, potentially a significant threat to the state of the Jews, suggest he was also anti-Israel.

Barely two months after his hire Pollard’s immediate superiors, alarmed at his ideas and behavior, recommended dismissal. Over his years at NI other officials, including an admiral, considered him a risk that should be removed. But Pollard, as if protected by a guardian angel, survived and thrived, was promoted and placed in ever more sensitive jobs with ever higher security clearance. As described by Seymour M. Hersh in, Why Pollard Should Never Be Released (The Traitor), “In late 1983, shortly after the terrorist bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, the Navy set up a high-powered Anti-Terrorist Alert Center at Suitland, and in June, 1984, Pollard was assigned to that unit's Threat Analysis Division. He had access there to the most up-to-date intelligence in the American government.” By 1984 Pollard was a member of the intelligence team responsible for meeting with, and providing their Israeli counterparts information under the 1983 US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). By his presence Pollard was in a position to evaluate the quality and quantity of materials provided Israel, and was alarmed. His team, he realized, was withholding information about terrorism, Syrian forces deployments and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, all in violation of the intent and letter of the MOU. He apparently raised his concerns with his superiors before deciding to contact Aviem Sella, the much decorated Israeli Air Force pilot then enrolled in graduate school in New York.

Jonathan Jay Pollard became a spy for Israel in June, 1984. He was arrested in November, 1985 outside the gate of the Israel Embassy.

Justice department lead prosecutor Joseph diGenova entered into a plea agreement with Pollard in which the government would be spared a public jury trial, and possible exposure of sensitive intelligence information. In exchange the government agreed to recommend to the judge, Aubrey Robinson, “leniency in sentencing.” The trial was private and swift according to plan, except that Pollard was sentenced to life in prison without parole. According to the press Weinberger had intervened, presented the judge a 46 page “top secret” memorandum describing irreparable harm to American interests. The secretary demanded the harsh sentence. And the prosecution, having achieved its goals, felt justified in setting aside their commitments under the plea agreement.

It matters not whether the “fix” was already in, that diGenova and Robinson had already tossed the plea agreement (subsequent comments regarding the case by diGenova support this possibility), or that the Weinberger performance in court decided his fate. More than twenty-five years later Pollard remains incarcerated in a US federal penitentiary. And, a quarter century after the Weinberger memorandum Pollard’s lawyers, even those with highest security clearance, are barred from accessing them in preparation for appeals. In the case of Pollard even the Constitution does not apply.

Having delivered the memorandum and witnessed the sentencing Weinberger faced the press outside the court house. It was the defense secretary, a lawyer who knew better, who accused Pollard of treason. In his September, 1999 interview in Middle East Quarterly Weinberger was asked, “You have been quoted saying that Jonathan Pollard "should have been shot."4 Is this accurate? Weinberger: Any traitor who did what he did should be shot. Facing the press outside the court house, no stranger to hyperbole, he said that Pollard provided Israel with a quantity of classified document that would fill a space six feet by six feet by six feet. An amazing feat considering Pollard used only a briefcase and was somehow able to smuggle the materials out from one of the most secure facilities in Washington on Fridays, then smuggle them in again on Mondays. And he was able to get away with this for nearly 18 months. An unlikely feat for anybody, but for Pollard, who had been under a cloud of suspicion since his first days on the job; how was it possible to get away with such a brazen act without piquing someone’s suspicion, setting off alarm bells somewhere in Naval Intelligence?

Pollard’s activities have to be viewed in context to surrounding events. His career in NI roughly coincided with the Reagan Administration arms-for-hostages scheme called Irangate, a clandestine operation lacking congressional approval, and so illegal. In the heat of the Iranian revolution “students” occupied the US embassy in Teheran taking the staff hostage. In support of releasing them Reagan turned to Israel and the Saudis for assistance. When Irangate hit the press in 1986 and began to unravel members of the administration, including defense secretary Weinberger, chose Israel (not, of course, the Saudis) to take the fall. Irangate, they suggested, was an Israeli operation gone bad dragging her innocent ally, the United States, along.

In Territory of Lies, a book based on interviews Wolf Blitzer held with Pollard before sentencing, the author described many of the events and issues that appear above. My reading of his book some twenty years ago led me to wonder how, based on his own information, Blitzer failed to realize that something was wrong, that while Pollard was admittedly guilty as charged, others involved in his conviction behaved in a manner at least unbecoming their job description, even representing misconduct in office. Was Blitzer not even suspicious that, with a legal gag order over Pollard, he was allowed access to the prisoner in federal custody, allowed to carry into the interview a tape recorder and camera? Did nothing seem amiss to Blitzer that, following the interview diGenova used that visit as evidence that the prisoner violated the gag order as justification for vacating the plea agreement assurance of leniency? As if Pollard and not the anonymous but certainly high government official who authorized the interview, was responsible for Blitzer gaining access to the prisoner.

When the Pollard Affair broke it immediately served to divert attention away the administration’s criminal activities in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scheme. Even today Pollard provides “anonymous government sources” an always available stick to pressure Israeli policymakers. For example, when Clinton brought Netanyahu and Arafat together at Wye River in October, 1998, when Netanyahu was pressed to make concessions, and balked, stories about Israel’s involvement with the traitor Pollard were mysteriously leaked to sympathetic journalists.

I suggest that Blitzer veered away from the obvious conclusions his own book leads to, that the hiring and grooming of Jonathan Jay Pollard by Naval Intelligence following his rejection by the CIA was no accident resulting from sloppy hiring practices; that his promotions and job placement in spite of his obvious suspicious behavior on the job was again no accident. I suggest that the Pollard Affair was intentional, a trap set for Israel, a club with which to embarrass American Jewry and reduce our support for the state of the Jews. I suggest that the anti-Israel operation was not only successful in harming Israel in 1985-6, but continues so today. I suggest that Pollard’s continuing incarceration is partly due to his availability to influence Israeli policy and Jewish opinion in the United States, partly outright antisemitism. The assertion that Jonathan Pollard continues to represent a threat to national security is obviously transparent and foolish a quarter of a century after his arrest and imprisonment.

Contacted from his prison cell in 1989, Jonathan Pollard requested I lead the effort to publicize his plight, and work for his release. I helped found and headed Justice for the Pollards and, later that year, brought Pollard’s sister to Israel as representative of the prisoner. My purpose was to engage Israel in a coordinated effort with American Jewry to work towards Pollard’s release. One result of that visit was a letter signed by three-quarters of Knesset members, across party and ideological lines, to President Reagan. The emissaries dispatched by the Knesset to deliver the letter were not allowed present it to the president, and it is likely he never saw it.

For an overview of efforts aimed at his release by family, the American Jewish community and the Government of Israel up to 1995 see, The Failure to Free Pollard.

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