2007-06-08 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Should Jonathan Pollard Be Released: It All Depends On A Secret Document That Is Oft Quoted, But Seldom Seen
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

There are issues revolving around Jonathan Pollard and his 1987 conviction for selling top secret information to Israel that are not in doubt.

Or, is everything involving Pollard a controversy, with Jewish interests pushing both the United States Government and that of Israel to find a way to allow him to leave his prison cell for the first time in 20 years?

The following is from a new book about Pollard and his spying spree by Ronald J. Olive, a former Special Agent with the Naval Investigative Service (NCIS), and one of the men who caught Pollard and interrogated him. The book, entitled "Capturing Jonathan Pollard," tells of Pollard's escapades and the events leading up to his capture.

"In the course of 18 months in the mid-1980's, Pollard, an intelligence analyst working for the U.S. Naval Investigative Service's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, systematically stole highly sensitive national security secrets from almost every major intelligence-gathering organization in the United States. He sold to Israel, an ally, more than one million pages of classified material."

If you read that foreword to the book, you could certainly reasonably infer that Pollard belongs in prison.

Then, read "The Facts of the Pollard Case," from the official website, www. jonathanpollard.org , maintained by those supporting the demand that Pollard be released.

" Jonathan Pollard was a civilian Naval intelligence analyst in the mid 1980's. He soon discovered that the information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements of the U.S. National Security establishment. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information, according to a 1983 memorandum of understanding between the two nations. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraq, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities - being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets. He learned that the objective of cutting off this flow of information to Israel was to severely curtail its ability to act independently in defense of its own interests."

See the problem? The American defense establishment sees Pollard as a master spy, albeit a bumbling spy, while the Jewish Community sees him as a hero.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, for example, has continually urged the President to give Pollard a get out of jail free card.

In 2003, Weiner issued a press release about Pollard's case.

"Jonathan Pollard was a spy. No doubt about it. When he used his job as a naval intelligence officer to sneak documents to Israel in the mid-1980's, he violated his oath and broke the law.

"As much as Pollard was the perpetrator of a serious crime, he was also the victim in a case that was replete with bad timing, bad judgment, bad lawyering and bad faith by the U.S. Government.

"Pollard pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1985, after he was discovered to have copied and passed documents to our ally, Israel. Lawyers on both sides of the case expected a sentence in line with similar cases - between two and four years.

"But 1985 was called the 'year of the spy' because of a string of damaging cases that included John Walker, Jerry Whitworth and Ronald Pelton, each of whom spied for the Soviet Union and was sentenced to life in prison. And, the day before sentencing, then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, submitted a memorandum - that remains classified - that accused Pollard of 'treason' and suggested that Pollard's crime had been worse than the three Russian spies. Despite the agreement with the Justice Department, the Weinberger memo had a profound impact on the court. The ruling - life imprisonment."

That Weinberger memo seems to be the key. Weinberger has been charged with being anti-Semitic and for keeping Pollard in jail simply because he spied for Jewish interests. Is this true? Who knows?

In any case, that memo has remained classified top secret for 20 years, even from Pollard's lawyers. Over those 20 years, appeals courts have consistently ruled that his lawyers "have no need to know" about the material in the memo because they do not have the proper clearances.

Weiner has just as consistently argued that there is no longer any need to keep that document secret, that any harm it could have done 20 years ago has expired by now.

Neither the court nor the government seems to buy that argument.

When I was in the Navy, I had top secret clearance because I often worked as a courier from the ship to embassies abroad.

It was exciting, for example, to walk through the streets of Athens, Greece, with a briefcase handcuffed to my wrist and a .45 caliber automatic at my waist.

I believed the rhetoric that Pollard had spied to insure Israel's existence and that he was altruistic in his motives.

I didn't consider him a hero, but I thought that Israel should have been provided with the intelligence that Pollard gave that nation and he did a service to Israel without harming the United States.

Recently, however, Mike Honin, a local resident who was in naval intelligence for many years, loaned me his copy of Olive's book.

The book was revealing.

Olive's opinion, and mine after reading the book, is that Pollard was a flake, a man who was probably the worst spy in the history of the genre and who got along only because he slipped through dozens of cracks in the intelligence community.

If you believe the book, and I have no reason not to, because the information dovetails with what I have learned of the case elsewhere, Pollard was also venal, taking tens of thousands of dollars from Israel and demanding more. He was not altruistic. Like many spies, he was in it for the money.

Olive makes the point that it is not good form for individuals to decide for themselves which nation should get what intelligence.

If we are to accept that premise, then we have to accept that it is alright for a devout Muslim to hand over intelligence to Iran that he or she believes is being illegally withheld from that nation. That does not work on any level. I think even Tony Weiner would agree with that. After reading the book and digesting the sheer magnitude of what Pollard provided to Israel, I have to believe that Pollard belongs in prison, and that he should stay there for the rest of his life.

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