[This post is based on Yossi Melman‘s article in The Jerusalem Post on the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American arrested in Washington in 1985 — caught spying for Israel. Pollard, as we have written in Every Spy a Prince and our current book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, was sentenced to life in prison — but the Obama Administration has decided to let him go, after years of requests by Israel’s somewhat apologetic government.]
On Friday (November 20) the American who notoriously spied for Israel in Washington — Jonathan Pollard — is being released from a federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina.
The White House has never said this is President Barack Obama doing Israel a favor. His release is explained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a mandatory parole. As a spokesperson wrote to JTA this past July:
“Under the laws in place at that time (and which are currently applicable to Pollard), a person with a life sentence is presumptively eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission ‘determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime.’ Pollard is eligible for mandatory parole in November 2015.”
However, Pollard will not enjoy full freedom. His liberty is restricted. It is understood that he agrees not to talk publicly about his espionage activities or about his work as a US Navy intelligence analyst before he was arrested. He is also barred from leaving the U.S. for a period of five years.
So his dream of moving to Israel — “making aliyah” — will have to wait.
(Some pro-Pollard campaigners said they were hopeful of a quick deal in which Pollard will give up his U.S. citizenship, and he would be permitted to make aliyah immediately.)
As of now, there is no guarantee that after five years he will be allowed to leave the United States. That depends on his behavior.
This is the reason his lawyers asked him not to repeat past mistakes by making public declarations. They clearly want him to lower his profile.
It seems that this time Pollard understands the rules of the new game and obeys them. Via the Public Committee for Releasing Pollard, which has campaigned for his release, he has asked to be allowed to remain invisible — living, it is understood, in New York with his second wife, Esther — so that he can rehabilitate his life.
It is regrettable that the policy of keeping a low profile and anonymity did not guide Pollard, the Public Committee, and Israeli politicians who visited him in his jail cell — loudly demanding that he be released, and some implicitly celebrating his actions as heroic — from the outset.
Had that policy been followed, Pollard’s situation would probably have been better. The Israeli right-wingers who embraced Pollard did him great harm.
This is also the opinion of Rafi Eitan — the legendary Israeli spy (and later politician) who was the head of the disbanded Science Liaison Bureau (an intelligence-gathering unit generally known by its Hebrew acronym, Lakam), which recruited Pollard in 1984 and ran him for a year and a half until he was exposed and arrested.
“The visits, the public campaign and the Israeli behavior in general only caused him great damage,” Eitan told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the expected release of Pollard.
Still the question of who gave the order to run Pollard has remained a mystery. Lakam was founded in 1957 as a secret unit in the Defense Ministry to physically defend the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona and to guard the nuclear secrets. It later became the acquisition and procurement arm for clandestine purchases of materials such as uranium and equipment for the reactor and the entire Israeli nuclear program.
Eventually, Lakam was expanded and became Israel’s scientific, technological espionage agency. Its attachés under diplomatic cover and its emissaries around the world collected and stole data, technology, know-how and materials for Israel’s military-defense industrial complex.
Eitan, whose escapades included the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was appointed in 1981 by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon to be the head of Lakam — replacing its tight-lipped founder, the wily Binyamin Blumberg (Vered).
It should be borne in mind that this was not truly Israeli intelligence recruiting Pollard. The American Jew, born in 1954, volunteered to be recruited. He was a “walk-in.”
Since his childhood days, Pollard was fascinated by spy stories. When at age 16, in 1970, he studied at a summer camp at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, he asked around how best he could volunteer to be a secret agent for Israel.
At his high school in Indiana and at the universities he attended, Pollard boasted that he was “a colonel in the Israel army.” On other occasions he astonished his colleagues when he said he was “cultivated” by the Mossad to be a spy in the U.S. government.
Pollard tried to join the CIA but was rejected — apparently based on the Agency’s personality tests. Unfortunately for the U.S., the CIA likely did not share this information with other securityagencies. Hence, Pollard found a job at a counter-terrorism center in Maryland run by U.S. Navy intelligence.
One evening in early 1984, while attending a party in New York City, he met Steven Stern, a Jewish-American businessman, and confided in him about his readiness to help his beloved State of Israel.
A few weeks later Stern introduced Pollard to Col. Aviem Sella, an Israel Air Force pilot who three years earlier participated in the attack that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Sella was on a year’s sabbatical to study for a master’s degree at Columbia University and was considered a brilliant officer who had the qualities that could qualify him to be the future commander of the air force.
It was customary, in that era, for Israeli military personnel and civilian scientists on study leaves to be in contact with Lakam representatives.
Sella reported to his Lakam contact and air force superiors about Pollard — and the Americans’ intriguing readiness to supply Israel with information. Rafi Eitan requested that Sella maintain contact with Pollard for the time being, until a case officer could be assigned.
Because of his involvement, Sella’s career was ruined when Pollard was arrested in November 1985. The U.S. put pressure on Israel to cancel Sella’s promotion to brigadier-general, and the veteran pilot was forced to retire from the military.
Federal prosecutors also demanded to question Sella. Israel refused, and since then Sella has been blacklisted by the U.S. He fears that if he travels there, he may be arrested and indicted.
Eitan approved the operation to run Pollard, who was invited to Paris to meet with Eitan, Sella and his future handler, Yossi Yagur, the Lakam attaché at the Israeli Consulate-General in New York.
Pollard traveled to Paris with his fiancée (and future first wife) Anne Henderson. Pollard did not ask for money, but Eitan insisted and massaged his ego with an annual salary offer of $20,000 over a 10-year period. Eitan also showed Pollard an Israeli passport under the name of Danny Cohen that would be given to him upon the completion of his mission.
Sella encouraged Pollard to buy Henderson a diamond ring at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer. That served not only as the engagement ring for his future bride. It also represented the “engagement” between Pollard and Israel.
Pollard felt that he was in heaven. His dream had come true. For Israeli intelligence, Pollard was a “gold mine” because of his unrestricted access to the databases of most of the agencies of the US intelligence community.
Pollard did not ask for financial reward, but Eitan insisted on paying him. Pollard provided Israel with hundreds of thousands of precious documents about Arab armies, the PLO, the chemical and biological programs of Libya, Iraq and Syria, and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pollard also handed over photos taken by US spy satellites, three years before Israel put its first satellite in orbit.
Pollard had volunteered to work for Israel for at least three reasons. First, because of the thrill and excitement he got from undercover work, as he was infected by what might be called “spy disease.” The second, very major, reason was his love for Israel — and he may well have denied in his own mind that he was betraying and harming his own country America.
Third, Jonathan and Anne were greedy and wanted extra cash to support a high-spending lifestyle which (according to prosecutors) included illegal drugs.
Their greed eventually led to their downfall. According to U.S. intelligence claims which were not proven, the Pollards realized that it was easy to steal documents so they decided to collect documents that were unrelated to the Israeli espionage operations. The accusation is that the Pollards planned to sell secrets to other countries, such as Australia, South Africa, and Taiwan.