[Yossi Melman — co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon — continues his analysis of Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel and is now being released from a U.S. prison after 30 years.]
The Escape Plan
For years, veteran spymaster Rafi Eitan was accused of not preparing a genuine rescue plan for his valuable agent in the United States. But now Eitan reveals that such a plan was actually prepared. It included code words and phone numbers to be used in case of emergency.
According to the plan, Jonathan Pollard was instructed to take a bus to Canada.
But he never followed the instructions. In November 1985, when U.S. Navy counterintelligence and the FBI suspected him, Pollard was questioned. After the first session, he was allowed to go home.
Instead of rushing to the Greyhound bus station, he hesitated. He didn’t know how to get rid of a suitcase that was filled with documents. Precious time was lost. When he made up his mind, it was too late to execute the plan.
His ex-wife Anne Pollard (who served three years in prison) refutes Eitan’s claim, however, and says they did not have any rescue plan. She told me that the only escape instructions given to them were to go to the Israeli Embassy, which they did.
They panicked and decided to take their dog in their car and drive to the Israeli Embassy compound in Washington’s Van Ness neighborhood to seek asylum. FBI agents were following, in their own cars.
“Right up until today,” says Eitan — who this month celebrates his 89th birthday, “I don’t understand what were his reasons for not immediately, when he felt at risk, executing the rescue plan.”
The Pollards managed to sneak in to the embassy’s forecourt when a security gate was opened for another vehicle. But by order of Eitan, who instructed the security officer at the embassy, they were asked to leave.
“I gave the order,” Eitan admits. “There was no other choice. Had Israel kept them hiding in the embassy, the situation would have only worsened.”
After the news broke out, Israel declared it was a rogue operation. But that was a lie. Israel had spied against the US and on US soil since its independence in 1948 and even before then.
The only unique element of the Pollard case is that he was a U.S. intelligence employee with access to a wide array of classified information.
Lakam also operated another spy in the US – Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli whose company illegally purchased and smuggled components for Israel’s nuclear program.
Still, according to Eitan, Pollard — who is now 61 years old — could have been punished with a lighter sentence.
“He could have served no more than 10 years.” Eitan claims that an understanding between the US and Israeli governments was reached for a lighter sentence. But Israeli officials and Pollard, with their behavior, blew it.
Pollard’s interviews with Wolf Blitzer and with CBS’s Mike Wallace angered U.S. authorities — as the captured spy did not seem at all sorry for what he had done.
The Americans were also annoyed by the actions of the head of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency), Avraham Shalom, who was assigned together with lawyer Ram Caspi to negotiate with US officials the return of the documents Pollard had stolen. Shalom promised full cooperation and transparency but lied and was caught red-handed with his lies.
There were two other reasons for the heavy sentence of life imprisonment. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case, describing Pollard as one of the most damaging spies ever operated in America. In addition, the Israeli public campaign to release Pollard, accompanied by the visits of members of Knesset and cabinet ministers, contributed to the U.S. decision to retreat from behind-the-scenes understandings.
I asked Eitan if he has any regrets or remorse about the affair. “Of course” was his answer. “I am sorry for what happened to Pollard.”
But he rushes to clarify that he acted only after informing his superiors and that he was authorized to carry out the operation. If this is true, it means that running a spy in the heart of the U.S. intelligence community was approved by prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres and two defense ministers – Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin.
Arens, still a very active commentator at age 89, completely denies that he had any knowledge about the operation.
Rabin was assassinated in 1995, and Shamir died a few years ago.
Peres, who was privy in the 1950’s to the decision to create Lakam. keeps insisting that running Pollard was a “rogue”operation.”
It is irrefutable, however, that the products of Pollard’s operations benefited the entire Israeli intelligence community: the Mossad, Military Intelligence and Shin Bet.
All these years later, it can be said with certainty that since 1985 all Israeli espionage operations on American soil have ceased. The political and social damage — including severely uncomfortable situations for the Jews of the United States — would be far too great to justify the risk.