Op-Ed: I Fear that Jonathan Pollard Will Die in Prison
Over the years American Jews have also grown less threatened and self-conscious by the Pollard Affair and today most major Jewish organizations publicly support Pollard’s release.
I have chosen a provocative title for this article because nearing his fourth decade in prison for a crime all others similarly charged see freedom within four years, Jonathan Pollard is no more likely to be freed under Barak Obama than under George W. Bush before him or Bill Clinton before him. From today it seems no exaggeration that, barring a miracle, a young and idealistic American Jew who chose to spy for Israel will be forced to pay the ultimate price for his decision.
Jonathan Pollard had serious medical conditions at the time of his arrest in his twenties. He remains seriously ill in his fifties. And, as I suggested above, barring Divine Intervention or Israel agreeing to some extreme presidential demands bordering on extortion, Jonathan Pollard will die in prison.
“The punishment imposed,” wrote Weinberger, “should reflect the perfidy of the individual’s actions, the magnitude of the treason committed…”
“As I say, the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.” Pressed on why the case was made far bigger than its actual importance, Weinberger replied, “I don’t know why-it just was.” (Weinberger interview with Edwin Black, 2002)
I. The Legend begins
In a recent article appearing on-line Prof. Angelo Codevilla, a staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time Jonathan Pollard was arrested is quoted:
“Having been intimately acquainted with the materials that Pollard passed and with the sources and methods by which they were gathered, I would be willing to give expert testimony that Pollard is guilty of neither more nor less than what the indictment alleges.”
The allegation of “treason” which is represented as having influenced DC Circuit Judge Robinson to impose the life sentence was included in Weinberger’s unclassified “supplemental” memo:
“The punishment imposed should reflect the perfidy of the individual’s actions, the magnitude of the treason committed…” (emphasis added)
Prior to entering “government service” the defense secretary was a lawyer which suggest he might have known that he was using hyperbole and not “law” in describing Pollard guilty of “treason.” Just to make sure the slur would do maximal damage Weinberger repeated the charge to the press immediately leaving the judge’s chambers. Even a decade later, in a 1999 interview with Middle East Quarterly:
MEQ: You have been quoted saying that Jonathan Pollard “should have been shot.” Is this accurate?
Weinberger: Any traitor who did what he did should be shot.
Not Weinberger or any other high ranking Reagan Administration official involved in Irangate was ever called to answer for their crimes against the United States. And today as the consequence of a matter even its principle perpetrator Weinberger called, “comparatively minor,” Pollard’s “perfidy” appearing occasionally in the press the work of “unnamed administration officials” a tool distancing American Jews from Israel.
And, after nearly thirty years in prison Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life seems increasingly likely to serve out his life sentence in full.
II. Pollard violated the plea agreement
One week before the CIA released those documents described by Professor Codevilla the Agency asserted that Pollard was solely responsible for his harsh sentence:
“Pollard’s willingness to grant an interview to journalist Wolf Blitzer for The Jerusalem Post without obtaining advance approval of the resulting text from the Justice Department violated the terms of his plea bargain.”
At the time of the Blitzer interview Pollard was in a high security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia. The only way Blitzer could possibly have met with the prisoner was with Justice Department approval! Certainly no lowly federal warden would have taken it upon himself to allow a journalist for an Israeli publication access to a high profile prisoner charged with espionage on behalf of Israel!
Put directly the meeting would have had to be accepted by the prisoner. But in order for the reporter actually enter the prison and meet with Pollard he would have first required the approval of the US Government. I, for example, might want to visit Pollard, and he might agree to the meeting. But only the prison could approve me for his visitor’s list. In simple words,
Pollard’s “violation of the terms of his plea agreement” was a red herring, a setup to justify the “violation.” As the CIA statement makes clear, without a technical excuse, and without foreknowledge of the staged and dramatic “last minute” appearance in the courtroom by Weinberger, the judge would likely have had to go along with the government’s assurances to Pollard.
III. A spy in Naval Intelligence
Of all the military services the US Navy was reputed, still is considered, “least friendly” to minorities. So it is interesting that, having first been turned down by the CIA that Pollard the Zionist would find employment with Naval Intelligence. According to the Blitzer interviews Pollard raised red flags to co-workers and superiors almost immediately, and within months sought to have him fired. In an interview with the Washington Post then directory of Naval Intelligence Admiral Sumner Shapiro,
“dismissed Pollard as a “kook” and reduced his clearance. Later Pollard’s clearance was reinstated… ‘I wish the hell I’d fired him.’”
Inexplicably the rear admiral head of NIS was unable to fire or even enforce his own order reducing Pollard’s security clearance.
Not only did Pollard keep his job and his security clearance but he was serially increased in responsibilities and clearance, coincidentally finding himself responsible for intelligence regarding Israel’s enemy Arab states and terrorist organizations: precisely the information that the young romantic Zionist placed in a position to evaluate danger to Israel, would see was being withheld from Israel.
IV. The strange co-incidence of Irangate and the Pollard Affair
An interesting and overlooked piece of the Pollard “spy scandal” is that it hit the headlines at about the same time the Reagan Administration’s Iran-Contra Affair was coming unraveled.
In brief, Irangate was a Reagan Administration initiative involving the sale of arms to Iran (banned by Congress), and transferring funds to right-wing death squads attempting to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government (also banned by Congress). The administration had attempted to cover its involvement by using the Saudis and Israelis as cutouts. The Saudis served as administration bankers by launder monies involved in the transactions.
At Reagan’s personal request Israel served as gun dealer intermediary between the administration and the Iranians. When the operation began to unravel administration insiders scrambled to provide a cover of deniability. At first the operation was described as an Israeli arms deal and the US as innocently involved. But in the end that was not credible. In a private note of December, 1985 Weinberger wrote:
“The disastrous November HAWK shipment prompted US officials to take direct control of the arms deals with Iran. Until then, Israel had been responsible for making the deliveries, for which the US agreed to replenish their stocks of American weapons.”
With Israel still in the crosshairs the Pollard Affair exploded in the media and eclipsing Irangate for the next two years, Congressional investigations and all.
V. The mysterious “Mr. X”
For a period of one and a half years, from the time of his arrest until his conviction, the Pollard Affair was daily front page, television news. Pollard was accused of an array of “harms” committed against the United States from selling information to China and South Africa, to exposing CIA agents to the Soviets. In fact American spies really were disappearing and turning up dead across East Europe and Russia. Since Pollard was recognized as an “amateur” he must have been directed in his espionage by someone higher up in US intelligence. That person was designated “Mr. X.”
“U.S. prosecutors and investigators believed that Pollard and his Israeli handlers were helped by another American, referred to as Mr. X, who probably was a senior administration official. Mr. X provided the reference numbers that helped Pollard pull out requested files from America’s most-secret intelligence computers.”
Since Pollard failed to name his US “handler” the Justice Department hinted he was obstructing the investigation, another “violation” of his “plea agreement” (over the entire pre-trial phase prosecutors repeatedly and publicly warned that Pollard was non-compliant one way or another and that this endangered his plea agreement).
In the end there was no “Mr. X,” at least no mysterious “senior administration official” aiding Pollard’s activities. But there was in fact a Mr. X, a senior CIA officer feeding information to the administration in order to cover his own espionage for Russia. The Soviet Union’s mole in the CIA was Aldrich Ames, thirty-one year veteran and head of the clandestine operations in Eastern Europe. According to the FBI report on Ames,
“During the summer of 1985, Ames met several times with a Russian diplomat to whom he passed classified information about CIA and FBI human sources, as well as technical operations targeting the Soviet Union.”
Once Pollard was sentenced no amount of evidence contradicting the charges would move the administration to admit its error and reconsider the sentence. In 2010 Rafi Eitan, head of the Israeli spy agency that ran the Pollard said,
“at the time of Pollard’s sentencing in 1987, secret charges were laid against Pollard blaming him for the crimes of a Russian mole within American intelligence, Aldrich Ames. Pollard was neither informed of these charges nor given a chance to challenge them in a court of law.
“Eitan said the US steadfastly refused to release Pollard even after Ames was exposed and arrested in 1994, “for their own reasons.”
VI. Pollard and “the Jews”
As a regional director for Jewish National Fund in 1988 in Brooklyn and Queens I approached community leaders regarding how best to assist Jonathan Pollard. Uniformly the response was, “it’s being taken care of back-channel;” Pollard was expected to be quietly released to Israel. Reflecting rumor or faith, that response, “sha, shtil” reflects the age-old and realistic fear of our neighbors. And today, twenty-six years later, Pollard remains in prison no closer to release.
As the years, then decades passed it became increasingly obvious that Pollard is the victim of “special” treatment by the US Government.
His sentence is so harsh, so far outside norms that support for his release has come from previous supporters of his conviction. Among these are two men who were directly involved in events surrounding the Affair: Lawrence Korb was assistant defense secretary under Weinberger, and Dennis DeConcini headed the Senate intelligence committee. Other prominent and politically connected persons today supportive of a presidential decision to release Pollard include former CIA director, James Woolsey:
“When I was director, I looked into it carefully, and I opposed clemency then. But now some 20 years have passed and the whole point is to link sentence and comparable sentences. Anyone who thinks what he did is comparable to Ames and Hanssen has no understanding of what they did. If you are hung up on Pollard having spied for Israel, then pretend he is Filipino-American, Korean-American, or Greek-American spy (we have had all three) and the facts are otherwise the same, you’d conclude he ought to be released.”
(Ames and Hanssen both worked for the Soviet Union. Ames provided the names of CIA operatives working behind the Iron Curtain knowing their fate. Ames pointed the finger of blame on Pollard to direct suspicion from himself. That Pollard neither provided Russia with information, was not involved in those deaths; that Ames had diverted attention from himself and onto Pollard has had no impact on his sentence.)
Among political personalities now supporting Pollard’s release are two former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz. And recently thirty members of Congress signed a petition to President Obama in favor of Pollard’s release.
Over the years American Jews have also grown less threatened and self-conscious by the Pollard Affair and today most major Jewish organizations publicly support Pollard’s release.
VII. “In the opinion of this Italian-American Catholic”
Professor Codevilla introduced this discussion. As I noted he was a staff member of Senator DiConcini’s Intelligence Committee during the period of the Pollard Affair and so was well-positioned to evaluate the case from within.
“Pollard was an analyst. He is alleged to have given away information to which no analyst had any access. All of what has been said about what he did, including the secret memorandum that Caspar Weinberger wrote to the court in order to influence the judge’s sentence, is nonsense… the sentencing of Pollard was conformant with Weinberger’s memorandum to the court. He was sentenced to life on the basis of rumors.”
“The story of the Pollard case is a blot on American justice. It makes you ashamed to be an American.”
Postscript: “Let the punishment fit the crime” (The Mikado)
On March 4, 1987 federal judge Aubrey Robinson chose to ignore the Justice Department plea agreement and, charged with a single count of espionage on behalf of America’s ally, Israel, imposed the harshest sentence allowable even for an Aldrich Ames. That sentence, fully endorsed by the justice department, resulted from Reagan’s defense secretary Weinberger’s dramatic last moment appearance before the judge. Reportedly one charge contained in the “secret memorandum” involved Pollard aiding South Africa, bogus but a red flag for Afro-American judge.
In a 1990 letter to Morris Pollard, Jonathan’s father, Laurence Kolb, deputy defense secretary at the time of the Pollard Affair described his boss:
“Weinberger had an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy. In my opinion, the severity of the sentence that Jonathan received was out of proportion to his alleged offense.”
Joseph DeGenova, lead Justice Department prosecutor fully supported the sentence, and this would become the mantra for successive generations of government bureaucrats, including the FBI and CIA. Of course no reference was made regarding manipulation of the judge’s political prejudices, all settled on Pollard’s violating the agreement based on the Blitzer interview. But considering the multiplicity of questionable behaviors. But why would Jonathan, otherwise a highly intelligent and aware person, have provided the US prosecutors that rope?
The government expressed concern that a public jury trial would disclose information that could harm US intelligence methods and personnel and asked Pollard to agree to a private, in camera hearing before the judge instead. If Pollard agreed to that, and to fully cooperate with the prosecution that the government, in exchange, would ask for consideration in sentencing. Pollard agreed and fully cooperated.
So why might Pollard have taken the step he did? As Blitzer suggested in his post-interviews book, Territory of Lies, having sat in solitary confinement for a year, himself and his wife demonized in the media, he and Anne concluded the plea agreement was already abandoned.
Abandoned also by Israel not providing refuge in the embassy as promised. And hadn’t Israel also been cooperating with the prosecution leading to his conviction? With nothing to lose they decided to get their side of the story to the public. Perhaps then at least the Jewish community would rally to their support.
As this is written on-line commenters are expressing outrage that Israel is clearly coerced by the US to release Palestinian terrorists convicted of murder as gesture to Palestinian leader abu Mazen. Israel’s weak position, its dependency on the United States may be difficult to accept, but nonetheless is the reason. And to a far greater extent in the 1980’s. Anyone remembering the 1973 Yom Kippur War that Israel might well have lost without the last minute airlift of parts and munitions (what threats were made; what demands accepted) may appreciate just how weak Israel is in her “special relationship” with the superpower.
At bottom the Pollards realized they were damned either way! I have several times been told that Jonathan would have been better served by quietly going along, challenging the government’s plea agreement violation later in court,
“[an] action that should have been subject to litigation and appeals, not unilateral pretext for reneging on a court-approved deal.”
In fact several generations of Pollard pro bono attorneys sought to do so, and ran into the same legal wall: Pollard’s original lawyer and ex DC prosecutor Richard Hibey inexplicably “forgot” to file the routine appeal within the allotted time! It was this “technicality” that foreclosed the possibility of future legal challenges.
With so much evidence of blatant governmental abuse, including suborning the sentencing judge; with so much evidence of presidential “disinterest” most recently evidenced by the Obama White House rejection of Pollards appeal (Bush left the White House without even responding to the request to release Pollard), the inescapable conclusion remains that, barring an unlikely miracle (or Israel caving to some outrageous coercive demand by this or some future president) the title of this article frighteningly conforms to reality.
David Turner was the first director of the organization Justice for the Pollards; he created Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery (JUDAC) in 1988; and served in the past as the JNF Regional Director.