By Friday, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will be free. The US Federal Bureau of Prisons commuted his life sentence to 30 years, which by law enables him to be released.
However, Pollard will not enjoy full freedom. His liberty is restricted. He can talk neither about his espionage activities nor about his work as a US Navy intelligence analyst before he was arrested.
He is also barred from leaving the US for a period of five years. Thus, his dream of immigrating to Israel will have to wait.
There is no guarantee that after five years he will be allowed to make aliya. It depends on his behavior.
This is the reason his lawyers asked him not to repeat his past mistakes but, upon his release, to lower his public 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 asks to be allowed, together with his second wife, Esther, to remain anonymous, in order to rehabilitate his life.
It is regrettable that the policy of keeping a low profile and anonymity did not guide him, the Public Committee and MKs and ministers who visited him in his jail cell and celebrated his case, from the outset.
Had that policy been followed, Pollard’s situation would probably have been better. The right-wingers’ circles that surrounded and enveloped Pollard did him great harm.
This is also the opinion of Rafi Eitan, the head of the Scientific 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.
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 defend its secrets. In due course it was also assigned to serve as 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, one of the most celebrated and legendary Mossad operatives, who participated in the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was appointed in 1981 by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon as the head of Lakam, replacing its founder, Binyamin Blumberg (Vered).
It would be more accurate to say that more than Israeli intelligence recruited Pollard, Pollard volunteered to be recruited. He was a “walk-in.”
Since his childhood days, Pollard was an “intelligence freak.” When at age 16, in 1970, he came to a summer camp at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, he asked to be an Israeli spy.
Later, at his high school in Indiana and at the various universities he attended, Pollard boasted that he was “a colonel in the Israel army,” and on other occasions astonished his colleagues when he said he was “cultivated” by the Mossad to be a spy in the US government.
Pollard tried to join the CIA but was rejected on grounds of his personality. Unfortunately for the US, the CIA didn’t share this information with other intelligence agencies. Hence, Pollard found a job at Naval Intelligence’s Center for Counter Terrorism in Maryland.
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 a future commander of the air force. It was customary those days for Israeli serviceman 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 his readiness to supply Israel with information. Eitan requested that Sella maintain contact with Pollard for the time being, until he would be assigned a case officer.
Because of his involvement, Sella’s career was ruined when Pollard was arrested. The US vetoed his promotion to brigadier-general, and Sella was forced to retire from the military. The US law enforcement authorities asked to interview him. Israel refused, and since then, Sella has been blacklisted by the US.
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 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 and was shown 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.
It not only served as an engagement ring for his future bride but 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 data bases of most of the agencies of the US intelligence community.
Pollard did not ask for financial reward but Eitan insisted that he would be paid. He 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 stole photos taken by US spy satellites, three years before Israel put its first satellite in orbit.
Pollard had volunteered to work for Israel for four reasons. First, because of the thrill and excitement he got from undercover work. Second, because he was infected with an illness that can be called “spy disease.”
Third, he agreed to betray his country because of his love for Israel. Fourth, Jonathan and Anne were greedy and wanted to have extra money to support their lavish lifestyle, which included doing drugs.
Their greed eventually led to their downfall. According to US 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. These documents, according to the US intelligence claims were to be offered to other countries, such as Australia, South Africa and Taiwan.
For years Eitan was accused of not preparing a genuine rescue plan for his spy. 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, Pollard was instructed to take a public bus to Canada.
But he never followed the instructions. In November 1985, when US Navy counterintelligence and the FBI suspected him, Pollard was questioned. After the first session, he was released. Pollard went home. Instead of taking the bus, he hesitated. He didn’t know how to get rid of his suitcase that was filled with documents. Precious time was lost. When he made up his mind, it was too late to execute the plan. Anne Pollard however refutes Eitan's claim and says they did not have any rescue plan.
The couple were under surveillance. 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 shelter.
The FBI cars followed them.
“Until this day I don’t understand,” said Eitan, “what were his reasons for not immediately, when he felt at risk, executing the rescue plan.”
The Pollards managed to sneak in when the embassy gates were opened. But by order of Eitan, who instructed the security officer at the embassy, they were asked to leave.
“I gave the order,” admitted Eitan. “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 it was a lie.
Israel had spied against the US and on US soil since its independence in 1948 and even before then. Pollard was not an exception. Lakam also operated another spy in the US – Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, whose company illegally purchased and smuggled components for Israel’s nuclear program.
Still, according to Eitan, Pollard could have been punished with a lighter sentence.
“He could have served no more than 10 years.” He 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.
At the prison where he was detained, Pollard talked to American journalist Wolf Blitzer. The interview angered the authorities, and so did the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) at that time, 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. US secretary of defense Casper Weinberger wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case in which he described Pollard as one of the most damaging spies ever operated in America. And the Israeli public campaign to release Pollard, accompanied by the visits of MKs and cabinet ministers, also contributed to the US 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 rushed 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 US intelligence community was approved by prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres and two defense ministers – Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin.
Arens however completely denies that he had any knowledge about the operation or that he gave his approval for it. (The author apologizes about previous claims of that nature.)
The products of Pollard’s operations benefited the entire Israeli intelligence community – the Mossad, Military Intelligence and Shin Bet. But it can be said with certainty that in the last 30 years, all Israeli espionage operations against the US or on its soil have ceased.