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Capturing Jonathan Pollard
By Ronald J. Olive
Naval Institute Press
320 pages; $27.95
Over the past decade, I have written numerous articles, given many speeches, spoken to American Jewish leaders and rallied in Jerusalem in favor of Jonathan Pollard's release from prison after almost 22 years. I own every book written on Pollard and have a collection of articles and government documents about the spy. It is hard to question my desire for Pollard's release. Nevertheless, I strongly welcome the contribution of Ronald Olive's book Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice which provides the United States government's side of the case in a detailed, credible and reliable manner.
Jonathan Pollard was a civilian naval intelligence analyst in the early 1980s. Arrested by the US Navy and the FBI, in 1984 he pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to a foreign country - the State of Israel. Olive's account of Pollard's espionage is the closest thing to an official government version and the first book devoted exclusively to Pollard that does not come to his defense.
Basing the account on his personal involvement in Pollard's capture, interviews with some of his colleagues, and the official navy and FBI transcripts publicly available, Olive presents a side of Pollard's story that has never been heard before. The lack of generally reliable information is a serious problem for those researching Pollard. With the possible exception of Wolf Blitzer's Territory of Lies, based on a series of interviews with Pollard at the time of his arrest, none of the other five books published on Pollard provide the type of documented information Olive presents. Olive's final chapter also gives a concise summary of the efforts to free Pollard, including the strong, but apparently well-funded efforts of a small group of youth in Israel.
Nevertheless, as a former US Navy official, Olive is not without biases. He leaves out credible evidence in favor of Pollard, such as Dennis Ross's revelation in his book, The Missing Peace, in which Ross, a diplomat and member of the US negotiation team at the Wye River Negotiations, notes that Pollard's sentence is disproportionate and he should be freed. Ross explains in his book that he refused to advocate freeing Pollard in order to gain leverage with the Israelis. He didn't want to strengthen then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu by agreeing to release Pollard in the course of the negotiations but, rather, wanted to keep the alleged spy imprisoned to be used as a bigger bargaining chip.
This also contradicts the prevailing wisdom, repeated by Olive - purportedly to strengthen the claim that releasing Pollard would harm national security - that then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if Pollard was released at Wye. Olive neglects to mention that this claim had been disproved in a 2004 JTA article in which Malcolm Hoenlein, a top American Jewish leader, noted that Tenet called him after the negotiations, upset at the false claim that had been publicized.
Chapters of Olive's book are virtually parroted from US Naval Criminal Investigative Service documents available via the Freedom of Information Act and represent the official narrative of Pollard's interrogators. While publicly available, but still unobtainable for those who don't have the time, energy or thousands of dollars in photocopying costs demanded by the government, it is Olive who brings this important portion of the story to light.
There are two major problems with Capturing Jonathan Pollard. The first is not Olive's fault but yet is important to note. The author and his sources lack a firm understanding of Israeli politics. Hebrew sources are not consulted and interviews are not attempted with Israeli politicians and even English-language newspaper reports from Israel are lacking. The Pollard case cannot be understood without also understanding the Israeli side of the story which has not, as of yet, been told. However, Olive does provide some interesting insights into the US government's attempt to receive information on Pollard from the State of Israel.
He shows the extent to which the Israeli government clumsily tried to deny its role in the affair and irreparably harmed US-Israel relations. On the other hand, Olive also courageously notes numerous instances in which the operations of the US government were immensely clumsy and led to Pollard being able to pass information on to Israel. Olive also misses noting that the US government lacks basic knowledge of Israel and the Jewish community. No Hebrew speaker or even any expert in cross-cultural negotiations was sent with the government team to Israel.
The second problem with the book is that reliance on official government documents and only getting the US naval intelligence's side of the story leads to a distorted picture.
The last chapter of his book is a polemical argument against Pollard where he tries to dispute the claim of unequal justice made by Pollard's supporters. Yet, Pollard's supporters make several other claims that he does not address such as the possibility that the US government severely overestimates the quantity of information passed to the Israelis.
This is not a book that many of Jonathan Pollard's most ardent supporters, sold the myth of Pollard as Jewish superhero, will support. Despite that, I strongly recommend they read it. They should know who the real Jonathan Pollard is - the Pollard who spins absurd tales, who admitted to drug use and who was fairly assimilated Jewishly and while identifying strongly as a Jew, hadn't been to Israel in decades.
As Olive notes, it is a wonder that the Naval Investigative Services ever hired Pollard. But they did, and both Olive and Pollard lay serious - and at times, opposing - claims. Yet, any informed understanding of the Jonathan Pollard case requires both the well-articulated case made by Olive and the - as of yet unarticulated - well-documented and verifiable case of Pollard and the State of Israel. With Rafi Eitan, Pollard's spymaster, in government and a persona non grata in the United States, it is time for the rest of the story.
While incomplete, the documented claims brought by this former co-worker of Pollard deserves serious study by those interested in American-Israeli relations and this case in particular.