Show Trial: “a trial organized by a government in order to have an effect on public opinion and reduce political opposition. “
“Pollard’s 10,000 days,” title for a JPost editorial, 4/13/2013
Introduction: In 1989 I was surprised to receive a letter from Jonathan Pollard asking if I would take his case to the public. At the time I was a regional director for Jewish National Fund, and it was likely my highlighting his incarceration in an article I wrote that inspired the letter. Our correspondence spanned several months and, significantly, came to an abrupt end when I agreed. In my article I suggested that the Pollard Affair, and particularly the sentences meted out, represented an extra-judicial outcome. I recommended I focus not in the United States (the post-conviction legal effort was in the hands of Alan Dershowitz), but in Israel.
My single year as organizer and advocate does not make me an “authority” on the Pollard Affair, but it did put me in contact with key Israelis directly involved in his espionage; with his American lawyers involved in the case (both the Hibeys and Dershowitz); and with politicians interested or involved, on both sides of the ocean. So expert or no I was provided a vantage point not available through the press alone.
For the record, my agreeing to assist Jonathan was not motivated by doubts regarding guilt or innocence: Jonathan had long-since admitted guilt. My acceptance was based on moral grounds, my conviction that Pollard was a victim of political arrogance, U.S. bureaucratic anti-Israel bias and judicial misconduct expressed through a high profile show trial at the behest of members of the Reagan Administration. I had been aware of the “coincidence” of the unraveling Iran-Contra fiasco and the high-profile arrest, trial and conviction of Jonathan and Anne Pollard. I was convinced at the time, and more so with the passage of the years, that the sole purpose of the Pollard Affair was to save administration figures at the highest levels from the fate which they arranged for Anne and Jonathan Pollard.
Some of these issues are discussed below, others may be found in my earlier writings hyperlinked at the bottom.
President Reagan (center) receives the Tower Commission Report in the White House Cabinet Room; John Tower is at left and Edmund Muskie is at right, 1987. (Wikipedia)
The Reagan Administration and Irangate (August 20, 1985–March 4, 1987). Irangate set the stage for the Pollard Affair. Also known as the Iran-Contra Affair, Irangate was a clandestine operation conducted out of the Reagan White House. It involved a range of illegal activities including the sale of weapons to Iran, funding and arming the terrorist Nicaraguan Contras, and money laundering needed to fund those clandestine activities.
From the Tower Commission Report,
“In November 1986, it was disclosed that the United States had, in August 1985 [my emphasis], and subsequently, participated in secret dealings with Iran involving the sale of military equipment.”
Selling arms to Iran was illegal by an act of Congress, and therefore a criminal since the overthrow of the Shah. The Reagan Administration, obviously aware that they were acting outside American law, was forced to turn to friendly nations as cutouts. The president personally asked Israel to serve as stand-in for the United States in providing the arms to Iran, while the Saudis were asked to serve as intermediary in money laundering needed to fund the transactions.
In his 26 January, 1987 testimony before the congressional Commission the president testified that he had,
“approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs [shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles] to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks.”
Weinberger, Pollard, and the Question of Guilt
The story of Pollard finding himself in a position which provided him access to secret documents regarding Israel and her enemies is interesting, and worth revisiting. According to Wolf Blitzer’s book, Territory of Lies, which describes two interviews the government allowed him with Pollard in prison, Jonathan was both a proud Jew and an openly, even boastful Zionist. So questions immediately arise regarding his hire by the intelligence branch of the US Navy, the branch of the military most identified with antisemitism? But the story grows ever more suspect in that, barely two months after his hire Pollard’s immediate superiors, first suspicious then alarmed by his ideas and behavior, recommended he be dismissed. In fact he was not only kept on, he was serially promoted, his security clearance repeatedly increased: Pollard found himself in ever more sensitive positions relating to Arab enemies of Israel.
“In late 1983, shortly after the terrorist bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, the Navy set up a high-powered Anti-Terrorist Alert Center at Suitland, and in June, 1984, Pollard was assigned to that unit''s Threat Analysis Division. He had access there to the most up-to-date intelligence in the American government.”
By 1984 Pollard was included as a member of the Naval Intelligence team responsible for exchanging intelligence with Israel under the 1983 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
According to Blitzer Pollard immediately realized that sensitive information about terrorism, Syrian force deployments and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was failing to appear among the materials provided Israel. He raised the issue with his superiors several time with no impact on the quality of intelligence his team was providing the Israelis. It was following his realization that the absence of these materials was intentional, reflecting a Department of Defense policy; it was following efforts to effect change through the chain of command that he offered his services to Israeli intelligence.
Driving from Mitzpe Ramon to Tel Aviv Rafi Eitan, head of the intelligence unit (Lakam) responsible for recruiting and operating Pollard, described the quality and importance of Pollard’s espionage as even more important than that of Eli Cohen, Israel’s revered and legendary spy hanged in Damascus.
Surveillance video frame of Pollard in the act of stealing classified documents,[(Wikipedia).
Show Trial and Plea Agreement: The end of the episode is history: Pollard was offered a lighter sentence by the Justice Department in exchange for waiving his right to a public jury trial that could compromise American interests abroad. Based on the risk that a public trial would result in secrets regarding US intelligence operations, the exposure of agents and methods, the prosecution was willing to assure “consideration in sentencing,” that is a lighter sentence, in exchange for his agreement to a secret hearing in front of Judge Robinson. If such a suggestion might have raised suspicions among others, Pollard” attorney Richard Hibey, an ex-Justice Department prosecutor himself, apparently had no such qualms. But I’ll return to Richard Hibey shortly.
The “trial” took place in the judge’s chambers and was private and swift according to plan… except in the matter of the sentence. Reportedly based on a late-arriving “secret” memorandum that not even Pollard’s attorney was allowed to read, Judge Robinson sentenced Jonathan to life in prison without parole.
In his September, 1999 interview in Middle East Quarterly Casper Weinberger, Reagan’s defense secretary was asked,
“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.”
The legal definition of “treason” is, “the betrayal of one''s own country by waging war against it or by consciously or purposely acting to aid its enemies.” That Weinberger, a lawyer in the employ of none other than Halliburton with extensive contracts in Saudi Arabia; that Aubrey Robinson, chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia: odd that between two with such vast presumed legal knowledge and experience should be confused between “espionage” on behalf of an ally in time of peace, and “treason” as aiding an enemy in time of war! But intentional ignorance aside, even had Pollard acted on behalf of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as had Edward Lee Howard of the FBI, Ronald Pelton of the NSA and the man likely dubbed “Agent X” in the Pollard trial, Aldrich Ames of CIA, how equate Pollards activities with these who, definitely in the case of Ames, cost the lives of many American assets working in Eastern Europe? But, then, despite Weinberger’s bluster, Jonathan Pollard was tried and sentence for once count of passing information to an American ally, Israel.
Postscript: The similarities between the government’s prosecution of the two cases, the Pollards and the Rosenbergs, are too great to be ignored, to be dismissed. In both cases the wife, known innocent by the FBI and the Justice Department, was charged along with her husband. The FBI later admitted that, at least in the case of Ethel Rosenberg, her only reason for even appearing in the docket alongside her husband was intended to pressure Julius to implicate others in his assumed “spy network.” In both cases the wife was prosecuted, convicted and punished, known innocent, along their husbands.
In both instances the trials were media spectacles in which the victims were identified as Jews. In both cases a cowed American Jewish community found itself threatened into silence. Regarding the Rosenbergs the fear was legitimate due to the nearness of the Holocaust, the continuing high level of antisemitism in the United States. Regarding the Pollards, outside of the hoopla generated by government and press, American popular antisemitism was relatively quiescent. Yet as I, at the time still a regional director for JNF, as I tried to discuss the case with other Jewish community leaders I was warned to keep a low profile for fear of harming “high-level” and “quiet negotiations” by “Jewish leaders” with the administration. My own feeling was that Jewish “silence” and “shtadlanim” better represented centuries of Jewish fear and denial.
In both cases the spies were portrayed to the public as guilty of “treason” when neither fit either the legal or popular definition. In Pollard’s case, outside of the fertile imagination or devious plans of Defense Secretary Weinberger, he was not even charged with espionage. His only crime as charged was a single count of transferring information to a close American ally, Israel!
And finally both the Rosenbergs and Pollards received punishment far beyond judicial norms: For Ethel and Julius Rosenbergs, death in the electric chair; Anne Pollard served more than two years in a federal prison while Jonathan is in his 28th year of incarceration, sentenced to life without parole.
A selection of articles by the author on the Pollard Affair
3. Pollard, Israel and American Antisemitism, (2007)
4. The Reagan Administration and Irangate, (date unknown)