“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 for employment by the CIA that Pollard, Jew and Zionist, would find employment with Naval Intelligence. According to the Blitzer interviews Pollard immediately raised red flags to co-workers and superiors and in the first months they sought to have him fired. In an interview with the Washington Post then directory of Naval Intelligence Admiral Sumner Shapiro recalled that he,
“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 was Pollard allowed to 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 someone (hypothetically!) being groomed for the role would be positioned to evaluate danger to Israel, realize what was being withheld not being provided.
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 Nicaraguan death squads (also banned by Congress). The administration attempted to cover its involvement by using the Saudis and Israelis as cutouts.
The Saudis served as administration bankers by laundering monies involved in the transactions. At Reagan’s personal request (Israel also demanded this in writing, I was told) Israel agreed to serve as weapons supplier on behalf of the administration to Iran. When Irangate 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, possibly due to the written assurance by Reagan, in the end that was abandoned. 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 served to eclipse 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 headlines for print media and television. 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. And, in fact, American spies really were disappearing, 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 (was unable) to name "Mr. X" prosecutors hinted that he was obstructing the investigation, a “violation” of his “plea agreement” (over the entire pre-trial phase prosecutors repeatedly and publicly warned that Pollard was non-compliant 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. He was a Soviet mole in the CIA, a thirty-one year veteran and head of clandestine operations in Eastern Europe, Aldrich Ames. 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 impact either his conviction or 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 ideas and willingness to assist Jonathan Pollard. Uniformly the response was, “it’s being taken care of back-channel.” Pollard, so reasoning went, was expected to be quietly released and sent to Israel. Reflecting rumor or faith, that response, “sha, shtil” reflects the age-old and realistic Jewish 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 to most 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 even come from previous supporters of his conviction. Among these are two men who had direct access to the evidence upon which Pollard was tried. Lawrence Korb was assistant defense secretary under Weinberger; Dennis DeConcini headed the Senate intelligence committee at the time of his arrest. Another prominent and knowlegable person today supportive of Pollard''s release is 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 turned over the names of CIA operatives working behind the Iron Curtain knowing their fate. He set Pollard up to divert suspicion from himelf. That Pollard neither provided Russia information, was proven not involved in those deaths; that it was clear Ames had set Pollard up has had no impact on Pollard''s fate.)
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 asking Pollard be freed.
With the passage of time American Jews have also grown less threatened and self-conscious by the Pollard Affair and today nearly all 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 sentence fit the crime” (The Mikado)
On March 4, 1987 federal judge Aubrey Robinson chose to ignore the government''s assurances to Pollard under the plea agreement. Charged with a single count of espionage on behalf of America’s ally, Israel, he imposed the harshest sentence allowable even for an Aldrich Ames. That sentence, fully endorsed by the chief prosecutor DeGenova, was a direct result of Weinberger’s "dramatic" last moment appearance before the judge. Reportedly one charge contained in the “secret memorandum” involved Pollard aiding South Africa. Although nonsense, the charge was a red button issue for the Afro-American judge who was reportedely outraged.
Laurence Korb wrote Pollard''s father in 1990 that his boss at Defense:
“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, the government''s lead prosecutor, fully supported the sentence, and this would become the mantra for successive generations of government bureaucrats, including the FBI and CIA. No mention was ever made of Weinberger enlisting the judge’s political prejudices; all aggreed to focus only on Pollard’s violating the agreement based on the Blitzer interview.
So why would Pollard, an otherwise highly intelligent and aware person, have provided the government that rope?
As Blitzer suggested in his post-interviews book, Territory of Lies, having sat in solitary confinement for a year watching himself and his wife demonized in the media, he and Anne concluded the plea agreement was already abandoned.
Abandoned also, they felt, 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 the couple decided to get their side of the story out to the public. Perhaps then, they hoped, at least the Jewish community would rally to their support.
As this is written commenters on-line are expressing outrage that Israel is being coerced by the US to release Palestinian terrorists convicted of murder, a "gesture" to Palestinian leader abu Mazen. Israel’s weak position, its dependene on the United States may be difficult to accept but that, nonetheless, is the reason. And to a far greater degree in the 1980’s, just ten years after that near-disaster the Yom Kippur War. Anyone remembering the 1973 war in which Israel depended on the US airlift of replacement parts and ammunition, and was kept waiting (what US threats were made; what demands accepted by Israel?) 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, only to face a legal wall: Pollard’s original lawyer and ex DC prosecutor Richard Hibey inexplicably “forgot” to file what is usually a routine appeal within the allotted time! It was this "mistake," this “technicality” that foreclosed all possibility of future legal challenges.
With so much evidence of blatant governmental abuse including manipulating 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: Why Jonathan Pollard will die in prison.