Amit Spy Case: Israeli Disclosure Raises Question on U.S. Spying
Robert Jackson and Ronald J. Ostrow - Los Angeles Times - June 5, 1993
WASHINGTON - The secret conviction of an Israeli army major for espionage, disclosed this week by Israeli authorities, appears to shed new light on allegations strongly denied by the Ronald Reagan Administration that the United States employed a spy in Israel's military officer corps in the early 1980s.
Officials now reuse to categorically deny that the Israeli officer was in some way an intelligence resource for the United States.
Sen. Dave Durenberger (R -Minn.) was publicly criticized in 1987 by then-Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger for having suggested at a Florida fund-raising event that U.S. authorities had "changed the rules of the game" by spying on Israel, one of the United States' closest allies.
Durenberger had raised the issue because the Reagan Administration was condemning espionage performed for Israel by Jonathan Jay Pollard, a U.S. Naval intelligence analyst who was caught spying in this country. Pollard is serving a life sentence.
There once was speculation, in fact, that Israel might propose swapping an unnamed convicted spy for Pollard, but no such swap is currently in the works, U.S. authorities said.
Pollard's lawyers, however, are asking the Clinton Administration to commute his life sentence to the eight years he has already been in custody. His friends note that the Israeli spy (Amit) got only a 12-year sentence.
Although military censorship in Israel kept the identity and the trial of their spy secret for years, the defendant was identified this week as former army Maj. Yosef Amit, 48. Israeli media, while vague about their sources, reported this week that he was accused of providing information to the United States and possibly to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization country in Europe.
But Israeli government spokesmen have refused to provide any details of Amit's case, although the government has suggested that he had contacts with foreign agents in 1982 both inside and outside Israel. He was arrested in 1986 in the Israeli city of Haifa, convicted in 1987 and held largely in solitary confinement until recently.
Many members of the Israeli Parliament, who regard Pollard as a hero for attempting to help their country with U.S. military intelligence, are urging that both Pollard and Amit be released by their nations in a mutual gesture of goodwill. Pollard reportedly gave the Israelis American satellite readouts on military troop deployments of Arab countries.
Durenberger, shortly after stepping down in 1987 as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Jewish groups at a private fund-raising party in Palm Beach, Fla., that then-CIA Director William J. Casey had "changed the rules of the game" by employing an Israeli military spy after that country's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
When word of his statement leaked to the press, he said that he was indulging in "speculation' and was not disclosing classified U.S. information.
Weinberger, however, was outraged and went on national television to call Durenberger's remarks "very damaging and very wrong." Weinberger denied that the United States had recruited an Israeli spy.*(See J4JP comment below)
Referring to the Amit case, one knowledgeable source said that the United States technically may not have "recruited" him but simply took advantage of information supplied by the disaffected military officer.
Amit's lawyer, Shmuel Tzang, told a state-run Israeli radio station that Amit had not engaged in espionage for "hostile countries."
A most important point to remember about this case is that the Israeli spy for the US, Yosef Amit, was recruited by the Americans long before Jonathan Pollard became involved with the Israelis. In light of this fact, we could ask the following question; did the US government convey the impression that the Pollard affair was an unprecedented breach in American-Israeli relations; or did it admit that the U.S. had spied on Israel before and after Israel employed Jonathan?
If Pollard's sentencing judge had known of U.S. espionage conducted against Israel, it reasonable to presume that he may have viewed Pollard's offense with less outrage. Assuming that none of the still-SECRET government sentencing memoranda said anything about Amit - and no one who saw these documents before they were classified recalls that they did - was this an intentional omission designed to exaggerate the seriousness of Pollard's actions ?
This is no idle inquiry. Since Jonathan's life sentence was the maximum allowed by law, any factor mitigating his offense in the judge's eyes may well have led to a lesser sentence.
Given Weinberger's deceptive response to Senator Durenberger's statement regarding the Amit affair above, it is obvious that the judge was kept in the dark about the US's prior breach of the "gentlemen's agreement" with Israel.