The Admiral Who Forced Jonathan Pollard's Hand

Si Frumkin - South Florida Jewish World - January 28, 1994

I admit to a parochial mindset . I wasn't all that interested in Admiral Inman's failure to pay the Social Security tax on his housekeeper's income, nor in his lack of business acumen in bankrupting several businesses he had been involved in. I wanted to learn what Admiral Bobby Ray Inman had done to be accused of anti-Israel proclivities by William Safire in his New York Times column (12/23/93). Safire's column apparently - and amazingly - ended the career of Bobby Ray Inman, who had been the youngest 4-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, director of the National Security Agency and Acting Director of the CIA during both Republican and Democratic Administrations, a man treated with uncharacteristic reverence both by the news media and politicians, and seemingly a shoe-in for confirmation as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

The column spoke of Inman's failures in civilian life, mentioned his enthusiastic testimonial ("sincere patriotism toward our country") on behalf of a man who sold military technology to Iraq and South Africa and is now serving a 15-year prison sentence, his leaks of phoney anti-Israel stories, and his venomous contribution to the witches' cauldron of misinformation that resulted in Jonathan Pollard's Draconian sentence.

During the press conference called by Inman in order to explain his reasons for declining to serve as Secretary of Defense, I was struck by his apparently sincere inability to see the contradiction between his view of himself as a blameless victim of sinister cabal, a conspiracy, a McCarthyite assault by politicians, the media, the IRS while simultaneously acknowledging that most media were sympathetic, that he did enjoy overwhelming support in Congress, that his nomination would have almost certainly been approved, and that the sum total of what he called "McCarthyite attacks" in the press consisted of just three hostile columns: two in the New York Times and one in the Boston Globe. Later, in Nightline, he was quite embarrassingly unable, when questioned by Ted Koppel, to present a hint, a shadow, a trace of proof about the conspiracy that he alleged to have been hatched against him by William Safire and Senator Robert Dole.

As I watched him staring at the audience, eyes hooded and recessed in their sockets, his mouth in a rictus of a smile - lips pulled back, teeth clenched even as he spoke - his was a righteous and manic anger as well as a naive perplexity at those who did not see the world as he did. I thought he was born a few centuries too late - he would have made a perfect Grand Inquisitor, a Righteous Puritan, a beardless Ayatollah - secure in the conviction of his own righteousness, marching to his own drum, intent on the destruction of the heretics who had not seen the light he offered and who refused to accept all he believed and all he stood for.

There was no trace of remorse, not a hint of the possibility that, in retrospect, he might have been wrong when he ordered that vital information to be withheld from an ally henceforth.

His words: "In 1981, when the Iraqi nuclear reactor was bombed by Israel, I wondered where the Israelis got their targeting material. In Honoring our commitment to Israel's defense we provided satellite photography of potential direct threats, but when I checked, I found out that Israel had requisitioned data on areas that were quite a distance away - Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, etc. I made a decision to limit the process to within 250 miles."

Just like that. Period. End of issue. No need to consult the potential victim, even if it is a Jewish state whose survival is supposed to be national policy. The decision was made and that was that. He sneered at the furious protests by then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon as he told the press conference that Caspar Weinberger supported his decision, and that Safire complained in vain about the new policy to CIA Director Casey.

There wasn't a word of explanation or justification at the Inman press conference for denying Israel the ability to know whether Libya, Pakistan, Iraq, or any of the other states that were pledged to Israel's destruction, had the means to accomplish it. There was no acknowledgment that if his rules had been in force prior to the Israeli destruction of Iraqi nuclear capability, Iraq might have been able to use nuclear tipped Scuds not only against Israel, but also against our Arab "allies" and U.S. targets during the Gulf War. He didn't understand - or didn't he care? - that this, and other withheld information was vital to Israel's survival and that it was eventually supplied by Jonathan Pollard - clandestinely and unlawfully - only after Inman and his ilk refused to supply it legally.

There wasn't a single "Sorry, I may have been wrong" during the hour long conference - just complaints, whining and repeated assurances that he had better things to do than be subjected to abuse, criticism and all the other things that go with holding an office in a democracy.

I am content. I am happy knowing that Admiral Bobby Inman is not and will not be my Secretary of Defense. Finally - Ok, so it's petty - I can't resist asking the question first asked by William Safire and one that prompted Inman to angrily hand up the phone: "How can a grown man go through life calling himself 'Bobby'?"

The writer is chairman of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews in Los Angeles.

See Also: