Let Israel's Spy Go
January 28, 1998 - Kenneth R. Timmerman- The Wall Street Journal
When Benjamin Netanyahu met with Bill Clinton last week, he had another
issue on his plate beyond the current stalemate in the Arab-Israeli
peace process. The Israeli prime minister was also carrying a letter to
the U.S. president calling for the release of former Navy intelligence
analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard, who is serving a sentence of
parole in an American jail for having passed classified documents on
Iraqi weapons plants to Israel in the 1980's. (As it turned out, events
at the White House required Mr. Netanyahu to deliver this letter to Vice
President Al Gore instead.)
Given the bad blood between Messrs. Clinton and Netanyahu, it might
appear unlikely that Mr.Clinton would acquiesce, especially since
releasing Pollard would undoubtedly boost the popularity of the
beleaguered Mr. Netanyahu with voters back home. Yet there are
compelling reasons why Mr. Clinton should agree.
Over the past six months the life-without-parole sentence handed down
against Pollard in March 1987 has finally become a cause celebre among
American Jews, who for many years have shied away from defending Pollard
out of fear they would be accused of divided loyalties. The Conference
of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations announced last week that for
the first time it would be calling on President Clinton to release
Pollard's 13 years behind bars - seven of them in solitary confinement -
weighed heavily in the balance. The U.S. justice system proclaims equal
justice for all Americans. Yet Pollard has been punished with far
greater severity than any other American who has spied for a U.S. ally.
In 1996 another U.S. naval intelligence officer
Robert C. Kim was
sentenced to 10 years (with eligibility for parole) for selling
classified intelligence documents to South Korea. Also in 1996, the Navy
simply discharged Michael Schwartz
without his serving a day in jail, despite a Navy grand jury indictment accusing him of turning over
classified documents to Saudi Arabia from 1994 to 1996 - the same length
of time Pollard worked for the Israelis.
What was Pollard's crime? He tried to convince his Navy Superiors that
they should share intelligence on Iraqi weapons plants with Israel; when
they disagreed, he illegally took matters into his own hands. History
does not excuse his actions. But it does suggest that the punishment
should fit the crime.
Justice is not the only reason that Mr. Clinton should pardon Pollard
now, after having refused to do so on two previous occasions. For the
first time the Israelis are publicly questioning the U.S. government's
ability to serve as a reliable guarantor of Israeli concessions to the
Arab side. Pollard is a symbol of a U.S. attempt to keep Israel in the
dark about threats the U.S. knew it was facing. Pollard's release would
go a long way toward convincing the Israeli public at large - not just
Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party - that the U.S. will not blindside Israel
Mr. Clinton also has domestic political reasons to release Pollard. Ever
since the President's re-election, he has faced growing disenchantment
among Jewish voters who feel he has sought to pressure Mr. Netanyahu
into making unrealistic concessions in the Middle East peace process,
while unfairly equating Jewish settlements with Palestinian terrorism.
This could translate into lost votes for Mr.Clinton's anointed
successor, Mr. Gore.
The U.S. intelligence community has lobbied vigorously against Pollard's
release on the grounds that he has knowledge of top-secret intelligence
sources and methods, which he could compromise once he became a free
man. But the most frequently cited example - Pollard's alleged knowledge
of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping against the Israeli
Embassy in Washington - has recently been rendered academic.
On May 7, 1997, Washington Post reporters Nora Boustany and Brian Duffy
astonished intelligence professionals by quoting an NSA intercept of a
telephone conversation between a senior Israeli intelligence officer in
Washington and a superior in Tel Aviv. The two were communicating using
a top-secret encryption method, known as Silon, that the Israelis had
developed for their most sensitive overseas communications. If Pollard
had known the U.S. had cracked this code and told the Israelis, why
would they continue to use it? And if he was waiting to be released to
notify Israel about the code-cracking (Pollard denies knowledge of such
codes), then the issue is irrelevant, because the world now knows of the
compromised Israeli security.
In the years since his March 1987 sentence, which was based on a 46-page
classified victim impact statement presented by then Secretary of
Defense Caspar Weinberger, intelligence sources have leaked insinuations
that Pollard caused the death of U.S. agents operating in the Soviet
Union. In fact, as we know now, those deaths were caused by an American
traitor working at the CIA,
In his preface to the victim impact statement, Mr. Weinberger claimed
that Pollard's actions "threatened U.S. relations with numerous Middle
East Arab allies." And yet, shortly after Pollard revealed U.S. secrets
on Iraq to Israel, America waged a successful military campaign against
Iraq with many of those same Arab allies.
Clearly, Pollard's spying did no harm to U.S. national security. Mr.
Clinton has a golden opportunity to close this shameful chapter, while
advancing the Middle East peace process and strengthening public support
for his partner, Al Gore.
Mr. Timmerman is the publisher of The Iran Brief, a monthly investigative
newsletter, and author of "The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq"
See also: Pumped Up Over Pollard