CIA Director Threatened to Quit if Pollard Was Released
November 20, 1998 - Yatec Ne'Eman - by Yaacov Kornreich
The plight of Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy who has been
life term in a federal prison for thirteen years, returned to the
week. The New York Times reported that CIA Director George Tenet
to resign on the last morning of the Wye summit conference last month if President Clinton went through with his promise to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to release Pollard.
Tenet told Clinton that the U.S. intelligence community feels so strongly about Pollard's case that Tenet could not continue in his job at the CIA if he were to allow Clinton to
set him free. Since Tenet and the CIA are playing a key role in the implementation the accords, Clinton was forced to renege on his promise to Netanyahu to release Pollard, almost wrecking the Wye talks at the last minute.
According to reliable press reports, Pollard's fate came up at
very end of the Wye talks, when Yasser Arafat suggested that his freedom
be exchanged in return for Israel allowing one of Arafat's security
officials accused of masterminding terrorist attacks to remain free.
President Clinton's 3 AM promise to Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu that he would release Pollard was the final piece to fall into
place completing the Wye accords. But a few hours later, when Clinton
back on his promise to Netanyahu to free Pollard, the betrayed Israeli
negotiating threatened to go home without an agreement and called a news
conference to explain their decision to the press corps covering the Wye
Those press reports then triggered furious behind the scenes
activity by Pollard's enemies in the US intelligence community. They
planted violently anti-Pollard public statements by Republican
including many of the exaggerations and distortions of the facts that
marked the reporting on Pollard's case since the beginning, to pressure
Clinton not to give in to the Israeli demands.
In the end, Clinton reportedly threatened the Israelis that he
recognize a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in May, unless
Netanyahu agreed to sign the Wye accord securing Pollard's release.
agreed only to a review of Pollard's case but never promised that he
After the New York Times story about Tenet's threat to resign
House spokesman David Leavy repeated the official story that President
Clinton had never agreed to Pollard's release. He also denied that
had to be talked out of freeing Pollard by Tenet, National Security
Sandy Berger or others.
"The president at no point made a decision to release Mr.
said. When Netanyahu made his strong feelings about Pollard's release
toward the end of the talks at Maryland's Wye River Conference Center,
president took that on board.
"He consulted with Mr. Tenet, with Mr. Berger and others. It was
this was something the president wasn't willing to do at that time."
"The issue of Pollard was something [the late] Prime Minister
Rabin raised with the president in almost every meeting," Leavy said.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu raised it with the president almost
meeting. It was not a surprise to us at Wye. It came up early. At the
the negotiations the prime minister felt very strongly he needed some
progress on the Pollard issue. The president talked to Mr. Tenet, he
to Mr. Berger, he talked to his other advisers. It became clear it was
something he was prepared to do at that time, but given the request of
prime minister he told him he would take a fresh look," Leavy said.
Pollard's fate has been a growing concern for the Israeli
American Jewish groups, who feel that he has suffered enough for his
of handing over top-secret documents to Israel in 1984 and 1985. Those
now advocating Pollard's release freely admit that his spying was
but argue that on a humanitarian basis alone he should now be allowed to
Soon after he was arrested, Pollard had negotiated a plea
federal government in return for a guilty plea to a lesser charge, but
government betrayed him, and persuaded the judge to sentence Pollard to
in prison, the harshest sentence ever given to an American convicted of
spying for a friendly nation. Since then, Pollard has suffered unusually
harsh treatment in prison, including several years in solitary
His case was an embarrassment to the Israeli government, which, for many years, denied that he was one of their agents. However, the Netanyahu government has finally acknowledged that Pollard as an Israeli agent, even
if his mission, in retrospect, was a serious mistake. Several Israeli
cabinet ministers have visited Pollard in his North Carolina prison and
asked the US government to allow him to come to Israel, where he is now
The biggest unanswered question is why the American intelligence agency is
so obsessed with keeping Pollard in prison. After 13 years in prison,
without access to secret American material, what further threat could
release now pose to US security? That question has led many Jewish
to suspect that anti-Semitism or anti-Israel bias may be a factor in the
harsh treatment that he has suffered.
No one has ever proven that the
material that Pollard gave to Israel ever fell into unfriendly hands, or
to the death or compromise of American agents in the field. Pollard's
enemies have impugned his motives and grossly exaggerated the amount of
material that he turned over Israel, and the damage that he did to
security. They have never explained why Pollard should continue to be
treated in a
far harsher fashion than other spies such as the Walkers or
Aldrich Ames who did far more serious damage to American security by
betraying secrets and the identity of American agents to the Soviet
An American double standard
Recently, some American Jewish commentators have challenged the
government's position on Pollard's release as a double standard. They
to US insistence that Israel release Palestinian terrorists who have
committed murder and done serious damage to Israeli security. If the US
wants Israel to release these Palestinian terrorist, why is it
for Israel to ask the United States to release Pollard, especially in
context of the overall peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians,
which is itself very important to US security and diplomatic interests.
But those who remains obsessed with Pollard's continued
Blocked his release last month apparently are not interested in
security and diplomatic interests. They choose to deal in rumor rather
facts, and last minute betrayals of trust, and they are still unwilling
tell us the real reason why it wants Pollard kept in jail.