Smear Campaign Against Commutation for Pollard

Yosef I. Abramowitz - Metro West, New Jersey - December 23, 1993

In the past few weeks, a hard-hitting and desperate campaign against Jonathan Pollard has been waged in the press by unnamed United States intelligence officials.

While it is not surprising that there are those in the intelligence community who oppose commutation for the American Jew who transferred top secret documents to Israel, the tone of their campaign has been especially ugly. Indeed, it has bordered on anti-Semitism.

When Israeli Prime Minister Rabin asked President Bill Clinton to commute Pollard's life sentence to time served, the president said he could not act prior to receiving a recommendation from the Justice Department. It is significant, however, that Clinton went out of his way at a joint press conference at the White House with Rabin to say that he was not bound by the recommendation of the Justice Department. It is natural for the department that prosecuted Pollard to stand by its previous position, including the life sentence meted out to Pollard. Another hint of the president's position came in a recent closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, when he affirmed that he had already made up his mind on the matter. Those in attendance felt that the president is inclined to commute the sentence.

Jewish leaders are not the only ones to make this assumption. Intelligence officials, especially from naval intelligence where Pollard used to work as a civilian analyst, oppose commutation and are engaged in a classic smear and disinformation campaign to undermine public support for commutation.

Oft-quoted but unnamed intelligence officials are pulling out old anti-Semitic stereotypes in an attempt to undermine the growing support for Pollard, who has served eight years so far. Even more alarming, the national media has demonstrated little integrity by fueling this campaign while relying solely on unnamed sources.


: A Dec. 7 Washington Times page-one article reported that "national security agencies oppose commuting Pollard's life sentence because it would jeopardize prosecutions of his co-conspirators or others who could be arrested in the spy case."


: That same article went on to say that "officials close to the case said law enforcement and intelligence agencies also argued against granting clemency because Pollard made 'substantial amounts of money.'"


: An unsigned Dec. 2 Washington Post editorial written by a Jewish senior member of the editorial board, who is frequently critical of Israel, stated that Pollard's ideological motivations "must be set against the arrangements he made to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for passing immense quantities of secret materials."

Conspiracy theories and greed are long-time charges used against Jews. It was only last month that a Russian court ruled that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Czarist-era book promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, is an anti-Semitic forgery. How ironic that within weeks the Washington Times was willing to put on its front page an unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and patently false story from unnamed source charging that Pollard had other conspirators in the U.S. Government yet to be caught.

This line of thought, discredited years ago, was prompted by Pollard's confession during polygraph tests that the Israelis gave him specific code-numbers of files to obtain. There was initial speculation that another Israeli spy within the U.S. Government, a "Mr. X," fed the Israelis the secret document codes. However, most of these numbers were cited in various footnotes of other reports that Pollard obtained or were deduced by sequencing. If the Israelis had file 114, for example, on Iraqi chemical arms, it was reasonable to request 113 to see what it might hold.

Yet conspiracy theories, dependent upon weak straws of disinformation, seem to hold more weight than simple logic and the complete absence of any evidence of any conspirators. The Washington Times not only gave a safe platform for this anti-Semitic tack, but also printed a lie. According to several sources, including Pollard's lawyer, Theodore Olsen, there have not been any ongoing investigations of possible co-conspirators for at least five years.

Then there is the hype about Pollard's supposed greed. Deputy Attorney General Phillip Heymann raised this issue with Israeli officials last month and was satisfied with their response. Pollard was a walk-in, ideologically-motivated spy.

Former secretary of defense Casper Weinberger stated in his top-secret memorandum to the sentencing judge, obtained by this writer through the Freedom of information Act, that the quantity of documents Pollard provided the Israelis was "great enough to occupy a space six feet by six feet by ten feet," and its compromise represented a "substantial and irrevocable damage" to the U.S.

How much could a greedy spy net for such quantity and quality of top secret documents? Millions. John Walker, who spied for the Soviet Union, received at least $1 million for his trouble. Pollard reluctantly took $50,000, much to cover the expenses associated with his illegal activities. That the greed argument is being reported and used, again by unnamed sources, is nothing less than crude anti-Semitic manipulation of public opinion. Jews and greed; it's an old story but unfortunately an effective swipe - even in 1993-94 America.

And then there's the damaging Time article, which was quoted in The New York Times. "Timehas learned that one document Pollard is believed to have slipped to the Israeliscost the U.S. billions of dollars[and]may have cost informants their lives." This supposedly new information was leaked as part of he larger campaign by unnamed sources to torpedo commutation of Pollard's sentence. While there is nothing overtly anti-Semitic in playing this disinformation game, it is misleading and immoral.

Consider the wording of the article: "Pollard is believed to have,"thought to have landed in Soviet hands," "Officials assume," "officials fear the datamay have cost informants their lives." This is not journalism, it's a smear campaign.

Furthermore, there is nothing new to these unfounded allegations, which were made by Weinberger in his testimony to the court. "The U.S. must expect some amount of risk to accrue directly to U.S. persons from the defendant's activities," he wrote. He was most concerned that "U.S." combat forces, wherever they are deployed in the world, could be unacceptably endangered though successful exploitation of this data.

In the eight years since, no American lives have reportedly been lost due to Pollard's activities. Time's decision to print suggestions to the contrary, without evidence or attribution, shows, at best, poor judgment. But it's probably more than that.

Look at Time's track record. Howard Teicher, a staff member of the national security counsel under Reagan whose testimony put George Bush "in the Loop" on Iran-Contra, was called by Time, demanding that if he didn't comply with a request for an interview, the magazine would print an article accusing him of espionage on behalf of the Israelis. Buck Revell, associate deputy director of counterintelligence and counter-terrorism at the FBI, backed Teicher up and told him that "you are not the only Jewish official who this is happening to" since Pollard was caught.

Despite this on-the-record denial by the FBI that Teicher was an Israeli spy or worked with Pollard, Strobe Talbott, then Time's editor (now top aide to President Clinton) pressed on with the story from unnamed intelligence sources.

Time has consistently been willing to believe and perpetuate myths when it comes to American Jews acting as Israeli spies, real or imagined. That the normally responsible national media have made the case against Pollard's commutation, by invoking conspiracy theories or the stereotype of Jewish greed, demonstrates the weakness of their position. Unnamed sources have gone to incredible lengths to muddy the waters and try to prevent a decent man, President Clinton, from sitting down with the facts of the case and making a fair and unbiased decision.

If the president does not rule in favor of commutation, he should, at the very least, repudiate the campaign against Pollard. Anything less than that would legitimate anti-Semitism as a political weapon in the capital of the free world.