Did Aldrich Ames use the Pollard Spy Case to Avoid Being Caught?

Arnold Forster & David Kirshenbaum - Bnai Brith Messenger - November 26, 1994

The case of Aldrich Ames - the Soviet mole working as the chief of one of the C.I.A.'s Soviet counter-intelligence units - reads like a spy novel. It is therefore not surprising that Ames continues to be the subject of tremendous media coverage and public interest. After all, how could Ames have caused such horrendous damage for so many years without being caught?

One possible explanation and a fascinating and critically important aspect of the Ames case has thus far, largely been overlooked. It concerns a campaign of disinformation that, for years, was aimed at shifting the blame away from Ames for the arrest and execution of at least a dozen U.S. informants in the Soviet Union. Although Ames, of course, was eventually caught, the person rumored to be responsible for the deaths is still paying the consequences.

In November of 1985, Jonathan Pollard was arrested for passing to Israel classified materials concerning various Arab states, such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. In March of 1987 Pollard became the only American ever to be sentenced to life for spying for an ally.

Ames has now admitted that just a few months before Pollard's arrest, he transmitted to the Soviet Union the names of virtually every American and foreign operative in the Soviet Union known to him. The consequences of this treacherous act only recently became known to the general public. But the tragic results of Ames' betrayal were already being felt by the intelligence community at the time of Pollard's arrest.

As Ames told the New York Times, "In '85 and '86, as a result of the information I sold to the Soviets, it was as if neon lights and search lights lit up all over the Kremlin, shown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, saying, 'There is a penetration.' No reasonable counter-intelligence officer, FBI or the CIA, was under any doubt by the spring of '86 that a penetration of S/E (the CIA's Soviet/Eastern Europe operations division headed by Ames) was the single, most logical reason for the disaster that had occurred."

In this type of atmosphere, with the intelligence community in a panic over their inability to locate the source of the penetration, and with Ames clearly quite interested in deflecting attention away from himself and focused elsewhere, the arrest of Jonathan Pollard must have been for Ames and others in the CIA like manna from heaven. Somebody made sure to capitalize on the opportunity.

There was never any evidence linking Pollard, in any way, with the deaths of U.S. informants. Pollard, after all, passed defensive information to an ally, Israel, about third party Arab states. Accordingly, the U.S. government did not even allege that Pollard or anyone else in his position would have had any reason to believe that any of the information transmitted by Pollard to Israel would or could cause injury to the United States.

Indeed, nine years after Pollard's arrest, nobody has yet cited one credible example of how Pollard actually hurt this country. But those who needed or found it convenient to place the blame on Pollard for our intelligence failures in the Soviet Union were not going to let the facts get in their way.

What followed was a campaign of rumors, planted stories and outright lies accusing Pollard, without any evidence, or crimes he was not charged with and did not commit. This disinformation is typified by the chapter on Pollard in Seymour Hersh's error-filled book, "The Sampson Option."

Hersh cites an anonymous "senior American intelligence official' who "confirmed that there have been distinct losses of human and technical intelligence collection ability inside the Soviet Union that have been attributed, after extensive analysis, to Pollard." Hersh quotes another former CIA official as saying, "Where it hurts us is our agents being rolled up and our ability to collect technical intelligence being shut down." When the Soviets found out what Pollard was passing to the Israelis, "they shut down the source."

The disinformation intensified at the end of last year just when it appeared that President Clinton was about to respond favorably to Pollard's petition. The President had stated publicly last November 12th that he was waiting for the recommendation of the Justice Department, but then added, that, "I do not have to follow that recommendation." An obviously planted and well timed story in the December 6 issue of TIME Magazine soon followed:

TIME's "Inside Washington" column that week reported that, "As Israel presses the Clinton Administration to free Jonathan Pollard., TIME has learned that one document Pollard is believed to have slipped to the Israelis - thought to have landed in Soviet hands, albeit unintentionally - was a huge national security agency compendium of frequencies used by foreign military and intelligence servicesOfficials fear that data in this book was so specific that its discovery may have cost informants their lives" (Italics added). [See full text of TIME Magazine article and Jonathan Pollard's comments.]

It would, of course, be interesting to know from whom TIME learned this, and on the basis of what evidence was it "thought" by their source that this compendium, "believed" to have been passed to the Israelis unintentionally, landed up in Soviet hands. And, finally what was the logical rationale that would explain their "fear" of a linkage between Soviet knowledge of U.S. awareness of these frequencies and the deaths of informants?

After all, frequencies used by intelligence services are changed on a regular basis, it being generally assumed that it is only a matter of time before the frequencies they are transmitting on will be discovered. It would therefore be ludicrous to think that it would have come as any surprise to the Soviets that the United States was aware of radio frequencies used by other intelligence services.

Moreover, the Soviets had, at that time, already been furnished by John Walker with the very technology used by the United States for ciphering their own messages and deciphering the codes of other nations.

It is noteworthy that these rumors and the accusations made against Pollard all suffer from fatal flaws. Not only was there never even a shred of evidence ever produced to support the suggestion that the Soviets somehow got their hands on the information Pollard gave to Israel. But no reasonable explanation has ever been provided that could connect this information to the death of U.S. informants or that logically explained how the theoretical compromise of this information actually resulted in any harm to the United States.

As Jerry Agee, Pollard's superior in Naval Intelligence, told Wolf Blitz, Agee and another colleague at Naval intelligence were each suspicious of the number of classified documents Pollard was taking home with him. Eventually they concluded that the information was almost certainly going to Israel. They reasoned that in light of the fact that the material dealt with Soviet weapons systems, and Arab military capabilities, it was not something the Soviets would be interested in.

As Agee put it to Blitzer, "It didn't take a fool to find out that the Soviets were not buying back all their own information.."

Unfortunately, the absence of any foundation or credible evidence to support the suggestion that Pollard was responsible for the deaths of informants did not hinder the effectiveness of the vicious out-of-court accusations leveled against him. One reason for this is the tendency among many to unquestionably accept whatever information is supplied by the intelligence community. And, for others, the more sensational the accusation, the better.

In considering who was behind this disinformation campaign, there are at least three possibilities:

  1. Ames was directly and primarily responsible.
  2. Ames had one or more collaborators who either knowingly acted on his behalf or were unwittingly being maneuvered by him.
  3. The campaign was a group effort within the CIA designed to either slander the reputation of Israeli intelligence and/or take the heat off U.S. intelligence for the series of unexplained intelligence mishaps which had been occurring in the Soviet Union.
The time has certainly come for the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to investigate not only why it took nine years to uncover Ames's activities, but who was responsible for using Pollard to deflect attention away from Ames.

It may be that much time will pass before we find out the answers to these questions. Whatever the explanation and whoever was responsible, Pollard continues to pay a terrible and excessively harsh price for his actions. Pollard fully cooperated with the Government, he has expressed deep and genuine remorse for what he did and has acknowledged that, notwithstanding his motives of trying to protect an ally from dire dangers, his actions could not go unpunished.

But Pollard has already served far longer than any other American who passed classified data to an ally or a neutral country, and longer than many spies for ene4mies of the United States. Pollard's continued incarceration for crimes he did not commit and was not charged with is a travesty of justice what is exacerbated with each additional day that he is forced to remain in prison.

See Also: