Pollard Was No Pelton
Angelo M. Codevilla - The Forward (NY) Special Feature - December 8, 2000
Sometime before January 20, 2001, President Clinton will decide whether to add the name of Jonathan Pollard to the list of those to whom he will grant the executive clemency that presidents typically hand out at the end of their terms. Campaigns for and against clemency for Pollard are being waged just as they are in other cases.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Pollard's new attorneys are in court petitioning for a review of Pollard's life sentence for spying for Israel, a review that would almost certainly free him as a matter of right. The Pollard attorneys' new motion is based on a recent Supreme court decision that allows broader grounds on which to claim that a defendant received ineffective representation.
The Pollard motion claims in part that his original attorney failed to object to an egregiously false and inflammatory claim by the US attorney, a claim the acceptance of which led the judge to impose the drastic sentence of life in prison, to wit that Pollard's espionage for Israel was as serious a blow to the United States as that committed by one Ronald Pelton on behalf of the Soviet Union. Pelton also received a life sentence, and the US attorney argued that so should Pollard.
The most obvious contrast between Pollard and Pelton is of course that while the Soviet Union was America's mortal enemy, Israel is America's lifelong ally. Judges and the public will readily decide the propriety of the US government's original assertion that a spy for an ally should be treated as harshly as one for the enemy just to send the right "signal" to possible violators of security.
But neither the judges nor the public are equipped to evaluate the government's 1987 contention, expressed by Assistant US attorney Charles Leeper that Pollard was actually a worse offender than Pelton. Very few people have had total access to the intelligence materials relevant to both cases.
I am one of them, because I was one of the few who knew the details of the highly restricted program that was betrayed by Pelton. Not even most of the National Security Agency analysts who handled the take from the program, and knew it as "Ivy Bells," knew the special naval means by which it was gathered. I was also familiar with the much, much less restricted data that Pollard gave away. And I am a serious student of intelligence.
Hence I must begin by agreeing with Mr. Leeper's original argument, in response to Pollard's attorney's request to see the assessment of the damage that Pelton had done, that "[T]here is no rational relation between the classified information compromised in Pelton and that compromised by defendant here. . . .[T]he nature and volume of the classified information compromised in these cases varies so substantially that no basis exists for a comparison of the respective damage assessments." Pollard had wanted access to the damage assessment to make precisely that point. Had the Government and Mr. Leeper left it at that, justice would have been served.
Instead, Leeper added, without giving any evidence, that Pollard had done more damage than Pelton, that Pelton had received a life sentence, implying that Pollard should get the same. Either Mr. Leeper had no idea what he was talking about, or he outright lied.
Here is the outline of the facts: The special Navy program betrayed by Pelton consisted of a series of recorders placed by US nuclear submarines onto an undersea cable linking the Soviet naval bases of Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk. Not only were the lives of US sailors in danger during each mission. The take from the program provided the only unencrypted intercepts of Soviet military command messages. We got everything, from technological information to command procedures, to operational patterns, to typical location of units, to plans, to a basis for cryptologic analysis and much more. When the program was betrayed, we were in the midst of a multi billion dollar effort to turn it into an on line system that would have given us unambiguous warning of any Soviet military move or plan. It was priceless. In the event of war, our lives would have depended on it. Because of Pelton we lost what we had, and had to give up on what we were working toward. No kidding there is "no basis for comparison" with the Pollard case!
Pollard illegally provided to our Israeli allies mostly what they had officially received from the US government prior to the US government's anger over Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor. I know what Israel was denied because the then Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral Inman, explained it to me in detail. The list of Pollard's give - aways matches that intelligence very closely. Arguments about the propriety of US policy toward Iraq do not mean that Pollard should not escaped punishment. He committed espionage and rightly went to jail. But there is indeed "no basis for comparison" between the cases of Pollard and Pelton. To suggest that comparable amounts of harm were done and that the punishment should be comparable is either uninformed or dishonest.
Angelo M. Codevilla is professor of international relations at Boston University. He was a US naval officer, a Foreign Service Officer, and a staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.