Breaking the rules

Now that it turns out Americans spied on every possible target, they must free Pollard

Ronen Bergman - YNET - December 23, 2013

[Note: See J4JP clarifications included in the text below in square brackets]

The revelations over the past weekend about the United States and Britain's monitoring of a series of top civilian targets around the world, including Israel's prime minister and defense minister, are still stirring up a row - both here and in European Union institutions, whose officials were also eavesdropped on by the Americans.

Brig.- Gen.(ret) Dr. Shimon Shapira, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu's military secretary, says that "everyone listens in on everyone - and we have always proceeded on that assumption."

There is of course a difference between assuming something and knowing it, between high probability that someone is listening in on you and actually catching the strategic ally snooping through the prime minister's emails.

Discussions I held Sunday with several security sources, following the exposure of further details regarding the American monitoring of officials in Israel, reveal that in the world of intelligence there are also rules about what is permitted and what is forbidden. For example, it's acceptable for a country to spy on foreign representatives serving within its territory. Such an act is not considered unusual or forbidden in the spies' unwritten rule book. On the other hand, spying on a friendly country on that country's territory is definitely considered a deviation from the rules - a big deviation even.

In 1983, when Ehud Barak assumed the role of Military Intelligence chief, he was exposed to one of Israel's best kept secrets: Intelligence material arriving from highly sensitive sources and nicknamed "green substance." This material was produced by the Bureau of Scientific Relations (Lekem) - the Defense Ministry's intelligence agency. Barak didn't know that one of the main sources of the "green substance" was a civilian intelligence analyst in the US Navy, a Jewish American citizen named Jonathan Pollard.[Justice4JP Clarification: It is nonsense to state that Ehud Barak did not know that the information he was receiving was procured by Jonathan Pollard.. Ehud Barak was the head of AMAN, Israel's Military Intelligence, at the time of the operation. As head of AMAN, he signed off on all of Pollard's tasking orders.]

In 1986 Pollard was captured, put on trial [J4JP Clarification: Jonathan Pollard never had a trial. He received his unprecedented life sentence without benefit of trial, as the result of a plea bargain which he honored and the US violated.] and sentenced to life in prison. The Americans argued that the use of the intelligence information Pollard delivered to the IDF's Directorate of Military Intelligence caused them heavy damage, as part of it "spilled" to the Russians and led to the arrest and death of American spies, and that fixing the damage required billions in resources and many years.[Justice4JP Clarification: these secret allegations were never made in a court of law where Pollard could challenge them and defend himself. They were part of an unfounded disinformation campaign, and eventually proved to be totally without any basis in fact. There was never any evidence to support such charges.]

The affair had serious consequences for the relations between the countries and the status of America's Jews. The American intelligence community fought against Pollard's release, including a direct and serious threat made in 1997 by CIA chief George Tenet, who vowed to quit if President Clinton kept his promise to Netanyahu and released Pollard. The United States did everything to make it clear to Israel that it must not dare do it again.

Now it turns out that in the name of defending its own national security, the US spied on that same Ehud Barak. Israeli officials have assumed that the US is spying in Israel ceaselessly and shamelessly, but apart from minor, isolated incidents, including the conviction of an intelligence officer after he received an offer to serve as a spy for the US, there was no solid proof of that.

As long as it was not caught blatantly spying on its friends, the US could have rightfully voiced severe criticism against Israel for operating Pollard as a spy in the heart of the American intelligence community. Now that it turns out that the Americans spied on any possible target, they must end Pollard's imprisonment.

He has been in prison since 1986 after committing extremely serious offenses against the American law. [Justice4JP Clarification: Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985, not 1986. He was charged with the lesser of the two espionage statutes: one count of passing classified information to an ally with no intent to harm the US -- a crime that usually carries a two to four year sentence. No charges were dropped by the plea bargain.]

There is no excuse or reasonable explanation for the Israeli insolence in operating him. However, the claims that some of this material reached non-Israeli elements were proved to be false, and this material eventually served Israel in matters related to its national security. That the exact claim the White House is using today to explain the NSA's actions.

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