Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jonathan Pollard is Finally Granted Parole

Much has been written and said about the Jonathan Pollard case over the past three decades but here is the real story in a one paragraph nutshell:

The United States of America promised to keep Israel informed if Israel's neighbors obtained weapons that endangered Israel's survival, an agreement that was formalized in a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding. The United States of America broke that promise. U.S. navy analyst Jonathan Pollard became aware of that broken promise and he learned that the U.S. government failed to relay to Israel as much as three fourths of the information that was supposed to be shared under the provisions of the 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel. This information pertained to the nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities of Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria--countries at war with Israel--and also to terrorist attacks being planned against Israeli civilians. Pollard then conveyed to Israel the information that the U.S. had illegally withheld from Israel. Pollard committed espionage on behalf of a U.S. ally, a crime that normally results in a two to four year sentence--but Pollard was sentenced to life in prison and he has already spent nearly 30 years in prison, often in solitary confinement. Pollard expressed remorse for his crime and only asked that he be treated the same way that others who have committed similar crimes have been treated, which is the expectation that the U.S. has when she is caught spying against her allies.

Now, there is a new chapter in Pollard's story, as Pollard's long odyssey through the U.S. criminal justice system is almost over; the U.S. Parole Commission has granted parole to Pollard, who is scheduled to be released on November 21, 2015--30 years to the day after he was initially imprisoned. Pollard's enemies have long alleged that Pollard gave away or sold secrets to America's enemies but those accusations have been proven false. In 2012, the CIA publicly released a previously classified 1987 damage assessment that refuted the outlandish claims some people used to justify Pollard's incarceration. That document, along with the 1987 Victim Impact Statement drafted by the Department of Justice, made it clear that Pollard did not betray U.S. secrets to U.S. enemies but rather he provided information to Israel, a U.S. ally. The Victim Impact Statement--written to place Pollard in the most unfavorable light possible--summarized the results of Pollard's actions:

Mr. Pollard's unauthorized disclosures have threatened the US [sic] relations with numerous Middle East Arab allies, many of whom question the extent to which Mr. Pollard's disclosures of classified information have skewed the balance of power in the Middle East. Moreover, because Mr. Pollard provided the Israelis virtually any classified document requested by Mr. Pollard's co-conspirators, the US has been deprived of the quid pro quo routinely received during authorized and official intelligence exchanges with Israel, and Israel has received information classified at a level far in excess of that ever contemplated by the National Security Council. The obvious result of Mr. Pollard's largesse is that US bargaining leverage with the Israeli government in any further intelligence exchanges has been undermined. In short, Mr. Pollard's activities have adversely affected US relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the Government of Israel.

In other words, Pollard's actions irritated Israel's Arab enemies, many of which are also enemies of the United States (even if those nations are U.S. "allies" in theory, in practice their actions are often antithetical to U.S. interests). In the official court documents, there is no formal allegation, evidence or proof that Pollard's actions endangered the U.S. or U.S. personnel in any way. Pollard used illegal means to convey to Israel information that the U.S. had promised to convey to Israel through official channels.

Pollard received a harsh sentence in no small part because of a very damaging letter written by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who asserted that Pollard had betrayed U.S. "sources and methods," resulting in the deaths of U.S. agents. Weinberger's letter contained false, unsubstantiated accusations and was motivated by his deep seated hostility toward Israel. John Loftus explained all of this and more in the June 2003 issue of Moment:

But it was all untrue. Every bit of it. Pollard wasn't the serial killer. The Jew didn't do it. It was one of their own WASPs--Aldrich Ames, a drunken senior CIA official who sold the names of America's agents to the Russians for cash. Pollard was framed for Ames's crime, while Ames kept on drinking and spying for the Soviets for several more years. In fact, Israeli intelligence later suspected that Ames played a direct role in framing Pollard. But no one in America then knew the truth. 

Ames was arrested in February 1994, and confessed to selling out American agents in the Soviet Union, but not all of them. It was only logical to assume that Pollard had betrayed the rest of them, as one former CIA official admitted shortly after Ames's arrest. Even one life lost was too many. So Pollard continued to rot in jail. No one dreamed that yet another high-level Washington insider had sold us out to Soviet intelligence. Years passed, and eventually a Russian defector told the truth. A senior FBI official--Special Agent Robert Hanssen--had betrayed the rest of our agents. Hanssen was arrested in February 2001, and soon confessed in order to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Would the Americans now admit that they had been conned into blaming Pollard? Beltway bureaucrats do not readily admit to mistakes of this magnitude. Instead, they convinced themselves that Pollard might still be at least partly to blame for the worst debacle in U.S. intelligence history. One desperate analyst from the National Security Council, looking for something to pin on Pollard, had his own theory. Maybe the Russians didn't initially believe that their own spies (Ames and Hanssen) had procured all the names of U.S. agents in the Soviet Union. Maybe Pollard's list tipped the scales. 

Such things had happened before. Once again, Washington insiders circled their alphabet agencies to fire back at the critics who dared to suggest that Pollard might have been innocent of the major charge against him.

Meanwhile, deep inside the Navy's intelligence service, a low-level decision was made to re-examine the Pollard case in view of the convictions of Ames and Hanssen. With sickening chagrin, the Navy discovered that the evidence needed to clear Pollard had been under its nose all along.

As my source in Naval intelligence explained, the list of our secret agents inside Russia had been kept in a special safe in a special room with a special "blue stripe" clearance needed for access. When I was a lawyer in the Justice Department and would be sent over to the CIA to do research, I was permitted to use only a blue-striped, CIA-issue legal pad for note-taking. Nothing with a blue stripe could leave the building without being scrutinized by CIA security.

But Jonathan Pollard didn't have "blue stripe" clearance, according to intelligence sources I spoke with. That was the bombshell that would clear him of any possible connection to the deaths of our Russian agents.

Loftus notes that Pollard found something profoundly damaging to Weinberger and other top U.S. government officials, something that became of very high interest after the 9/11 attacks:

After 9/11, though, I began to realize that Pollard's tale was only the beginning of a much bigger story about a major America intelligence scandal, which is the subject of a book I am now working on. Although Jonathan Pollard did not realize it, he had stumbled across the darkest secret in the Reagan administration's closet. It is one of the reasons that I am serving as the intelligence advisor on a trillion-dollar federal lawsuit filed in August 2002 against the Saudis on behalf of the victims of 9/11.

Pollard in fact did steal something that the U.S. government never wishes to talk about. Several friends inside military intelligence have told me that Pollard gave the Israelis a roster that listed the identities of all the Saudi and other Arab intelligence agents we knew about as of 1984. (This has been corroborated by Israeli sources, as well.) At that time, this list, known in intelligence circles as the "blue book," would have been relatively unimportant to the United States--but not to Israel.

Since 9/11, however, Pollard's "blue book" is of profound interest to everyone, including the U.S. These particular agents are now a major embarrassment to the Saudis and to the handful of American spy chiefs who had employed these Saudi intelligence agents on the sly. Some of the names on this list--such as Osama Bin Laden--turned out to be leaders of terrorist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and what we now call Al Qaeda.

In hindsight, we now know that Pollard stole the one book--that, incidentally, was alluded to in Weinberger's secret memorandum--that unquestionably proves that the Americans knew as early as 1984 about the connection between the Saudis and terrorist groups.

No less an authority than former CIA Director James Woolsey has publicly stated that antisemitism at the highest levels of the U.S. government is the primary reason for Pollard's disproportionate prison term. After being captured, Pollard took a plea deal, saving the U.S. government the cost and logistical challenges of a long trial. Pollard fully cooperated with the U.S. government in exchange for not receiving a life sentence but the U.S. government did not keep up its end of the bargain; last year, Seth Lipsky described how the U.S. violated its plea agreement with Pollard. After Pollard appealed his initial life sentence, two members of the three judge panel rejected his appeal. The judge who sided with Pollard, Stephen Williams, called the government's breach of the plea agreement "a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Lipsky summarized Williams' lengthy and passionate dissent:

The government, as Williams reprised it, made three promises. One was to bring to the court's attention Pollard's cooperation and "represent that the information supplied was of 'considerable value'..." Two was to refrain from seeking a life sentence. Third was to limit what it said to "the facts and circumstances." Williams concluded that the government "complied in spirit with none of its promises; with the third, it complied in neither letter nor spirit." 

It took Williams much of an opinion of 5,000 words to sketch the sleaziness, the slyness of the semantic evasions, by which the government broke its promises. To those of us invested in both the American Constitution and the Jewish struggle, it was a heart-breaking picture. The most galling feature--at least to my ear--was the use by the government of a statement from the defense secretary at the time Pollard committed his crime, Caspar Weinberger. 

Weinberger had ginned up a memorandum saying that "the punishment imposed should reflect the perfidy of [Pollard's] actions, the magnitude of the treason committed, and the needs of national security." What was so appalling about that--and pointedly marked by Williams--is the use of the word treason. For the Constitution provides that "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Both the government and Weinberger knew what they were doing. They could have won a severe sentence without that libel. Yet they spoke of the crime as if Israel were an enemy. It was inaccurate. It was wrong. And it was a violation of a written contract. It may be that one dissenting opinion doesn't amount to a verdict. But given that Judges Silberman and Ginsberg boiled down their opinion against Pollard to the timing of his motion, Williams is the most substantive review we have.

Pollard has dealt with numerous setbacks and betrayals by both the U.S. and Israeli governments. His case is not only a miscarriage of justice but a cautionary tale about America's foreign policy mistakes in the Mideast, mistakes that are continuing to be made and that could have dire consequences.


Further Information:

1) While languishing in prison and suffering from poor health, Pollard spoke truth to power not just about his case but also about larger geopolitical issues; he criticized the reckless and unprecedented concessions Israel has made to her enemies, capitulations that endanger not just Israel but the entire free world.

2) Appeasement of Iraq Made Me a Spy: Pollard accepted culpability for his crime and explained why he acted as he did:  "...I want to state quite categorically that I do not consider myself to be above the law. I fully appreciate the fact that I must be punished for my activities however justified I may have felt them to be. That being said, I do not believe that the draconian sentence that was meted out to me was in any way commensurate with the crime which I committed. Nowhere in my indictment... was I ever described as a 'traitor,' which is hardly a surprise given the fact that the operation with which I was associated actually served to strengthen America's long-term security interests in the Middle East."

3) One Man's Agony After the Fact: Former NSA analyst Bruce Brill described "The U.S. intelligence community's anti-Israel policy."

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