Yedidya Atlas

Let Jonathan Pollard go

One has to wonder what brought Marc Goldberg to suddenly write an anti-Pollard diatribe. What master or cause does he believe he serves by dishing up this verbal hametz during the Passover holiday?

In a Times of Israel blog post that can only be described as malicious, Marc Goldberg vented his spleen against the official Israeli demand to free Jonathan Pollard from his US prison cell. In the post, entitled “Pollard’s no Eli Cohen,” Mr. Goldberg writes:

It is disgraceful that the crank who lied his way into US Naval intelligence has come to be seen by so many people as a hero. It’s time to wake up and realize that Pollard was not a Zionist hero but a bumbling amateur looking for quick cash.

Aside from the inaccuracy of his nasty opening sentence, one has to wonder what brought Mr. Goldberg to suddenly write an anti-Pollard diatribe. What master or cause does he believe he serves by dishing up this verbal hametz during the Passover holiday? Mr. Goldberg opines:

The Pollard affair damaged the relationship between Israel and the United States.

Did it really? Clearly not, since before, during and after the Pollard affair 27 years ago, Israel and the United States shared significant security cooperation on the highest levels, much of which cannot be discussed in public. Nonetheless, Mr. Goldberg continues:

…even worse, it has consequences for any US Jews aspiring to a career in the world of intelligence. And from the moment Pollard claimed he had spied for Israel because he was a Jew everyone of the same faith working in intelligence would have become instantly suspect.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Mr. Goldberg, for some reason, is unaware of the underlying “let’s get the Jews and Israel” attitude running through certain government agencies in the US and other western countries since before the modern state of Israel was declared. It did not start with Pollard. I suggest he read “The Secret War Against The Jews,” by John Loftus and Mark Aarons, for some background on the “dual-loyalties” accusations that were being bandied about well before Pollard’s arrest and continued with the witch hunts against AIPAC staffers just a few years ago.

Moreover, Mr. Goldberg’s cheap characterization of Pollard as merely some lying “crank” and money-driven “bumbling amateur” is out and out drivel. Anyone who knows the truth of what really happened and who was involved with handling Mr. Pollard during this time can attest that Mr. Goldberg is either unfamiliar with the details of the case or has, for some unfathomable reason, an anti-Pollard agenda.

Furthermore, the issue of Pollard’s release at this stage, 27 years after his incarceration, is now supported by leading non-Jewish Americans who are fully cognizant of the details of the case, and not just major American Jewish organizations. Among those prominent Americans who have voiced their support for Pollard’s release are former US secretaries of State Henry Kissinger (yes, he is Jewish) and George Shultz (who is not Jewish and served as secretary of State at the time of Pollard’s activities), former CIA director R. James Woolsey (a hardliner on American security affairs who has read the entire Pollard file, and who, while initially opposing Pollard’s release 15 years ago, has been going on record for more than five years that Pollard should be released, describing his punishment at this point as being “clearly excessive”), and Robert “Bud” McFarlane (President Reagan’s National Security Advisor).

Others include former assistant secretary of Defense Dr. Lawrence J. Korb (under Caspar Weinberger at the time of Pollard’s arrest), former US attorney general Michael B. Mukasey, and former US Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, who wrote President Obama more than once calling upon him to commute Pollard’s sentence to the 25 years he has already served.

Senator DeConcini said he wrote Obama a second time, to follow up on a recent congressional letter, signed by 39 congressmen, supporting Pollard’s release. (One can safely assume that most of the 39 are not Jews.):

I was on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee when Pollard was arrested, and subsequently became its chairman. I am well aware of the classified information concerning the damage he caused. Pollard was charged with one count of giving classified information to an ally, Israel. He was never charged with nor to my knowledge did he ever give any information to a third country.

To understand what exactly Jonathan Pollard was charged with and what he was not charged with, and why he was sentenced the way he was, it behooves us to review the words of Dr. Angelo M. Codevilla in the August 6, 1998 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Today a professor of international relations at Boston University, Codevilla was a senior staffer of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee between 1977 and 1985. Specifically, he acted as an adviser to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee during the Pollard arrest and conviction.

Professor Codevilla, a politically conservative Catholic, wrote:

Former naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard confessed to passing classified documents to Israel without authorization between 1981 and 1985. For this, he was rightly sent to prison for espionage. People who spy for allied countries and who spare the U.S. government the revelations of a trial usually get sentences averaging four years. What extraordinary things, then, must Pollard have done to draw a life sentence?

Despite the rumors and lies that have abounded in regards to the vast damage Pollard inflicted to American worldwide security interests, the truth is far more mundane:

While Pollard’s espionage subverted US policy in the Middle East, it barely hurt Washington’s intelligence operations. Pollard gave the Israelis analysts’ reports and satellite photographs — bread-and-butter intelligence products. He is not accused of giving away operating manuals or descriptions of the functioning of the satellites or of any other collection systems.

Moreover, he categorically affirms:

No U.S. communication-intercept system was taken out of service or had its budget affected because of the Pollard case. Nor was any U.S. agent forced ‘out of the cold… Pollard’s damage to these sources and methods was theoretical.


The U.S. had given — and was continuing to give — Israel photos taken by the very same satellites from which came the secrets Pollard passed. There were no technical differences between the pictures Pollard was passing illegally and the ones the U.S. government was passing legally.


The difference between the pictures the U.S. government was giving to Israel and the ones that it was withholding lay not in sources or methods, but in the subject. Some senior officials of the US government had decided that Israel should not have certain information about Iraq and other Arab countries because the officials did not like what Israel was doing with it. By passing precisely that information, Pollard damaged US foreign policy [and not US security].

The “foreign policy” that Codevilla refers to was the demonstratively stupid and deliberately blind support for Saddam Hussein. The very same US officials who slammed Israel for taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981, despite all the evidence proving Saddam’s evil intentions, decided to punish Israel and held back information promised in writing by the security treaty signed by the US and Israel not long before. It was primarily the held back information that Israel needed for its security planning that Pollard passed on.

Did Jonathan Pollard violate American law? Of course he did. No one is challenging that fact and the fact that under American law he deserved to go to prison. The issue is for how long and in what circumstances. And here is the point that Mr. Goldberg misses: Prison sentences are supposed to be proportional to the harm done. This was clearly not the case for Jonathan Pollard. As Professor Codevilla explained in a January 11, 1999 interview in The Washington Weekly:

Jonathan Pollard committed espionage. He violated the law and was rightly sentenced to prison. However, the average sentence meted out to someone who spies for an ally, not an enemy, and who confesses to the crime – thereby sparing the United States the embarrassment of a trial – is approximately seven years, with an average time served of about four years. Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.

Furthermore, Pollard’s conditions of imprisonment were and are far harsher than those meted out to even heavy-duty American spies for the Soviet Union Aldrich Ames and John Walker – two high level American intelligence officials who did the greatest possible harm to the security of the United States. Yet their treatment was better than Pollard’s, a low-level, $40,000 a year GS-12 analyst with no access to vital intelligence secrets, who had passed on information to a friendly power.

So why was and is Pollard so poorly treated?

It goes back to the original plea bargain deal made between the US Justice Department and Mr. Pollard’s attorney. While plea bargains are only “recommendations” to the sentencing judge, it is highly irregular for the judge to mete out a far greater sentence. But in this case, there was a pliable judge who received a secret memorandum from then-US secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, which was the basis for the unprecedented harsh sentence handed down.

The preface to the still-secret memorandum states:

…it is difficult to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by [Pollard].

As Prof. Codevilla explained in the aforementioned interview:

The indictment that [Pollard] agreed to plead guilty to did not charge him with any breach of sources or methods. It did not charge him with giving away a room full of anything. After the plea bargain had been consummated and before sentencing, there was an ex parte submission to the Judge by Caspar Weinberger. This memorandum was entirely outside the indictment. Its contents have never been made public. Nor have they been shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee or the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board or the Intelligence Oversight Board. But this memo contained the lie that Pollard caused the deaths of countless U.S. agents. It also reportedly said the Israelis sold part of the information to the Soviet Union. All of these things are not only untrue, they were known by Weinberger not to be true.

In other words, for whatever reason — perhaps Weinberger’s allegiance to Bechtel, who had multi-billion dollar contracts in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or a desire to “get even” with Pollard for exposing the foolish and counter-productive pro-Saddam Hussein US policy — the US secretary of Defense deliberately lied in writing to influence the judge to disregard the plea bargain and mete out a drastically disproportional sentence.

The bottom line, Mr. Goldberg, is that while Jonathan Pollard committed the crime, he certainly has done the time more than several times over, and enough people — including prominent non-Jewish American officials who served at the highest level — agree: it is high time for Pollard to be free. Hence, your contention that we should not be “risking our relationship with our best friend in the international community [the US] in order to free this sick old man from prison” is mistaken.

There’s no risk involved — only long overdue justice. Those people are right. You are wrong.

About the Author
Yedidya Atlas is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.
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