Pollard release sharpens US-Israel spy rift
Beirut - Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who stole some of the United States’ most important secrets, walked out of a federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, on November 20th a free man. He became eligible for parole after serving 30 years of a life sentence.
His release, which Israeli governments vigorously sought for three decades, is likely, however, to deepen a rift between Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that has been simmering for at least as long.
For the Americans, Pollard, a 61-year-old US citizen, represents what they see as Israel’s betrayal of its strategic relationship with the United States, the Jewish state’s greatest benefactor, which has shielded it from aggression since the 1960s.
Pollard’s release, the Washington Post observed, will “resolve one of the most politically charged espionage cases of recent decades”.
That may be so on a government-to-government basis but it will only intensify a deep-rooted hostility with the US intelligence establishment towards Israel that goes back to when the Jewish state was established, from spiriting an estimated 200 pounds of weapons-grade uranium for its secret nuclear arms project in the 1960s to wide-scale industrial espionage now.
US insiders assert that Israel conducts more espionage operations against the United States and systematically steals more of its military and economic secrets than any other country, even Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has picked up where the late Soviet Union’s KGB left off in 1991.
Many in the US intelligence community assert that Israel is the worst offender when it comes to spying on the United States and there were suspicions during the Clinton years that there was at least one Israeli agent, codenamed “Mega”, high in the administration, although none was ever discovered.
There is also a deep resentment of the political influence Israel has in the United States, particularly through its lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is one of the strongest in Washington and can make or break political careers.
The Wall Street Journal, a strong advocate of Israel, reported October 23rd that the United States monitored Israeli military bases and eavesdropped on supposedly secret communications in 2012 amid fears that its long-time ally would launch a Special Forces strike against Iran’s key uranium enrichment centre at Fordow buried deep inside a mountain.
“[Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu reserves the right to continue covert action against Iran’s nuclear programme,” the Journal reported, and this “could put the spy services of the US and Israel on a collision course”.
Pollard’s arrest on November 21, 1985, as he tried to seek sanctuary in the Israeli embassy in Washington after the CIA uncovered his spying, sharply deepened the rift between the CIA and the Mossad.
The Texas-born Pollard was a civilian analyst with top-secret clearance with the US Navy in Washington until he was caught. Israel initially denied Pollard had spied on the United States in 1984-85 but gave him retroactive Israeli citizenship in 1995.
To this day, it is still not known outside the highest US authorities exactly what secrets Pollard betrayed. The full extent of what he sold to Israel was never revealed during his trial. Much of the evidence against him remains sealed and is likely to stay that way.
According to several accounts, Pollard stole what one called “the crown jewels” of the US intelligence establishment, including documents concerning US sources and methods used to safeguard the US interests and deep-cover agents around the world.
One of the few public assessments of the damage Pollard caused is the so-called Weinberger declaration, a lengthy affidavit written by then-Defence secretary Caspar Weinberger at the behest of the court after Pollard’s lawyers — paid by the Israeli government — claimed he had not caused any serious damage.
Weinberger asserted that “substantial and irrevocable damage has been done to this nation”.
He disclosed that Pollard had photocopied all ten volumes of the RASIN — the Radio and Signal codes — that detailed US electronic surveillance facilities around the world, including frequencies, sources and other highly classified data, what one source described as “a complete road map of American signals intelligence” that Pollard’s Israeli handlers had specifically ordered him to obtain and pass on.
Pollard also handed over “more than 1,000 unredacted messages and cables”, most of which were “code word sensitive”, that could identify agents around the globe.
“To this day, it is not known how many US agents were killed due to Pollard’s treason,” said US anti-war activist Justin Raimondo.
As if that were not enough, US investigative reporter Seymour Hersh observed in a 2001 New Yorker report that data on classified US signals intelligence provided by Pollard allowed Israel to camouflage some of its military operations from US surveillance.
One of these was the long-range air strike on the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s headquarters in Tunis on October 1, 1985, in which at least 67 people were killed. The operation, retaliation for the killing of three alleged Israeli spies in Cyprus, took the Americans by surprise because their surveillance network was focused elsewhere that day.