Saturday, December 23, 2006

CAPTURING JONATHAN POLLARD: How one of the most notorious spies in American history was brought to justice

By Ronald J. Olive

Naval Institute Press, $27.95, 320 pages, illus.


I’m about to ruin your Sunday morning, so please shove your coffee cup out of rage-range and take a deep breath.


When the loathsome slug Jonathan Jay Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for stealing more than a million pages of highly-classified documents for the Israelis, U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova told reporters outside the courthouse, “It is likely he’ll never see the light of day again.”

What Mr. diGenova perhaps did not know was that just prior to Pollard’s sentencing (on a guilty plea) there was an obscure rule change stipulating that persons sentenced to life must be paroled after 30 years if they maintained a good record in prison. Thus Pollard could walk out of prison on Nov. 23, 2013.

Take another deep breath; the best — or more accurately, the worst — is yet to come.

The Israeli government, after years of fudging, finally admitted in 1998 that Pollard “acted as an official Israeli agent.” The point is important. Hear the math of naval intelligence investigator Ronald J. Olive in his fascinating “Capturing Jonathan Pollard”: “It is alleged that Israel doubles the salary yearly for Israeli spies caught and imprisoned on foreign soil. If Pollard’s spy salary of $2,500 a month plus the promised $30,000 annual bonus were doubled [the figures came from Pollard] he would earn approximately $3.6 million over thirty years.

“To my knowledge, no other spy in history, in jail or released from it, has been so handsomely rewarded,” Mr. Olive writes, in a sentence dripping with disgust.

Although perhaps half a dozen books on the Pollard case have been published, Mr. Olive’s towers over the pack. He writes with insider knowledge gained as the counterintelligence agent of the Naval Investigative Service (NIS), which led the Pollard investigation, and obtained the confession that left him little choice but to plead guilty. To put it bluntly, the Pollard affair was not the U.S. Navy’s most shining moment. But Mr. Olive does detail how the NIS can do superb work once it centers in on a suspect.

Although readers of this newspaper know the thrust of the story, Mr. Olive provides new material on how Pollard finally came to grief. There is a hero in the sordid saga, albeit Mr. Olive leaves him anonymous by his own choice.

The afternoon of Friday, Nov. 8, 1985, a co-worker at the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center in Suitland, Md., noticed Pollard wrapping a thick batch of TS/SCI materials (top secret/special compartmented information), which he said he had received by mistake. He claimed to be preparing to return them to a documents center.

A few minutes later, the co-worker saw Pollard’s wife Anne drive up to the headquarters entrance. Pollard emerged carrying the envelope he had said he was returning. Something seemed amiss. On the drive home, the co-worker discussed his suspicions with his own wife, who also had a security clearance. Perhaps there was a legitimate reason for what Pollard was doing? His wife finally told him “that if he felt so strongly there was something wrong, he needed to report it.”

Thus was set into motion the chain of events that led to a defiant Pollard eventually admitting to Mr. Olive that he was giving security information to an outsider. (Predictably, he lied, first claiming the material went to a Washington journalist.) And in due course, the Pollards were arrested outside the Israeli embassy, where they had futilely sought refuge. Mr. Olive says that “to this day, few know [the co-worker’s] identity.”

A secondary theme of Mr. Olive’s engaging book is an account of the utter failure of systems controlling the circulation of classified material. Anyone even vaguely aware of security rules will be appalled to read how Pollard systematically obtained highly-classified documents from intelligence agencies all over the D.C. area, simply by ordering them from repositories maintained by various offices, including the CIA. Pollard had no “need to know” because the bulk of these documents he had acquired had no relevance to his work.

No matter. Internal courier services brought the papers to Pollard in carload lots. He stuffed them under his desk, and then took to his car at his leisure in briefcases. In one episode related by Mr. Olive, in a single evening Pollard lugged enough documents to fill five suitcases stacked in the rear of his car. (My neighborhood branch of the D.C. public library pays more attention to what leaves the building than did the ATAC “guards.”)

Each weekend, Pollard lugged the papers to an apartment Israeli agents rented at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW, a few blocks from the embassy. High-speed copy machines worthy of a Kinko’s churned through the papers — in 18 months, more than a million pages, enough to fill a 6-by-10-foot room that is 6 feet high.

From his prison cell, an unrepentant Pollard still claims a double-cross by U.S. prosecutors who had promised not to seek a life sentence. Mr. Olive dashes this protest: The government did not recommend the term. It was meted by U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr., after reading a still-secret memo from Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger detailing the grave damage Pollard caused to national security.

Mr. Olive concludes by summarizing “reforms” intended to prevent pillaging by another Pollard. What is needed, in my view, is a dollop of common sense. Pollard first tried to join CIA. A polygraph operator caught him in a blatant lie: instead of smoking marijuana “on just a few occasions,” the true count was about 600 times.

CIA rejected Pollard, who immediately applied for a navy intelligence slot. When the Defense Investigative Service asked CIA for information it might have on Pollard, the agency refused, citing his “right to privacy.” Superiors who contemplated revoking Pollard’s clearances because of his slip-shod handling of documents and general … well, workplace nuttiness … were deterred by threats of lawsuits.

I did detect one possible legal reason for keeping Pollard locked up despite the changes in parole laws. As part of his plea agreement, he swore not to disclose any classified material he obtained while working for the navy. Further, he swore not to “provide information for purposes of publication or dissemination” unless it was reviewed by the director of naval intelligence.

To the astonishment of prosecutors and investigators, three weeks before his sentencing, Wolf Blitzer, a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, wrote a long article stemming from a jail-cell interview with Pollard. It also ran in the Washington Post under the headline, “Pollard: Not A Bumbler, but Israel’s Master Spy.”

Pollard told Mr. Blitzer what he provided the Israelis: reconnaissance satellite photography of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Tunisia, specific capabilities of Libya’s air defenses and far more. “In general,” Mr. Blitzer wrote, “Pollard gave Israel the pick of U.S. intelligence about Arab and Islamic conventional and unconventional military activity, from Morocco to Pakistan and every country in between. This included both ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ Arab countries.” (Mr. Blitzer now works for CNN.)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office considered voiding the plea agreement and putting Pollard on trial but decided not to bother, given that the life sentence was at hand. When Pollard comes up for parole, hopefully some government lawyer will dust off the already-violated plea agreement and cite it as a reason to keep him behind bars.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is

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