Newly Released CIA Documents Reveal that Jonathan Pollard Sought Intelligence on Arab States, Not US
by Zach Pontz
A newly declassified damage assessment reveals that convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was seeking information for nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union, and not on the United States.
The damage assessment, which was classified by the CIA and only released today–though still heavily redacted– on appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University reveals that Pollard’s handlers “never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities, or equipment.”
The damage assessment further details the specific information requested of Pollard: Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs and Soviet air defenses. The document also describes how Pollard’s handler told him to ignore a request from his bosses for U.S. “dirt” on senior Israeli officials.
According to the article on the NSA’s website the documents Pollard passed along revealed information on “PLO headquarters in Tunisia; specific capabilities of Tunisian and Libyan air defense systems; Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare productions capabilities (including detailed satellite imagery); Soviet arms shipments to Syria and other Arab states; naval forces, port facilities, and lines of communication of various Middle Eastern and North African countries; the MiG-29 fighter; and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Also included was a U.S. assessment of Israeli military capabilities.”
The damage assessment also paints a broader picture of Pollard the man, who at the time of his arrest was working as a civilian intelligence analyst.
A detailed 21-page chronology of Pollard’s personal life and professional career, including his work for the Israelis, highlights over a dozen instances of unusual behavior by Pollard that the CIA suggests in hindsight should have alerted his supervisors to the fact the he was a security risk. One such instance occurred when, upon arriving late for an interview, he gave his excuse that he spent the weekend rescuing his wife from the Irish Republican Army after they had kidnapped her.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Former Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, and a confidant and friend of Jonathan Pollard who is active in the case, told The Algemeiner that “Based on my quick review of hundreds of pages […] I think there are more questions now of why he is still in prison after 27 years.” He continued, “It looks like they put him away for a lot of ‘what ifs’ and those ‘what ifs’ didn’t happen. The court should go back and review all of this, basically say if we put him away for all the potentials and the potentials didn’t happen, we need to talk about that.”
But Jeffrey T. Richelson, Media Fellow at the National Security Archives, and author of the article that first outlined the newly released documents told The Algemeiner: “The arguments made by those in favor of a long life sentence for him were not simply dependent on whether he was spying on the United States in terms of giving away specific plans or military capabilities. It was the impact of the intelligence he gave the Israelis in terms of the risks he created.”
Richelson said that the U.S. was most concerned that Pollard’s spying would reveal “what the U.S. was able to collect, what judgments it made, and there was always the risk then that through the penetration of the Israeli community this information could then get to the Soviet Union. That argument isn’t changed by this new information.”
Pollard began spying for Israel after meeting Aviem Sella, an Israeli Air Force combat veteran who was studying at New York University. Pollard, who worked for U.S. Naval intelligence at the time, told him that the U.S. intelligence services were withholding information from Israel. Within days Pollard was spying for Israel.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 while trying to enter the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C. Until his arrest, Pollard delivered approximately 800 documents, many of which were classified top secret or codeword. In addition, he stole an estimated 1,500 current intelligence summary messages. He was given a life sentence.
Pollard’s case has remained in the public spotlight in part because of the effort by high level Israeli officials to secure his release. In 1995 Yitzhak Rabin petitioned U.S. President Bill Clinton for Pollard’s release, and only recently Benjamin Netanyahu did the same with U.S. President Barack Obama. Both were rebuffed.
On Thursday New York Congressman Eliot Engel sent a letter to President Obama asking for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to one of time served. The letter was co-written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and signed by 42 Members of Congress.
The letter stated expressly: “Mr. Pollard broke the law and deserved to be punished. On that there is no debate. However, he has paid his penalty and, due to failing health, should be allowed to live out his days with his family. Mr. Pollard’s sentence was disproportionately severe. He passed classified information to our ally, Israel; an offense which is usually punishable by a fraction of the time served by Mr. Pollard. The time has come to close this chapter, commute Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served, and allow the Pollard family to heal together.”
It continued: “President Obama ought to heed the numerous calls for justice from scores of Republican and Democrat members of Congress as well as those Senior US officials who are most familiar with the Pollard case and who served at the time of Pollard’s conviction. Millions of humanitarians worldwide – both Jew and Gentile alike, will greatly appreciate President Obama’s honorable gesture if he were to grant clemency.”
Rabbi Lerner expressed his hope that at the very least the revelation of this new material might actuate Pollard’s legal team. “I would hope that the Pollard team would go through this with a fine tooth comb and do whatever they can […] to bring some of this new information to the fore and demand explanations.”
Mr. Richelson was more muted in his response to the new information: “I can’t speak for how people will respond to this new information, but if nothing else it will add to the historical record of the case.”