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Declassified: Pollard’s Handlers Wanted Arab and Soviet, Not US Information

The specific subjects sought by Pollard's Israeli handlers were Syrian drones, Egyptian missile programs, and Soviet air defenses.
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Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

When Naval Investigative Service analyst Jonathan Pollard spied for Israel in 1984 and 1985, his Israeli handlers asked primarily for nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union – not on the United States – according to the newly-declassified CIA 1987 damage assessment of the Pollard case, published Friday by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

According to the GWU National Security Archive, the damage assessment (PDF) includes new details on the specific subjects and documents sought by Pollard’s Israeli handlers, such as Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs, and Soviet air defenses. The Israelis specifically asked for a signals intelligence manual that they needed to listen in on Soviet advisers in Syria. The document describes how Pollard’s handler, Joseph Yagur, told him to ignore a request, from Yagur’s boss, for U.S. “dirt” on senior Israeli officials and told Pollard that gathering such information would terminate the operation.

Under the heading “What the Israelis Did Not Ask For,” the assessment remarks that they “never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities, or equipment.”

Jonathan Pollard's I.D. Photograph

Jonathan Pollard’s I.D. Photograph.                                                       Photo: U.S. Naval intelligence

The assessment also notes that Pollard volunteered delivery of three daily intelligence summaries that had not been requested by his handlers, but which proved useful to them, and ultimately handed over roughly 1,500 such messages from the Middle East and North Africa Summary (MENAS), the Mediterranean Littoral Intelligence Summary (MELOS), and the Indian Ocean Littoral Intelligence Summary, in addition to the more than 800 compromised documents on other subjects that Pollard delivered to the Israelis in suitcases.

The damage assessment (PDF) also features a detailed 21-page chronology of Pollard’s personal life and professional career, including his work for the Israelis, highlighting more than a dozen examples of unusual behavior by Pollard that the CIA suggests should have, in retrospect, alerted his supervisors that he was a security risk. Prominent on the list were false statements by Pollard during a 1980 assignment with Task Force 168, the naval intelligence element responsible for HUMINT collection. Pollard is now serving a life sentence in prison for espionage.

The CIA denied release of most of the Pollard damage assessment in 2006, claiming for example that pages 18 through 165 were classified in their entirety and not a line of those pages could be released. The Archive appealed the CIA’s decision to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, established by President Clinton in 1995 and continued by Presidents Bush and Obama. The ISCAP showed its value yet again as a check on systemic overclassification by ordering release of scores of pages from the Pollard damage assessment that were previously withheld by CIA, and published today for the first time.

According to Jeffrey T. Richelson, writing for the GWU Archive, 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.

The documents provided 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.

Pollard’s disclosures were alarming to U.S. officials for several reasons, some of which were noted in their official declarations (Document 6, Document 8). One, despite the fact that both the U.S. and Israeli considered each other legitimate intelligence targets, was Israel’s willingness to run a human penetration operation directed at the U.S. government. Another, was the damage to the intelligence sharing arrangement with Israel – since its acquisition of material from Pollard weakened the U.S. position vis-a-vis intelligence exchanges with Israel.

In addition, there was no guarantee that such documents, revealing both sources and methods as well as assessments, would not find their way to the Soviet Union via a Soviet penetration of the Israeli intelligence or defense community – as had happened with a number of other allies. Further, since Israel was a target of U.S. intelligence collection – particularly technical collection – operations, the documents could be used by Israeli counterintelligence and security organizations to help Israel neutralize or degrade U.S. collection operations.

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2 Responses to “Declassified: Pollard’s Handlers Wanted Arab and Soviet, Not US Information”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    If he sold Israel US intelligence on other countries, it almost certainly compromised US assets. That is many ways is worse than selling information on US capabilities.

  2. Pollard allegedly admitted being a cocaine user before and during his stint as an intel analyst. This should have been picked up during the pre-hire and security clearance evaluations. If correct, these add to the embarrassment of the Pollard affair.

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