Many Washington officials have long spun the story that convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard did immense harm to this country’s national security by stealing vital American military and intelligence secrets. Thus, the U.S. intelligence community has always opposed Mr. Pollard’s release.
(Most notoriously, then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if President Clinton followed through on his reported plan to release Mr. Pollard in return for Israeli concessions at the Wye Plantation negotiations; Mr. Clinton backed off on releasing Pollard but pocketed the concessions anyway.)
In any event, it was maintained that Mr. Pollard refused to disclose the full extent of his spying which was said to have included turning over to his Israeli handlers the names of U.S. agents around the world, information said to have ended up in Soviet hands because of Soviet penetration of Israeli intelligence.
Newly released declassified documents, however, paint a significantly different picture.
The documents primarily relate to the 1987 CIA damage assessment report based on its interrogation of Mr. Pollard. It records that Mr. Pollard’s spying was focused, at Israel’s request, on information the U.S. had about the Soviets and Arab states, not U.S. military secrets. In particular this involved gathering data on Syria’s chemical weapons program, Pakistan’s nuclear program and Egypt’s missile program. According to the documents, “The Israelis did not request or receive from Pollard intelligence concerning some of the most sensitive U.S. national security resources…. The Israelis never expressed interest in U.S. military activities, plans, capabilities or equipment. Likewise, they did not ask for intelligence on U.S. communications per se.”
The documents also note that Mr. Pollard’s CIA debriefers said he cooperated “in good faith” and that polygraph examinations “tended to confirm that his cooperation with U.S. authorities was bona fide.” As a consequence, they were confident they were aware of the full extent of the information Mr. Pollard shared with Israel.
The documents also debunk the widespread belief that a secret memorandum submitted to the sentencing judge sealed Mr. Pollard’s fate. Rather, he received a life sentence despite a plea agreement calling for a much shorter term because he gave an interview to The Jerusalem Post in violation of the agreement. (Mr. Pollard’s attorneys deny that the interview violated the agreement.)
There are, to be sure, negatives in the report for Mr. Pollard: as was widely reported from the beginning of the story, his spying for Israel was done on a for-pay basis, and there is the unexplained assertion in a mostly redacted section in the report that “Pollard’s espionage has put at risk important U.S. intelligence and foreign-policy interests.” Perhaps this alludes to the Soviets having indirectly deduced U.S. information gathering techniques from the data on Arab countries.
But in the 28th year of Mr. Pollard’s imprisonment, and especially in light of what the declassified documents reveal, that should now be beside the point.
As Lawrence Korb, a U.S. deputy secretary of defense at the time of Mr. Pollard’s arrest, has said, the release of the CIA report “underscores the case for Pollard’s immediate release…. We knew all along that the information that Pollard passed concerned Arab countries, and not the U.S., but the release of this official document confirming the facts makes it much easier to bring a speedy end to this tragedy. After 28 years is time for Pollard to be released and to go home now.”