Better free than a hero
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 4, 2003
The June issue of Moment Magazine contains an important new article on the Jonathan Pollard case by former Justice Department attorney John Loftus. Loftus explodes the myth that Pollard did incalculable damage to American security interests.
Pollard received the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for spying for Israel, despite a plea bargain agreement under which government prosecutors undertook not to seek the maximum sentence. In short, he traded away his valuable right to a jury trial – a trial the United States government was eager to avoid - and received nothing in return.
Despite the agreement not to seek a life sentence, prosecutors produced at the sentencing hearing a last minute letter and memo from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger accused Pollard of "treason," a far more serious crime with which he was never charged, and alleged that even in "the so-called year of the spy" Pollard caused the greatest harm to national security.
Though the Weinberger memo remains classified, the U.S. security establishment has for years hinted to the media and interested public officials that information provided by Pollard to Israel made its way into Soviet hands and played a role in the elimination of more than 40 American agents in Russia.
At the time of Pollard’s sentencing, the American security establishment may well have believed that story. Now, however, it is known that CIA official Aldrich Ames, and FBI agent Robert Hanssen, sold the names of the American agents to the Soviets. Ames, it appears, skillfully deflected suspicion to Pollard for years. (Ames ability to do use Pollard as a red herring has itself been a source of anger against Pollard in certain security circles. Ames was not arrested until 1994 and Hanssen until 2001.)
Loftus’ article contains one bombshell revelation: an internal Navy intelligence review of the Pollard case, conducted after the arrest of Ames and Hanssen found that Pollard lacked the security clearance to obtain access to the names of American agents in the Soviet Union. He could therefore never have provided that information to Israel.
Loftus further downplays the claim advanced by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that U.S. intelligence short-wave radio guides provided Israel by Pollard forced the United States to completely revamp its global communications system at the cost of billions.
Loftus notes that portions of the guide had already been sold to the Soviets by the Walker spy ring, and that the Soviets were so unimpressed that they did not even attempt to attain the rest. He further points out that prosecutor Charles Leeper had originally characterized the damage caused by Pollard as "minimal."
The Moment article contains one other revelation. Loftus claims to have learned from sources in military intelligence that Pollard transferred to Israel the list of all Saudi and Arab intelligence agents known to America as of 1984. Many of these were on the U.S. payroll. Some of these former Saudi agents are prominent today in Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, a fact highly embarrassing to their former American spymasters.
Despite the publication of Loftus’ revelations in a well-respected American magazine, they have received remarkably little notice in Israel. As far as I know, no Israeli newspaper, with the exception of English-language HaModia, which reprinted the Moment article in full, has given extensive coverage to Loftus’ revelations.
In part, this reflects an unjustified apathy to Pollard’s plight among a wide swath of world Jewry. His continued imprisonment, after 18 years in jail, constitutes a major stain on American justice, which no Jew or non-Jew need feel the slightest hesitation about protesting.
That widespread apathy, however, also reflects the fact that the pro-Pollard movement has largely shrunk to a hard core of dedicated activists led by Esther Pollard. Too many potential allies have been alienated by suspicions that those most dedicated to the cause are more interested in having Pollard acknowledged as a great Israeli hero than in securing his freedom.
Those who prefer to keep the focus exclusively on the goal of securing Pollard’s release have frequently incurred the wrath of the activist core. As an example, one dedicated Pollard supporter recently ridiculed HaModia for "worrying excessively about possible charges of dual loyalty." The paper’s crime? At the end of a long article detailing the procedural and substantive injustices in the Pollard case, its columnist concluded, "This article does not intend to glorify or even condone Pollard’s crime. Anyone who works for an organization like the [United States] Navy undertakes to consider only the interests of the United States."
But the Pollard case does raise issues of "dual loyalty" – just ask any Jew working in American intelligence about the stares he or she was subjected to after the case broke. And American Jews are entitled to be concerned about that issue. Pollard has repeatedly insisted that he did what did out of profound love for Israel, not out of any venal financial motives. Likely Pollard was convinced that none of the information he handed Israel could damage American interests, but still his motivation was his love of Israel.
Those concerned with ensuring continued American support for Israel have no desire to highlight the fact that the two countries’ interests are not always congruent. Nor does Israel have any desire to remind America that it infiltrated American intelligence services. Yet the continued focus on Pollard’s crucial contributions to Israel’s security does precisely that.
Not only does the stress on Pollard heroic status not serve the interests of Israel or American Jewry, it does not help Jonathan Pollard himself. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer shortly before his sentencing hearing, Pollard described himself as moved by the intransigence of the American intelligence community, which he viewed as endangering Israel’s survival. Worse, his then wife Anne Henderson told 60 Minutes that their actions were their "moral obligation as Jews." The evident lack of remorse enraged the prosecutors and trial judge Aubrey Robinson, and set the stage for the blatant violation of every aspect of the plea agreement.
Nor was that the last time that a failure to express remorse may have cost Pollard dearly. According to David Luchins, a former top aide to Senator Daniel Moynihan, President Clinton told Moynihan and Senator Joseph Lieberman in early 1993 that he had no problem with clemency for Pollard but would need a letter of remorse.
The late Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik, Luchins’ rabbi, visited Pollard in jail in Marion, Illinois, where guards made the aged rabbi remove his suspenders and abandon his walker, despite a debilitating stroke. Rabbi Soloveitchik begged Pollard to sign a letter stating: "I realize that what I did was not only repugnant to American law, but was equally repugnant to G-d’s Torah and to natural law."
Subsequently, Senator Lieberman hand-delivered the letter to Clinton. Two months later, however, Rabbi Avi Weiss called a press conference on Pollard’s behalf renouncing the letter, bringing to an abrupt end the most promising effort to secure Pollard’s release until then. (Of course, in light of the way of the way Clinton reneged on a promise to Prime Minister Netanyahu at Wye to release Pollard, no one can say with assurance that the earlier effort would have ended successfully.)
Too often Pollard’s supporters have shown a preference for emotionally satisfying symbolic gestures and harangues to building a larger coalition of support. At a Jerusalem rally two weeks ago, his attorney called him a symbol of America’s consistent failure to honor promises. What is the point of remarks calculated to infuriate the president of the United States, the one person who has the power to free Pollard from jail?
Jonathan Pollard’s dwindling band of intense supporters must ask themselves: Would we rather have him free or hailed as a hero? Let’s hope they choose freedom.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity, World Jewry
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