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The Secret Agent

Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard: The American Who Spied On His Country for Israel and How He was Betrayed

by Wolf Blitzer
Harper and Row, 336 pp., $22.50

Growing up in South Bend, Indiana, where his father is a professor of microbiology at Notre Dame, Jonathan Pollard was raised to believe that the state of Israel was the most important country in the world. “Israel was with me every waking moment since I can remember,” Pollard has said. “The first flag I remember was the Israeli flag. It was the first flag I could identify.”

Later, Pollard’s love of Israel and his fantasies of becoming a Zionist hero led him to spy for Israel. While assigned to the Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, where he had access to the most closely guarded US secrets, Pollard stole thousands of pages of classified documents, which, according to federal prosecutors, “could fill a room the size of a large closet…ten feet by six feet by six feet.” Among the most damaging documents turned over to Israel was a highly classified code book of exactly how the US intercepts and breaks codes of governments around the world. According to Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus in The Washington Post, Pollard also stole technical information on special National Security Agency projects designed to intercept foreign communications and to protect the security of US military and intelligence communications.1

Nearly all the documents were unedited (in intelligence argot, “unredacted”) and therefore revealed exactly where and how the US got the information—from a phone tap, an agent in the field, or from a satellite. This is the kind of information that even close allies never share with one another. The cost to the US taxpayer to repair the damage caused by Pollard has been estimated by US officials at between three and four billion dollars. In his presentencing memorandum, Caspar Weinberger, then secretary of defense, wrote to the court:

It is difficult for me, even in the so-called “year of the spy,” to conceive of greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant, in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the United States and high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.

For this intelligence windfall, the Israelis rewarded Jonathan and his wife, Anne, with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, expensive jewelry, lavish meals (they both gained a great deal of weight during their spy work), and first-class rooms in five-star European resorts. According to the government sentencing report, the Pollards were promised $300,000 in additional payments to be deposited in a Swiss bank account over ten years. After ten years, the Pollards were to move to Israel. Pollard’s handlers had given him an Israeli passport in the name of Danny Cohen. By 1985, the Pollards “had become literally addicted to the high lifestyle funded by…espionage activities,” according to the US government’s sentencing report.

In retrospect, it is hard to believe that any US intelligence agency would hire Jonathan Jay Pollard. As The Jerusalem Post’s Wolf Blitzer writes in his often fascinating, sometimes apologetic account, Pollard’s near obsession with Israel, his abundant fantasy life, and the way he saw himself as a victim and a hero since grade school were clear signs of an unstable personality. In South Bend, Jonathan was an unpopular, lonely child. His father says he was tormented at school by young bullies who sometimes stood on a hill behind their house screaming anti-Semitic epithets. “I was never able to establish friendships in my neighborhoods and was compelled to spend most of my time around the city’s Hebrew Day School, where I felt at least physically safe and emotionally protected,” Pollard wrote in a sixty-page memorandum that was submitted by his attorney to the court before he was sentenced:

This association lasted six days a week for ten years and involved a highly concentrated curriculum of religious and Zionist indoctrination that regularly stressed the advisability of aliya, or emigration to Israel…. Whatever political conclusions I was forming at the time in terms of our dependence upon the State of Israel for racial survival tended to be confirmed and magnified by my own physical reliance upon such local Jewish institutions and population that existed.

Later, in high school, Pollard felt so threatened by militant black students that, according to his father, he picked Stanford over his first choice, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, because there were no black militants on the California campus. “Stanford was the first time he could walk around and not feel tense,” Dr. Morris Pollard told me.

The more withdrawn and miserable Pollard became, the more he talked about Israel. In the dormitory he had few friends and was known for playing mean-spirited practical jokes. Identifying with Israel somehow compensated for his feelings of being rejected socially. For Pollard, Israel was an inspiring vision—a place where Jews performed astounding feats of arms to keep at bay a vast and menacing Arab world bent on the Jewish state’s destruction. He read many books about biblical history, Zionist history, the Holocaust, and thrillers about Israeli spies. One of his favorites was about the Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who before the Six Day War penetrated the highest levels of the Syrian government before he was caught and hanged. The Israelis who “handled” Pollard later gave him the name Cohen because of his attraction to the famous Israeli spy.

Pollard’s budding interest in the intelligence field perhaps was also stimulated by his father, who frequently attended medical and scientific conventions in Europe, the East bloc, and China, and regularly reported on them to the CIA. “I don’t know whether that influenced him or not,” Dr. Pollard told me. “Sometimes with a young person it stirs the imagination.”

In any case, Blitzer writes, by the time Pollard arrived at Stanford, he was having a difficult time keeping his fantasy life from intruding into everyday reality. One of his classmates, Jonathan Marshall, now an editor at the Oakland Tribune, said that Pollard told fellow students that his tuition was being paid by Mossad, which he claimed had recruited him for the purpose of infiltrating the US government. His Stanford senior yearbook photo listed him as “Colonel” Pollard. There is no evidence that Pollard was recruited by Mossad in college; he told Blitzer that his boasts about nonexistent Mossad ties were “fun and games.” But he also told Blitzer that at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, where he studied after receiving his B.A. in political science at Stanford, he spied on third world students as a “free-lancer” for the CIA. Pollard later claimed that Tufts was filled with Jew-hating racists. “A Jewish organization at Fletcher is as unlikely as a branch of the NAACP is at a Ku Klux Klan meeting,” he later said.

After college, Blitzer says that Pollard formally applied for a job with the CIA, but was turned down because of reports that he had used drugs in college. On September 19, 1979, Pollard was hired as a researcher by the Field Operational Intelligence Office of the US Navy in Suitland, Maryland, the CIA never having passed on its information about his use of drugs to the Navy. Pollard later said he chose a career in intelligence because he thought it would provide him with “a skill which would be well received in Israel once I emigrated.” But as he settled into intelligence work for the Navy he put off his plans to move to Israel. He later told the court this caused considerable guilt, confusion, and soul searching about where his loyalties lay.

In 1981, Pollard became involved in a bizarre relationship with South African intelligence that caused the Navy to revoke his top security clearance and order him to get psychiatric help. Apparently, the CIA had given Pollard clearance to set up a special relationship with South African intelligence because of his friendship with a student at Tufts who had become deputy head of the Bureau of State Security in South Africa. Pollard told Blitzer that he received amazing information from the South Africans, including the first photograph of a particular short-range Soviet naval SAM missile.

The relationship came to an end, according to Pollard, when he was asked to plant some incriminating documents on one of the South Africans—a request Pollard told Blitzer he flatly refused, thereby angering his naval supervisors, who suspended his credentials. Pollard complained to Blitzer that he got caught up in a dispute between the CIA and Naval Intelligence. But it’s hard to know what actually happened. According to a story in US News and World Report, which is summarized by Blitzer in some detail, Pollard told naval investigators who were probing his activities with the South Africans “fantastic tales about having lived in South Africa and his father’s being [CIA] station chief there.” One senior Naval Intelligence official said: “It became obvious the guy had to be unstable…. He wasn’t on anybody else’s wavelength.”

Pollard’s father, who told me he believed his son was being used as a scapegoat by the Navy, arranged for Dr. Neil Parker, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, rather than a Navy doctor, to examine Jonathan. “The doctor’s report stated Jay was absolutely within normal limits,” his father told me, adding that his son’s top security credentials were reinstated after a grievance was filed.

Pollard continued to behave oddly. Blitzer reports that once he walked into the Washington offices of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC looking for a job. He talked about the dangers facing Israel and boasted about access to top secret information. AIPAC, which is registered as a domestic lobby, has been intensively investigated by the Justice Department for its ties to Israel. AIPAC officials suspected they were being set up, and turned Pollard down.

In 1984, Steven Stern, a New York stockbroker and first cousin of Leonard Stern, the owner of the giant Hartz Mountain pet food company and The Village Voice, introduced Pollard to Avi Sella—a brilliant, highly decorated Israeli combat pilot who led the raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. Stern had known Pollard and his family for years and Pollard told Blitzer that Stern must have known that he wanted to spy for Israel. (Stern was not charged with any crime and cooperated with the FBI’s investigation.) Sella subsequently met Pollard in a Washington, DC, park that Sella chose in order to minimize the risk of electronic surveillance. Sella then accepted Pollard’s offer to become a spy. Pollard later explained in his statement to the court that he decided to become a spy because, as a Naval intelligence researcher, he discovered that

despite the commonly held belief that the US provides ‘everything’ to the Israelis, the intelligence exchange…is anything but equitable…. The principal instruction I received from my supervisor was that we should only be prepared to give the Israelis enough information to get them paranoid but not enough, say, to let them figure out a countermeasure to a newly identified Soviet weapon system.

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    February 19, 1988.

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