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The New Yorker Magazine | January 18, 1999, pp. 26-33 | SEYMOUR M. HERSH
Posted on 11/22/2001, 10:32:44 PM
The Case Against Johnathon Pollard
In the last decade, Jonathan Pollard, the American Navy employee who spied for Israel in the mid-nineteen-eighties and is now serving a life sentence, has become a cause celebre in Israel and among Jewish groups in the United States. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a consortium of fifty-five groups, has publicly called for Pollard’s release, arguing, in essence, that his crimes did not amount to high treason against the United States, because Israel was then and remains a close ally. Many of the leading religious organizations have also called for an end to Pollard’s imprisonment, among them the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Orthodox Union.
Pollard himself, now forty-seven, has never denied that he turned over a great deal of classified material to the Israelis, but he maintains that his sole motive was to protect Israeli security. “From the start of this affair, I never intended or agreed to spy against the United States,” he told United States District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson,Jr., in a memorandum submitted before his sentencing, in 1986. His goal, he said, was “to provide such information on the Arab powers and the Soviets that would permit the Israelis to avoid a repetition of the Yom Kippur War,” in 1973, when an attack by Egypt and Syria took Israel by surprise. “At no time did I ever compromise the names of any U.S. agents operating overseas, nor did I ever reveal any U.S. ciphers, codes, encipherment devices, classified military technology, the disposition and orders of U.S. forces . . . or communications security procedures,” Pollard added. “I never thought for a second that Israel’s gain would necessarily result in America’s loss. How could it?”
Pollard’s defenders use the same arguments today. In a recent op-ed article in the Washington Post, the Harvard Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz, who served as Pollard’s lawyer in the early nineteen-nineties, and three co-authors called for President Clinton to correct what they depicted as “this longstanding miscarriage of justice” in the Pollard case. There was nothing in Pollard’s indictment, they added, to suggest that he had “compromised the nation’s intelligence-gathering capabilities” or “betrayed worldwide intelligence data.”
In Israel, Pollard’s release was initially championed by the right, but it has evolved into a mainstream political issue. Early in the Clinton Administration, Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli Prime Minister, personally urged the President on at least two occasions to grant clemency. Both times, Clinton reviewed the evidence against Pollard and decided not to take action. But last October, at a crucial moment in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at the Wye River Conference Centers, in Maryland, he did tentatively agree to release Pollard, or so the Israeli government claimed. When the President’s acquiescence became publicly known, the American intelligence community responded immediately, with unequivocal anger. According to the Times, George J. Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, warned the President that he would be forced to resign from the agency if Pollard were to be released. Clinton then told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Pollard’s release would not be imminent, and ordered a formal review of the case.
The President’s willingness to consider clemency for Pollard so upset the intelligence community that its leaders took an unusual step: they began to go public. In early December, four retired admirals who had served as director of Naval Intelligence circulated an article, eventually published in the Washington Post, in which they argued that Pollard’s release would be “irresponsible” and a victory for what they depicted as a “clever public relations campaign.” Since then, sensitive details about the secrets Pollard gave away have been made public by CBS and NBC.
In the course of my own interviews for this account, the officials who knew the most about Jonathan Pollard made it clear that they were talking because they no longer had confidence that President Clinton would do what they believed was the right thing — keep Pollard locked up. Pollard, these officials told me, had done far more damage to American national security than was ever made known to the public; for example, he betrayed elements of four major American intelligence systems. In their eyes, there is no distinction between betraying secrets to an enemy, such as the Soviet Union, and betraying secrets to an ally.
Officials are loath to talk publicly about it, but spying on allies is a fact of life: the United States invests billions annually to monitor the communications of its friends. Many American embassies around the world contain a clandestine intercept facility that targets diplomatic communications. The goal is not only to know the military and diplomatic plans of our friends but also to learn what intelligence they may be receiving and with whom they share information. “If a friendly state has friends that we don’t see as friends,” one senior official explained, sensitive intelligence that it should not possess — such as that supplied by Pollard — “can spread to others.” Many officials said they were convinced that information Pollard sold to the Israelis had ultimately wound up in the hands of the Soviet Union.
JONATHAN JAY POLLARD was born in 1954 and grew up as the youngest of three children in South Bend, Indiana; his father, Dr. Morris Pollard, was an award-winning microbiologist who taught at Notre Dame. The young boy did not fit in well in South Bend, and members of his family have described his years in public school there as hellish:
He made constant complaints of being picked on and, in high school, beaten up, because he was Jewish. One of the boy’s happiest times, the family told journalists after his arrest, came when, at the age of sixteen, he attended a summer camp for gifted children in Israel. He talked then of serving in the Israeli Army, but instead he finished high school and went on to Stanford University. His Stanford classmates later recalled that he was full of stories about his ties to Israeli intelligence and the Israeli Army. He also was said to have been a heavy drug and alcohol user.
He graduated in 1976, and in the next three years he attended several graduate schools without getting a degree. He applied for a Job with the C.I.A. but was turned down when the agency concluded, after a lie-detector test and other investigations, that he was “a blabbermouth,” as one official put it, and had misrepresented his drug use. Pollard then tried for a job with the Navy, and obtained a civilian position as a research analyst in the Field Operational Intelligence Office, in Suitland, Maryland. The job required high-level security clearances, and the Navy, which knew nothing about the C.I.A.’s assessment, eventually gave them to Pollard. His initial assignments dealt with the study of surface-ships systems in non-Communist countries, and, according to Pollard’s superiors, his analytical work was excellent. While at Suitland, however, he repeatedly told colleagues far-fetched stories about ties he had with Mossad, the Israeli foreign-intelligence agency, and about his work as an operative in the Middle East.
Pollard’s bragging and storytelling didn’t prevent his immediate supervisors from recognizing his competence as an analyst. He was given many opportunities for promotion, but at least one of them he sabotaged. In the early nineteen-eighties, Lieutenant Commander David G. Muller, Jr., who ran an analytical section at Suitland, had an opening on his staff and summoned Pollard for an interview. “I had respect for him,” Muller recalled recently. “He knew a lot about Navy hardware and a lot about the Middle East.” An early-Monday-morning interview was set up. “Jay blew in the first thing Monday,” Muller recounted. “He looked as if he hadn’t slept or shaved. He proceeded to tell me that on Friday evening his then fiancee, Anne Henderson, had been kidnapped by I.R.A. operatives in Washington, and he’d spent the weekend chasing the kidnappers.” Pollard said that he had managed to rescue his fiancee “only in the wee hours of Monday morning” — just before his appointment. Of course, Pollard did not get the job, Muller said, but he still wishes that he had warned others. “I ought to have gone to the security people,” Muller, who is retired, told me, “and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s a wacko.’ ”
A career American intelligence officer who has been actively involved for years in assessing the damage caused by Pollard told me that Pollard had been desperately broke during this period: “He had credit-card debts, loan debts, debts on rent, furniture, cars.” He was also borrowing heavily from his colleagues, in part to forestall possible garnishment of his wages — an action that could lead to loss of his top-secret clearances. Despite his chronic financial problems, the intelligence officer said, Pollard was constantly spending money on meals in expensive restaurants, on drugs, and on huge bar bills.
In late 1983, shortly after the terrorist bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, the Navy set up a high-powered Anti-Terrorist Alert Center at Suitland, and in June, 1984, Pollard was assigned to that unit’s Threat Analysis Division. He had access there to the most up-to-date intelligence in the American government. By that summer, however, he had been recruited by Israeli intelligence. He was arrested a year and a half later, in November of 1985.
Pollard was paid well by the Israelis: he received a salary that eventually reached twenty-five hundred dollars a month, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash disbursements for hotels, meals, and even jewelry. In his pre-sentencing statement to Judge Robinson, Pollard depicted the money as a benefit that was forced on him. “I did accept money for my services,” he acknowledged, but only “as a reflection of how well I was doing my job.” He went on to assert that he had later told his controller, Rafi Eitan, a longtime spy who at the time headed a scientific-intelligence unit in Israel, that “I not only intended to repay all the money I’d received but, also, was going to establish a chair at the Israeli General Staff’s Intelligence Training Center outside Tel Aviv.”
Charles S. Leeper, the assistant United States attorney who prosecuted Pollard, challenged his statement that money had not motivated him. In a publicly filed sentencing memorandum, Leeper said that Pollard was known to have received fifty thousand dollars in cash from his Israeli handlers and to have been told that thirty thousand more would be deposited annually in a foreign bank account. Pollard had made a commitment to spy for at least ten years, the memorandum alleged, and “stood to receive an additional five hundred and forty thousand dollars ($540,000) over the expected life of the conspiracy.”
There was no such public specificity, however, when it came to the top-secret materials that Pollard had passed on to Israel. In mid-1986, he elected to plea-bargain rather than face a trial. The government agreed with alacrity: no state secrets would have to be revealed, especially about the extent of Israeli espionage. After the plea bargain, the Justice Department supplied the court with a classified sworn declaration signed by Caspar W. Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, which detailed, by categories, some of the intelligence systems that had been compromised. Judge Robinson, for his part, said nothing in public about the scope of the materials involved in the case, and merely noted at the end of a lengthy sentencing hearing, in March, 1987, that he had “read all of the material once, twice, thrice, if you will.” He then sentenced Pollard to life in prison. Pollard’s wife, Anne (they had married in 1985), who had been his accomplice, was convicted of unauthorized possession and transmission of classified defense documents and was given a five-year sentence.
Once in jail, Pollard became increasingly fervent in proclaiming his support for Israel. In the Washington Post last summer, the journalist Peter Perl wrote that even Pollard’s friends saw him as “obsessed with vindication, consumed by the idea that he is a victim of anti-semitism and that Israel can rescue him through diplomatic and political pressure.” Pollard has also turned increasingly to Orthodox Judaism. He divorced his wife after her release from prison, in 1990, and in 1994 proclaimed that, under Jewish law, he had been married in prison to a Toronto schoolteacher named Elaine Zeitz. Esther Pollard, as she is now known, is an indefatigable ally, who passionately believes that her husband was wrongfully accused of harming the United States and was therefore wrongfully imprisoned. “This is the kind of issue I feel very strongly concerns every Jew and every decent, law-abiding citizen,” she told an interviewer shortly after the marriage. “The issues are much bigger than Jonathan and myself…. Like it or not, we are writing a page of Jewish history.”
ESTHER POLLARD and her husband s other supporters are mistaken in believing that Jonathan Pollard caused no significant damage to American national security. Furthermore, according to senior members of the American intelligence community, Pollard’s argument that he acted solely from idealistic motives and provided Israel only with those documents which were needed for its defense was a sham designed to mask the fact that he was driven to spy by his chronic need for money.
Before Pollard’s plea bargain, the government had been preparing a multi-count criminal indictment that included-along with espionage, drug, and tax-fraud charges — allegations that before his arrest Pollard had used classified documents in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the governments of South Africa, Argentina, and Taiwan to participate in an arms deal for anti-Communist Afghan rebels who were then being covertly supported by the Reagan Administration. F.B.I. investigators later determined that in the fall of 1985 Pollard had also consulted with three Pakistanis and an Iranian in his efforts to broker arms. (The foreigners were quietly deported within several months of his arrest.)
Had Pollard’s case gone to trial, one of the government’s major witnesses would have been a journalist named Kurt Lohbeck, who had a checkered past. He had served seven months in prison after being convicted of passing a bad check in New Mexico in 1977, but by 1985 he was under contract to the CBS Evening News. Lohbeck, who now lives in Albuquerque — (he received a full pardon from the governor of New Mexico two years ago), acknowledged in a telephone interview that he was prepared to testify, if necessary, about his involvement in Pollard’s unsuccessful efforts in 1985 to broker arms sales for the rebels in the Afghan war. At one meeting with a foreign diplomat, Lohbeck said, Pollard posed as a high-level C.I.A. operative. Lohbeck, who was then CBS’s main battlefield correspondent in the Afghan war, told me that Pollard had provided him, and thus CBS, with a large number of classified American documents concerning the war. He also told me that Pollard had never discussed Israel with him or indicated any special feelings for the state. “I never heard anything political from Jay,” Lohbeck added, “other than that he tried to portray himself as a Reaganite. Not a word about Israel. Jay’s sole interest was in making a lot of money.”
Lohbeck went on to say that he had also been prepared to testify, if asked, about Pollard’s drug use. “Jay used cocaine heavily, and had no compunction about doing it in public. He’d just lay it in lines on the table.” In 1985, Lohbeck made similar statements, government officials said, to the F.B.I.
Pollard, told by me of Lohbeck’s assertions, sent a response from a jail cell in North Carolina: “My relationship with Lohbeck is extremely complicated. I was never indicted for anything I did with him. Remember that.”
The documents that Pollard turned over to Israel were not focussed exclusively on the product of American intelligence — its analytical reports and estimates. They also revealed how America was able to learn what it did — a most sensitive area of intelligence defined as “sources and methods.” Pollard gave the Israelis vast amounts of data dealing with specific American intelligence systems and how they worked. For example, he betrayed details of an exotic capability that American satellites have of taking off-axis photographs from high in space. While orbiting the earth in one direction, the satellites could photograph areas that were seemingly far out of range. Israeli nuclear-missile sites and the like, which would normally be shielded from American satellites, would thus be left exposed, and could be photographed. “We monitor the Israelis,” one intelligence expert told me, “and there’s no doubt the Israelis want to prevent us from being able to surveil their country.” The data passed along by Pollard included detailed information on the various platforms — in the air, on land, and at sea — used by military components of the National Security Agency to intercept Israeli military, commercial, and diplomatic communications.
At the time of Pollard’s spying, select groups of American sailors and soldiers trained in Hebrew were stationed at an N.S.A. listening post near Harrogate, England, and at a specially constructed facility inside the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, where they intercepted and translated Israeli signals. Other interceptions came from an unmanned N.S.A. listening post in Cyprus. Pollard’s handing over of the data had a clear impact, the expert told me, for “we could see the whole process” — of intelligence collection — “slowing down.” It also hindered the United States’ ability to recruit foreign agents. Another senior official commented, with bitterness, “The level of penetration would convince any self-respecting human source to look for other kinds of work.”
A number of officials strongly suspect that the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard’s material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Other officials go further, and say there was reason to believe that secret information was exchanged for Jews working in highly sensitive positions in the Soviet Union. A significant percentage of Pollard’s documents, including some that described the techniques the American Navy used to track Soviet submarines around the world, was of practical importance only to the Soviet Union. One longtime C.I.A. officer who worked as a station chief in the Middle East said he understood that “certain elements in the Israeli military had used it” — Pollard’s material — “to trade for people they wanted to get out,” including Jewish scientists working in missile technology and on nuclear issues. Pollard’s spying came at a time when the Israeli government was publicly committed to the free flow of Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union. The officials stressed the fact that they had no hard evidence — no “smoking gun,” in the form of a document from an Israeli or a Soviet archive — to demonstrate the link between Pollard, Israel, and the Soviet Union, but they also said that the documents that Pollard had been directed by his Israeli handlers to betray led them to no other conclusion.
High-level suspicions about Israeli-Soviet collusion were expressed as early as December, 1985, a month after Pollard’s arrest, when William J. Casey, the late C.I.A. director, who was known for his close ties to the Israeli leadership, stunned one of his station chiefs by suddenly complaining about the Israelis breaking the “ground rules.” The issue arose when Casey urged increased monitoring of the Israelis during an otherwise routine visit, I was told by the station chief, who is now retired. “He asked if I knew anything about the Pollard case,” the station chief recalled, and he said that Casey had added, “For your information, the Israelis used Pollard to obtain our attack plan against the U.S.S.R. all of it. The coordinates, the firing locations, the sequences. And for guess who? The Soviets.” (boldface mine – Ronin)Casey had then explained that the Israelis had traded the Pollard data for Soviet emigres. “How’s that for cheating?” he had asked.
In subsequent interviews, former C.I.A. colleagues of Casey’s were unable to advance his categorical assertion significantly. Duane Clarridge, then in charge of clandestine operations in Europe, recalled that the C.I.A. director had told him that the Pollard material “goes beyond just the receipt in Israel of this stuff.” But Casey, who had many close ties to the Israeli intelligence community, hadn’t told Clarridge how he knew what he knew. Robert Gates, who became deputy C.I.A. director in April, 1986, told me that Casey had never indicated to him that he had specific information about the Pollard material arriving in Moscow. “The notion that the Russians may have gotten some of the stuff has always been a viewpoint,” Gates said, but not through the bartering of emigres. “The only view I heard expressed was that it was through intelligence operations” — the K.G.B.
In any event, there was enough evidence, officials told me, to include a statement about the possible flow of intelligence to the Soviet Union in Defense Secretary Weinberger’s top-secret declaration that was presented to the court before Pollard’s sentencing. There was little doubt, I learned from an official who was directly involved, that Soviet intelligence had access to the most secret information in Israel. “The question,” the official said, “was whether we could prove it was Pollard’s material that went over the aqueduct. We couldn’t get there, so we suggested” in the Weinberger affidavit that the possibility existed. Caution was necessary, the official added, for “fear that the other side would say that ‘these people are seeing spies under the bed.’ ”
The Justice Department further informed Judge Robinson, in a publicly filed memorandum, that “numerous” analyses of Soviet missile systems had been sold by Pollard to Israel, and that those documents included “information from human sources whose identity could be inferred by a reasonably competent intelligence analyst. Moreover, the identity of the authors of these classified publications” was clearly marked.
A retired Navy admiral who was directly involved in the Pollard investigation told me, “There is no question that the Russians got a lot of the Pollard stuff. The only question is how did it get there?” The admiral, like Robert Gates, had an alternative explanation. He pointed out that Israel would always play a special role in American national security affairs. “We give them truckloads of stuff in the normal course of our official relations,” the admiral said. “And they use it very effectively. They do things worth doing, and they will go places where we will not go, and do what we do not dare to do.”
Nevertheless, he said, it was understood that the Soviet intelligence services had long since penetrated Israel. (One important Soviet spy, Shabtai Kalmanovitch, whose job at one point was to ease the resettlement of Russian emigrants in Israel, was arrested in 1987.) It was reasonably assumed in the aftermath of Pollard, the admiral added, that Soviet spies inside Israel had been used to funnel some of the Pollard material to Moscow.
A full accounting of the materials provided by Pollard to the Israelis has been impossible to obtain: Pollard himself has estimated that the documents would create a stack six feet wide, six feet long, and ten feet high. Rafi Eitan, the Israeli who controlled the operation, and two colleagues of his attached to the Israeli diplomatic delegation — Irit Erb and Joseph Yagur — were named as unindicted co-conspirators by the Justice Department. In the summer of 1984, Eitan brought in Colonel Aviem Sella, an Air Force hero, who led Israel’s dramatic and successful 1981 bombing raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. (Sella was eventually indicted, in absentia, on three counts of espionage.) Eitan’s decision to order Sella into the case is considered by many Americans to have been a brilliant stroke: the Israeli war hero was met with starry eyes by Pollard, a chronic wannabe.
Yagur, Erb, and Sella were in Washington when Pollard was first seized by the F.B.I., in November, 1985, but they quickly left the country, never to return. During one period, Pollard had been handing over documents to them almost weekly, and they had been forced to rent an apartment in northwest Washington, where they installed a high-speed photocopying machine. “Safe houses and special Xeroxes?” an American career intelligence officer said, despairingly, concerning the Pollard operation. “This was not the first guy they’d recruited.” In the years following Pollard’s arrest and confession, the Israeli government chose not to cooperate fully with the F.B.I. and Justice Department investigation, and only a token number of the Pollard documents have been returned. It was not until last May that the Israeli government even acknowledged that Pollard had been its operative.
In fact, it is widely believed that Pollard was not the only one in the American government spying for Israel. During his year and a half of spying, his Israeli handlers requested specific documents, which were identified only by top-secret control numbers. After much internal assessment, the government’s intelligence experts concluded that it was “highly unlikely,” in the words of a Justice Department official, that any of the other American spies of the era would have had access to the specific control numbers. “There is only one conclusion,” the expert told me. The Israelis “got the numbers from somebody else in the U.S. government.”
THE men and women of the National Security Agency live in a world of chaotic bleeps, buzzes, and whistles, and talk to each other about frequencies, spectrums, modulation, and bandwidth — the stuff of Tom Clancy novels. They often deal with signals intelligence, or SIGINT, and their world is kept in order by an in-house manual known as the RASIN an acronym for radio-signal notations. The manual, which is classified “top-secret Umbra,” fills ten volumes, is constantly updated, and lists the physical parameters of every known signal. Pollard took it all. “It’s the Bible,” one former communications-intelligence officer told me. “It tells how we collect signals anywhere in the world.” The site, frequency, and significant features of Israeli communications — those that were known and targeted by the N.S.A. — were in the RASIN; so were all the known communications links used by the Soviet Union.
The loss of the RASIN was especially embarrassing to the Navy, I was told by the retired admiral, because the copy that Pollard photocopied belonged to the Office of Naval Intelligence. “He went into our library, found we had an out-of-date version, requested a new one, and passed it on,” the officer said. “I was surprised we even had it.”
The RASIN theft was one of the specifics cited in Defense Secretary Weinberger’s still secret declaration to the court before Pollard’s sentencing hearing. In fact, the hearing’s most dramatic moment came when Pollard’s attorney, Richard A. Hibey, readily acknowledged his client’s guilt but argued that the extent of the damage to American national security did not call for the imposition of a maximum sentence.
“I would ask you to think about the Secretary of Defense’s affidavit, as it related to only one thing,” Judge Robinson interjected, “with reference to one particular category of publication, and I fail to see how you can make that argument.” He invited Hibey to approach the bench, along with the Justice Department attorneys, and the group spent a few moments reviewing what government officials told me was Weinberger’s account of the importance of the RAISIN. One Justice Department official, recalling those moments with obvious pleasure, said that the RASIN was the ninth item on the Weinberger damage-assessment list. After the bench conference, Hibey made no further attempt to minimize the national-security damage caused by its theft. (Citing national security, Hibey refused to discuss the case for this article.)
The ten volumes of the RASIN were available on a need-to-know basis inside the N.S.A. “I’ve never seen the monster,” a former senior watch officer at an N.S.A. intercept site in Europe told me, but added that he did supervise people who constantly used it, and he described its function in easy-to-understand terms:
“It is a complete catalogue of what the United States was listening to, or could listen to — information referred to in the N.S.A. as ‘parametric data.’ It tells you everything you want to know about a particular signal — when it was first detected and where, whom it was first used by, what kind of entity, frequency, wavelength, or band length it has. When you’ve copied a signal and don’t know what it is, the RASIN manual gives you a description.” A senior intelligence official who consults regularly with the N.S.A. on technical matters subsequently told me that another issue involved geometry.
A senior intelligence official who consults regularly with the N.S.A. on technical matters subsequently told me that another issue involved geometry. The RASIN, he explained, had been focussed in particular on the Soviet Union and its thousands of high-frequency, or shortwave, communications, which had enabled Russian military units at either end of the huge land mass to communicate with each other. Those signals “bounced” off the ionosphere and were often best intercepted thousands of miles from their point of origin. If, as many in the American intelligence community suspected, the Soviet communications experts had been able to learn which of their signals were being monitored, and where, they could relocate the signal and force the N.S.A. to invest man-hours and money to try to recapture it. Or, more likely, the Soviets could continue to communicate in a normal fashion but relay false and misleading information.
Pollard’s betrayal of the RASIN put the N.S.A. in the position of having to question or reevaluate all of its intelligence collecting. “We aren’t perfect,” the career intelligence officer explained to me. “We’ve got holes in our coverage, and this” — the loss of the RASIN — tells where the biases and the weaknesses are. It’s how we get the job done, and how we will get the job done.”
“What a wonderful insight into how we think, and exactly how we’re exploiting Soviet communications!” the retired admiral exclaimed. “It’s a how-to-do-it book — the fireside cookbook of cryptology. Not only the analyses but the facts of how we derived our analyses. Whatever recipe you want.”
Pollard, asked about the specific programs he compromised, told me, “As far as SIGINT information is concerned, the government has consistently lied in its public version of what I gave the Israelis.”
In the mid-nineteen-eighties, the daily report from the Navy’s Sixth Fleet Ocean Surveillance Information Facility (FOSIF) in Rota, Spain, was one of America’s Cold War staples. A top-secret document filed every morning at 0800 Zulu time (Greenwich Mean Time), it reported all that had gone on in the Middle East during the previous twenty-four hours, as recorded by the N.S.A.’s most sophisticated monitoring devices.
The reports were renowned inside Navy commands for their sophistication and their reliability; they were based, as the senior managers understood it, on data supplied both by intelligence agents throughout the Middle East and by the most advanced technical means of intercepting Soviet military communications. The Navy’s intelligence facility at Rota shared space with a huge N.S.A. intercept station, occupied by more than seven hundred linguists and cryptographers, which was responsible for monitoring and decoding military and diplomatic communications all across North Africa. Many at Rota spent hundreds of hours a month listening while locked in top-secret compartments aboard American ships, aircraft, and submarines operating in the Mediterranean.
The Navy’s primary targets were the ships, the aircraft, and, most important, the nuclear-armed submarines of the Soviet Union on patrol in the Mediterranean. Those submarines, whose nuclear missiles were aimed at United States forces, were constantly being tracked; they were to be targeted and destroyed within hours if war broke out.
Pollard’s American interrogators eventually concluded that in his year and a half of spying he had provided the Israelis with more than a year’s worth of the daily FOSIF reports from Rota. Pollard himself told the Americans that at one point in 1985 the Israelis had nagged him when he missed several days of work because of illness and had failed to deliver the FOSIF reports for those days. One of his handlers, Joseph Yagur, had complained twice about the missed messages and had asked him to find a way to retrieve them. Pollard told his American interrogators that he had never missed again.
The career intelligence officer who helped to assess the Pollard damage has come to view Pollard as a serial spy, the Ted Bundy of the intelligence world. “Pollard gave them every message for a whole year,” the officer told me recently, referring to the Israelis. “They could analyze it” — the intelligence — “message by message, and correlate it. They could not only piece together our sources and methods but also learn how we think, and how we approach a problem. All of a sudden, there is no mystery. These are the things we can’t change. You got this, and you got us by the balls.” In other words, the Rota reports, when carefully studied, gave the Israelis “a road map on how to circumvent” the various American collection methods and shield an ongoing military operation. The reports provide guidance on “how to keep us asleep, thinking all is working well,” he added. “They tell the Israelis how to raid Tunisia without tipping off American intelligence in advance. That is damage that is persistent and severe.”
NOT every document handed over by Pollard dealt with signals intelligence. DIAL-COINS is the acronym for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Community On-Line Intelligence System, which was one of the government’s first computerized information-retrieval-network systems. The system, which was comparatively primitive in the mid-nineteen-eighties — it used an 8088 operating chip and thermafax paper — could not be accessed by specific issues or key words but spewed out vast amounts of networked intelligence data by time frame. Nevertheless, DIAL-COINS contained all the intelligence reports filed by Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine attaches in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. One official who had been involved with it told me recently, “It was full of great stuff, particularly in HUMINT — human intelligence. Many Americans who went to the Middle East for business or political reasons agreed, as loyal citizens, to be debriefed by American defense attaches after their visits. They were promised anonymity — many had close friends inside Israel and the nearby Arab states who would be distressed by their collaboration — and the reports were classified. “It’s who’s talking to whom,” the officer said. “Like handing you the address book of the spooks for a year.”
Government investigators discovered that one of the system’s heaviest users in 1984 and 1985 was Jonathan Pollard. He had all the necessary clearances and necessary credentials to gain access to the classified Pentagon library; he also understood that librarians, even in secret libraries, are always eager to help, and in one instance he relied on the library security guards. With some chagrin, officials involved in the Pollard investigation recounted that Pollard had once collected so much data that he needed a handcart to move the papers to his car, in a nearby parking lot, and the security guards held the doors for him.
Pollard also provided the Israelis with what is perhaps the most important day-to-day information in signals intelligence: the National SIGINT Requirements List, which is essentially a compendium of the tasks, and the priority of those tasks, given to various N.S.A. collection units around the world. Before a bombing mission, for example, a United States satellite might be re-deployed, at enormous financial cost, to provide instantaneous electronic coverage of the target area. In addition, N.S.A. field stations would be ordered to begin especially intensive monitoring of various military units in the target nation. Special N.S.A. coverage would also be ordered before an American covert military unit, such as the Army’s Delta Force or a Navy Seal team, was inserted into hostile territory or hostile waters. Sometimes the N.S.A.’s requests were less comprehensive: a European or Middle Eastern business suspected of selling chemical arms to a potential adversary might be placed on the N.S.A. “watch list” and its faxes, telexes, and other communications carefully monitored. The Requirements List is “like a giant to-do list,” a former N.S.A. operative told me. “If a customer” — someone in the intelligence community — “asked for specific coverage, it would be on a list that is updated daily.” That is, the target of the coverage would be known.
“If we’re going to bomb Iraq, we will shift the system,” a senior specialist subsequently told me. “It’s a tipoff where the American emphasis is going to be.” With the List, the specialist added, the Israelis “could see us move our collection systems” prior to military action, and eventually come to understand how the United States Armed Forces “change our emphasis.” In other words, he added, Israel “could make our intelligence system the prime target” and hide whatever was deemed necessary. “The damage goes past Jay’s arrest,” the specialist said, “and could extend up to today.”
Israel made dramatic use of the Pollard material on October 1, 1985, seven weeks before his arrest, when its Air Force bombed the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunisia, killing at least sixty-seven people. The United States, which was surprised by the operation, eventually concluded that the Israeli planners had synergistically combined the day-to-day insights of the SIGINT Requirements List with the strategic intelligence of the FOSIF reports and other data that Pollard provided to completely outwit our government’s huge collection apparatus in the Middle East. Even Pollard himself, the senior official told me, “had no idea what he gave away.” The results of President Clinton’s requested review of the Pollard case by officials in the intelligence community and other interested parties were to be presented to the White House by January 11th. A former Justice Department official told me, “Nobody can believe that any President would have the gall to release this kind of spy.” But as the report was being prepared the nature of the questions that the White House was referring to the Justice Department convinced some intelligence officials that Clinton was considering a compromise, such as commuting Pollard’s life sentence to twenty-five years in prison.
The queries about commutation were coming not from Roger Adams, the President’s pardon attorney, but from Charles F. C. Ruff, the White House counsel. “Pollard would get half a loaf,” one distraught career intelligence official told me. The deal believed to be under consideration would provide for his release, with time off for good behavior, in the summer of 2002. The solution had a certain “political beauty,” the official added — in the eyes of the White House. “Pollard doesn’t get out right away, and the issue doesn’t cause any trouble. And getting the United States to bend would be a serious victory for Israel.”
A senior intelligence official whose agency was involved in preparing the report for the White House told me, somewhat facetiously, that he would drop all objections to Pollard’s immediate release if the Israeli government would answer two questions: “First, give us a list of what you’ve got, and, second, tell us what you did with it.” Such answers are unlikely to be forthcoming. The Israeli government has acknowledged that Pollard was indeed spying on its behalf but has refused — despite constant entreaties — to provide the United States with a complete list of the documents that were turned over to it.
Some members of the intelligence community view themselves today as waging a dramatic holding action against a President who they believe is eager to split the difference with the Israelis on Pollard’s fate. They see Bill Clinton as a facilitator who would not hesitate to trade Pollard to the Israelis if he thought that would push Israel into a peace settlement and result in a foreign-policy success. The officials emphasize that they support Clinton’s efforts to resolve the Middle East crisis but do not think it is appropriate to use Pollard as a bargaining chip.
Adding to their dismay, some officials made clear, is the fact that Clinton himself, having studied the case years ago, when he was considering Yitzhak Rabin’s request for clemency, knows as much as anyone in the United States government about the significance of Pollard’s treachery. One informed official described a private moment at the Wye peace summit when George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, warned the President that Pollard’s release would enrage and demoralize the intelligence community. “What he got back,” the official told me, “was ‘Nah, don’t worry about it. It’ll blow over.’ ”