The Pollard Case
To the Editor:
When I read Eliot A. Cohen’s review of Wolf Blitzer’s book, Territory of Lies, it sounded familiar [Books in Review, August]. The review contained character-damaging statements and many of the clichés distributed in a form letter by the U.S. Navy and Justice Departments in response to inquiries from concerned U.S. citizens. This was clarified when I learned that Mr. Cohen is actually an employee of the U.S. Navy. How could COMMENTARY condone such an apparent conflict of interest?
Blitzer’s book, based on two interviews with my son, Jonathan Pollard, is well-written; but it minimizes or omits some significant facts that are based on documented evidence:
- Why did Jonathan Pollard’s records disappear from the files of psychiatrist Neil Pauker?
- Why did the Grand Jury refuse to indict him on intent to damage the security of the U.S.? There was no evidence of intent.
- Why were the nine months of polygraph examinations disregarded? Three facts were thereby established: (1) that Jonathan was a Zionist ideologue; (2) that he was not a mercenary; and (3) that he harbored no anti-U.S. sentiments.
- Why did Caspar Weinberger poison the atmosphere through publicized statements to the effect that Jonathan made Israel too strong, and that he should be hanged? Weinberger uttered not a word about others like John Walker, Jr., Ronald Pelton, Jerry Whitworth, Edward Lee Howard, or Clayton Lonetree.
- Why was Jonathan held for ten-and-one-half months in a ward for the criminally insane? A letter dated February 15, 1989 from the Director of Prisons, Michael Quinlan, states: “Mr. Pollard was never classified or managed as a psychiatric patient.”
- Who determined the fantastic physical volume of data that was transmitted to Israel? That information was based on speculation, not on fact.
Wolf Blitzer suggests that he was “used” by the Navy to compromise Jonathan. His second interview with Jonathan was the basis for the extreme sentence. While that interview was authorized by the Navy, the censors “passed” the content of that interview, which was then used to condemn him.
Some months ago, I was interviewed by Nicholas Horrock, an editor of the Chicago Tribune. Two of his introductory statements were: Jonathan Pollard was the first American in the 20th century who was sent to jail for assisting an ally; and Anne Pollard was the first spouse of an ally-related spy to be sent to jail. His question was, why ?
Jonathan Pollard is the recipient of “special” treatment: he has been in solitary status for almost four years, assigned to an insane asylum, held in a level-6 prison in spite of level-3 status, far removed from his family, and forbidden to refute the defamatory statements expressed by Mr. Cohen. A veil of secrecy covers the true facts of the Pollard case; thus, the in-camera hearing on this case permits the government the privilege of unbridled rhetoric. It seems to me that the frequent explanations handed out by government spokesmen (for example, Mr. Cohen) suggest a sense of vulnerability on their part.
In actually hiding his true identity, Mr. Cohen in effect is disqualified as an impartial assessor of the Jonathan Pollard case as described in Blitzer’s book; and for that matter, any other reference to that case.
Notre Dame, Indiana
To the Editor:
Eliot A. Cohen’s review of Wolf Blitzer’s fictional account of my children, Anne Henderson Pollard and Jonathan Pollard, deserves a response. Mr. Cohen should understand that Wolf Blitzer had no exclusivity with regard to the Pollards or their families at any time; that his book is no more than a clumsy paste-up of newspaper allegations; and that Blitzer had nothing whatsoever to do with the Pollards’ sentences.
Blitzer’s motivation for his book is not, as Mr. Cohen wrote, “a sense of responsibility,” but a sense of personal greed, coupled with a deeply-rooted fear that he, Blitzer, would ever be mistaken for having any sense of loyalty to Israel. . . .
Mr. Cohen’s statement that Blitzer’s “account, based largely but by no means exclusively on long interviews with Pollard, as well as other principals in the case, goes a long way toward explaining what happened” is ludicrous. Jonathan Pollard’s two very short monitored and taped conversations with Blitzer were held to meaningless drivel, since I—and not Jonathan—had previously furnished Blitzer with the substance for his initial stories. That information, taken from court documents, disclosed what the material was allabout. That information was also included in my book about the case
Incidentally, in the year and a half since my book was published (here and in Israel), no person has ever challenged even one sentence as being inaccurate. Blitzer’s book, on the other hand, is described as a “work of fiction” by Jonathan Pollard, and “an ocean of lies” by Anne Pollard.
. . . Carefully distancing himself from any horrifying thought about the worth of a supreme sacrifice to save Jewish lives, . . . Blitzer feeds the guilty consciences of Diaspora Jews with self-justification for their cowardice.
When one recalls the groveling of French Diaspora Jews at the time of the Dreyfus affair, the eagerness of Mr. Cohen to echo the untruthful slanders and slurs heaped on the Pollards by modern-day American prosecutors, including Caspar Weinberger, becomes understandable—not tolerable or ethical, but understandable.
Mr. Cohen wastes a great deal of space pontificating about the “stupidity” of Israeli Jews in trying to stop terrorist killings, prepare for gas warfare, learn how to shoot down Soviet-Syrian missiles (armed with gas), and stop a combined assault of Syrian and Iraqi forces on the Golan Heights (all efforts Jonathan Pollard was involved in). His intellectual superiority is derived, of course, from his position on the other side of the globe.
Mr. Cohen explains why he was eager to suck up the false character-assassination stories about the Pollards by writing that he, like Blitzer, when faced with a decision that would save an Israeli life, would “maintain a special affection . . . but not allow it to impinge on [his] responsibilities, compromise [his] integrity, or twist [his] word of honor.”
Mr. Cohen is saying he would kiss the corpse with a special affection. But the kiss would not be responsible, honorable, or done with integrity.
Bernard R. Henderson
New York City
To the Editor:
Eliot A. Cohen’s review of Wolf Blitzer’s Territory of Lies leaves one with the impression that all withholding of intelligence information on the part of the U.S. in the Pollard case was justified. Mr. Cohen ignores the astonishing position taken in Caspar Weinberger’s memorandum that “a stronger Israel upsets the balance of power in the region and therefore makes armed conflict more likely.” With this as a guiding principle, we find that the U.S. apparently has been following a policy of providing Israel with enough information to keep it terrified of its neighbors’ potential but not enough to do anything about it. In the case of chemical weapons, for example, the report says that “The United States did not want to make such specific information available to Israel, fearing a preemptive strike [against Iraqi and Syrian installations].”
Israel is currently denied access to any and all intelligence relating to the confrontation states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. A major American theme for the past decade has been that arms sales to these same Arab states do not undermine the strategic balance with Israel. Yet . . . information which might help to ensure maintenance of the balance of power despite the massive U.S.-aided Arab arms build-up is not shared with Israel.
We also know that intelligence has been withheld deliberately in the past when it interfered with U.S. foreign policy. In 1970, for example, when Egypt violated the terms of a U.S.-backed cease-fire agreement, eventually doubling its missile batteries within the proscribed area, the U.S. ridiculed Israeli claims of violations. In point of fact the U.S. had positioned a spy satellite over the area and knew from the first day that the plan had fallen through.
One of the ironies of the Pollard affair is that Jonathan Pollard would not be languishing in an American prison today if he had followed the orders of Rafi Eitan, the Israeli who masterminded the operation. Eitan constantly badgered Pollard to provide information on U.S. spying against Israel, but Pollard refused. I have no doubt that if Pollard had followed Eitan’s orders at the time he would long ago have been exchanged for a U.S. spy operating against Israel.
While the damage to U.S. security is a matter of speculation and conjecture, the CIA has without question damaged Israeli intelligence. Blitzer mentions in passing an extremely detailed 1979 CIA report on Israel’s intelligence services. This report, which actually gives the names of agents stationed in various countries, “was discovered and circulated by Iranian revolutionaries at the ransacked U.S. embassy in Teheran.” Why in the world was it necessary to circulate such a document to embassies—not to mention embassies in the Middle East? This action by the U.S. was certainly more serious than the Pollard affair, but has simply been glossed over.
It is time for those of us in the United States who believe in a strong and free Israel to ask why Israel needed to rely on a Pollard mission to prepare for the next war.
Royal Oak, Michigan
Eliot A. Cohen writes:
Much of what Morris Pollard and Bernard R. Henderson write is directed at Wolf Blitzer, who can defend himself, or at issues which are irrelevant to my review (the conditions of Pollard’s imprisonment after sentencing, for example). Some of their remarks are purely ad hominem, and thus beside the point.
From 1985 to this past spring I did indeed teach at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (this summer I took up my current position at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard). I agreed to review the Blitzer book when asked to do so by the editors of COMMENTARY. NO one in the Navy or any other branch of the government had anything to do with it except for answering some factual questions that I put to them in order to corroborate Blitzer’s account. Those who know me know that I speak and write my own mind.
The quantity of material passed by Pollard to the Israelis is an official estimate, based on Pollard’s own account of his espionage: the fact that the Israelis had to set up an elaborate weekend photocopying operation in a rented apartment to handle his weekly product is revealing. The precise quantity of stolen material is not known, unfortunately, because the Israelis have refused to reveal to the U.S. government the identity of all of the stolen documents.
Pollard’s motives clearly had an ideological tinge, although, as I argued in the review, of a rather bizarre type. The bottom line, however, is that he committed a very serious crime, which did severe damage to the national security. This is not merely the conclusion of Caspar Weinberger (no friend of Israel, I quite agree) but of American officials in whose fairness and objectivity I have full confidence, and is supported by the facts uncovered by Blitzer and others. In this country, thank goodness, it takes considerably more than the say-so of a Cabinet secretary to land someone in jail for espionage.
I am neither surprised nor offended that Messrs. Pollard and Henderson are unhappy with Wolf Blitzer’s book on the Pollard affair, and unhappier yet with my review of it. In all likelihood they will have no use for my sympathy, but they have it nonetheless.
Aaron Lerner equates my belief that Pollard was a traitor, and that the Israelis were both wrong and foolish to have used him as a spy, with unequivocal support for American policy toward Israel over the last two decades. That is nonsense. One may disagree with American policy yet think Israeli behavior in the Pollard affair out of bounds on several counts. As I pointed out in my review, the United States does not share all of its intelligence with any ally, even Great Britain. Moreover, the Israelis (for equally valid reasons) do not share all their information or operational knowledge with us. The American and Israeli governments do not always have the same interests, or even view their common interests in the same way. Much of the sharing of knowledge that goes on is governed by agreements hammered out through tough bargaining, at which the Israelis are no novices. There is nothing inappropriate or shocking in this. To think that matters are otherwise is simply naive.
Some specific weaknesses in Mr. Lerner’s argument are as follows:
He is not citing Caspar Weinberger’s memorandum, but Wolf Blitzer’s account of it. It was not, in any event, on the basis of Weinberger’s admittedly flawed geopolitics that Pollard was convicted, but on the basis of his espionage.
Mr. Lerner calls Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan “confrontation states.” Yet Egypt has been at peace with Israel for a decade, Saudi Arabia has played only an indirect role (albeit at times an important one) in the Arab-Israeli wars since 1949, and Jordan has done its level best to avoid war with Israel for better than twenty years.
In 1970 the Israelis knew in very short order about the Egyptian violations of the truce accord; the United States quietly acknowledged these violations, and began making it up to the Israelis—adequately or not—through increased supplies of military hardware.
It is doubtful that Pollard could have obtained information on American intelligence operations directed against Israel, particularly agents, since such information is very closely held, and a request for it would have been suspicious indeed.
The CIA report captured by the Iranians, to which Mr. Lerner refers (and which has been published by the Iranians), was a relatively low-level (Secret, as opposed to Top Secret or Sensitive Compartmented Information) summary document. Indeed, I have been told by knowledgeable Israeli officials that it revealed a pretty poor understanding of the Israeli intelligence community. In no way was this comparable to the damage done by Pollard in his espionage against the United States.
The grievous flaw in Mr. Lerner’s position is its complete lack of perspective. Israel did not “need” a Pollard mission—which is why Israel’s civilian espionage agency, the Mossad, which was run by more level-headed people than Rafi Eitan, would probably not have used Pollard. When Pollard began his activities, Israel had seen its peace treaty with Egypt survive several crises, had extricated itself from Lebanon, and was reaping the benefits of the Iran-Iraq war, which kept two potential opponents occupied while reminding outsiders that the Arab-Israeli conflict was not the sole, or even the main, source of tension in the Middle East.
Moreover, the United States, which before 1967 had kept Israel at arm’s length, had embarked on wide-ranging strategic cooperation with Israel and was giving it billions of dollars in military and economic aid every year. Israel had, in fact, never been stronger. Then as now, Israel had real and serious long-term security problems, some of which are only dimly appreciated or not understood at all in the United States. Nonetheless, the kind of “backs-against-the-wall” sentiment evinced by people like Mr. Lerner, and perhaps accepted by Rafi Eitan, was both inappropriate and destructive. It remains so today.