Three news bulletins catch the eye.
The first touches on Jonathan Pollard. We knew he was an American spy. When he was apprehended in 1984 it transpired that he had been sending American national secrets to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. It is nice that Israel was an ally of the United States, but that was not exonerative in U.S. vs. Pollard. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The news today is of his handler back then, Rafi Eitan of Mossad. What the hell–it’s all behind us now, Mr. Eitan is quoted as saying in an article in the Israeli paper, Yediot Aharonot. But historians should know that this guy Pollard was such a super spy, he fed Israel boatloads of absolutely accurate U.S. intelligence information. Information “of such high quality and accuracy, so good and so important to the country’s security [that] my desire, my appetite to get more and more material overcame me.” Eitan is saying that he was so elated by the results of Pollard’s sedition that he rose above any qualms about stealing U.S. information. It gets nicely complicated when the name of Aldrich Ames is brought in. Ames’s customer wasn’t Israel, but the Soviet Union. Ames worked from deep within the CIA and was also successful. When we finally caught on to Ames, he tried to blame Pollard for exposing the names of CIA agents. This didn’t work, but the handler, Rafi Eitan, now says that he is certain Pollard would have been given a lighter sentence if Ames’s collaborative treachery had been known at the time–though some of us have a problem figuring that one out.
A second bulletin is from Rome. An Italian parliamentary commission has concluded “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the attempted killing of the Pope in 1981 was indeed the work of the Soviet Union.
What happened, on May 13, 1981, in broad daylight in St. Peter’s Square, was a shot fired point blank at Pope John Paul II by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca. The attempted assassin was apprehended with the help of a nun in the tight circle around the Pope, and John Paul was rushed to a hospital where he very nearly died. The gunman gave out story after story, and went to jail–from which he was eventually released but then reimprisoned for having killed (this time successfully) someone else.
The whole world was seized by the event. Was this a KGB operation? The year was Cold War at its coldest, and the most arresting development of the season had been first the elevation of the Polish Karol Wojtyla to the papacy, and then the support he gave to the Polish Solidarity movement, the striking challenge to Soviet claims on the loyalty of the working class.
As the investigation proceeded, the claims of Soviet non-involvement hung largely on the question of Sergei Ivanov Antonov. He was a Bulgarian official accused of hiring Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union. He claimed to have been in his office at the time of the shooting, and he was acquitted by an Italian court.
Twenty-five years later, the commission appears to have established, by new analyses of the photographs of the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, that Antonov was indeed there, validating conclusions that he had been involved in the shooting. The missing proof that he was there has now been made available by new technology used to examine the photos. The Italian commission is busy investigating Italy’s Cold War security system, following up on material brought to the West by a Russian archivist who defected to Britain in 1992.
And so, as the years go by, we learn more and more about the penetration of our intelligence systems. In the matter of Israel, information was got “of such high quality and accuracy” that the handler’s desire “to get more and more material overcame me.”
Overcame his what? Overcame any doubts he had about encouraging a U.S. naval intelligence officer to betray his country, never mind that the vital material went to an ally. The rules don’t change according to whom we given stolen secrets to.
And, in another theater, intelligence failed first in protecting the Pope from an assassin, second, in identifying the agent of that plot. What the Soviets feared most, on November 22, 1963, was that someone might link a Soviet agency to the doings of Lee Harvey Oswald. They feared nearly as much two decades later, in the matter of the Pope.
The third item in the day’s news is that the Senate got around to approving the Patriot Act, with its provisions against terrorist infiltrations.