No surprise here. Despite constant pressure from Israel and from some American Jewish groups, there is no chance that Jonathan Pollard will ever get out of prison in North Carolina, where he’s serving a life sentence for spying for Israel while a naval intelligence analyst. You can read a long 1999 takeout on the case — from the left — by Sy Hersh in The New Yorker:
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.”
That’s just for starters. Pollard’s advocates, and they are many, ingenuously claim that Pollard was, after all, spying for an ally. But in great power politics, there are no “allies,” only nations whose interests align, often temporarily, with ours. During the mid-80s, when Pollard was spying for Israel and being handsomely paid for it (he’s now an Israeli citizen), the Israelis were particularly susceptible to Soviet penetration and familial blackmail, and to say the U.S. intelligence community did not entirely trust them would be an understatement. Pollard’s activities not only exposed American methods, they almost certainly resulted in the roll-up — i.e. execution — of American intelligence assets in the Soviet bloc.
Here’s how the New York Times saw the case in 1998, when prime minister Netanyahu was pressing President Clinton to release Pollard:
At first glance, Mr. Pollard’s crimes might appear less reprehensible than other cold-war spying incidents. He gave information to an American ally that was already receiving American intelligence through official channels. But that argument, popular in Israel and among many American Jews, misses several critical points.
American and Israeli national interests are not identical and not all American intelligence is suitable for transfer to Israel. While serving as a naval intelligence analyst in the mid-1980′s, Mr. Pollard delivered boxes full of highly sensitive documents to his Israeli handlers. The material included secretly obtained details of Soviet weapons designs, American encryption codes and manuals, spy satellite photos and information gleaned from American electronic eavesdropping stations. It also included material gathered by covert American operatives.
Some of the material may later have fallen into Russian hands through K.G.B. operatives in Israel. Whoever saw these documents would know what America had learned about Soviet and Arab military forces and plans, and possibly how the information was gathered, endangering informants.
The full damage caused by Mr. Pollard remains unknown, in large part because of Israel’s inexplicable refusal to return the most sensitive documents he gave them. For years the Israeli Government denied any association with Mr. Pollard’s activities. For Mr. Netanyahu to seek his release as a condition for peace in the Middle East was unreasonable. Justice was served by Mr. Pollard’s conviction and imprisonment and should not be upended to placate his sympathizers in Israel.
When Clinton was considering Netanyahu’s request, CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign, spearheading a quiet but deadly serious revolt in the IC against Pollard’s release. Those sentiments haven’t changed.
President Obama is doing the right thing.