Newly revealed CIA document shows Jonathan Pollard was asked to get intel on Israel
The convicted Israeli-American spy’s statements under questioning after his imprisonment in the U.S. have been published by the National Security Archive in Washington.
In the first half of the 1980’s, Rafi Eitan, the head of “Lekem” (The Bureau of Scientific Relations in the Defense Ministry), and a former Shin Bet Security Services and Mossad man who would later become a government minister, asked an agent of the bureau, Jonathan Pollard, to provide him with “dirt” on Israeli politicians, according to the convicted Israeli-American spy’s statements under questioning after his imprisonment in the United States.
Pollard has been imprisoned in a U.S. jail for the past 27 years, after receiving a life sentence in 1987 for spying on behalf of Israel. Before that, he worked as a civilian analyst for U.S. Navy intelligence.
Pollard’s detailed confession, verified by polygraph tests, was published on Friday by the National Security Archive in Washington, a private research and documentation institute associated with George Washington University in the American capital.
Pollard’s confession was included in a damage-control document, 160 pages long, that was compiled by the Pentagon after he was found guilty and sentenced to life.
Until now, only a highly censored version of this document has been published, but the National Security Archive succeeded in its battle to lift censorship on many of the sections.
The newly released information reveals Pollard told his interrogators that Eitan asked him to provide information that would help identify Israelis who provide information to the United States. The investigators concluded that his collaboration with them was sincere and complete.
In their opinion, Pollard agreed to the requests of his handlers in Israel, but went even further and provided additional material on his own initiative. He passed Israel thousands of documents, including ones attributed the highest levels of classification – higher even than “top secret.”
Eitan asked Pollard for psychological analyses of Israeli figures that were written by CIA experts and other dirt on senior Israeli officials, as well as information that could help locate Israeli molesn other words, Israelis that Eitan believes leaked information to Americans. In the accepted jargon of the security establishment, “disreputables” or “dirt-throwers” which Pollard reconstructed from his conversation with Eitan, is better known as “black material.”
Pollard says – and the report highlights the corroboration of his story with the polygraph test – that Yossi Yagur, his operator on behalf of the Bureau of Scientific Relations, under the guise of his official position as Consul of Sciences in New York, stood behind Eitan during a meeting in Paris and shook his head emphatically in response to the requests. Afterwards, while Eitan was not present, Yagur told Pollard the operation would stop if he acceded to Eitan’s requests.
Yagur was a state employee, while Eitan, whose hopes of becoming the head of the Mossad were shattered, and who served as an adviser on counterterrorism under Begin and Shamir – while at the same time serving as head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations – was close to Ariel Sharon. The paragraph that summarizes the affair determines whether Pollard did in fact transfer “dirt” or avoided it, was censored so that the question remains unanswered.
The authors of the damage control document determined that Pollard had endangered sources and methods of the U.S. intelligence community, as well as intelligence cooperation and state interests. Another risk was inherent in the passing of classified intelligence from Israel to other countries. Among other things, information from Pollard helped Israel in planning a 1985 attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis (Operation Wooden Leg).
The findings of the document included the following:
• Since he was a youth, Pollard suffered from problems of emotional and mental stability. He often suffered from hallucinations (he boasted, as a student, that he was a Mossad agent, waving a gun) and was not accepted to a CIA program because of his use of soft drugs.
• Eitan advised him to resign from naval intelligence, so he would not have to take a polygraph test.
• Joseph Yagur, his handler at Lekem under the guise of the scientific consul in New York, told Pollard that the highest-ranking officials in the Israeli government knew and appreciated his material.
• Pollard told his interrogators that if he had not been captured he would have tried to be accepted to the research unit of the State Department, where no polygraph test was required for entry. In his new role, he would have been exposed to classified material and maybe also have served as an agent of influence.
• A top priority for his handlers was intelligence on nuclear weapons in Arab states and Pakistan. Following that were the following tasks, in descending order of priority: special weapons capability, such as chemical and biological weapons, of those states; Soviet warplanes; the Soviet air defense system (ground-to-air missiles); Soviet air-to-air missiles and ground-to-air missiles; and the military organization, forces, deployment and readiness of Arab states.
Pollard rationalized his motivation saying he was trying to help Israel win its next war. U.S. intelligence plainly commented that the Israel Defense Forces would have easily achieved victory without Pollard’s help.
The ongoing negligence in supervising Pollard is clear in light of his behavior, which often raised cause for concern but not sufficiently to lead to the termination of his service. He used cannabis and cocaine, got involved in a bar brawl in which he identified himself as an intelligence agent, and became entangled in financial problems on the eve of his encounter with Israeli agents that offered him a generous monthly wage in return for information.
Among the falsehoods Pollard told his coworkers over the years was that he was stationed in Syria by the CIA, captured, and tortured. He claimed to have extensive connections in South Africa as his father was the head of the CIA delegation in that African nation. His colleagues ignored his eccentricities because he was an intelligent and creative research officer. Despite the fact that he was diagnosed as a compulsive liar by a navy psychologist who recommended he be transferred to work in unclassified fields, he was promoted again and again, gaining access to classified material outside his field of expertise.
Later on, a psychiatrist deemed him fit for duty despite that he ran the risk of divulging classified information, but not of espionage. He recommended Pollard undergo psychiatric treatment but Pollard ignored this. Pollard was sent to South Africa to receive information from the military attaché stationed there at the time. He provided the attaché with classified information, violating explicit orders. This led to an investigation into his conduct codenamed “Swan Song,” but the file was closed and no disciplinary action was taken.
Becoming an Israeli agent
Pollard’s debriefing file describes how he became an Israeli agent, starting with his meetings – held in Hebrew – with Colonel Aviam Sela, one of the Israeli Air Force’s top officers and described as a commander “groomed to become commander of the air force.” Sela instructed Pollard to provide him with a list of payphones around his home. Each of these payphones was assigned a Hebrew letter, with which Pollard was instructed which payphone he was to wait at to be contacted.
Among the first documents Pollard provided Sela, in addition to information about the Syrian military, was a satellite image of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, bombed by the Israeli Air Force in 1981 according to a mission plan written by Sela himself as head of the Air Force’s Operations Department. Unlike the rest of the document acquired by Pollard, the satellite image wasn’t returned from whence it was taken but was kept by Sela as a souvenir.
In order to explain the source of funding for a trip to Paris, Pollard took an order to meet with an Israeli agent, a fictitious uncle that was conjured up for Pollard: Joe Fisher. Pollard’s trip to Paris together with his partner Ann Anderson was explained as an engagement gift from the fictitious “Uncle Fisher”. During this trip Pollard was asked to provide his pay stub so that his salary from Israel may be determined. His monthly salary was set at $1,500 at first and then raised to $2,500 in recognition of the “quantity and quality” of the information he provided. This salary corresponded roughly with his American salary.
At the meeting in Paris, Pollard was asked to provide “dirt” on Israeli politicians, information on Israelis reporting to the Americans, as well as, ongoing American intelligence operations on Israel. He was also asked to provide a guide on American signet – signal intelligence and material on Yassar Arafat’s Force 17. The Israeli agent gave Pollard a stark assessment on the balance of power between Israel and Syria. At the end of this Paris trip, Pollard was sworn in as an Israeli and was promised a passport under the name “Danny Cohen” would be issued for him.
At another meeting with an Israeli agent, this time at the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. At this meeting, Pollard was promised that in addition to his salary he would receive an annual $30,000, which would be deposited into a Swiss bank account, and that after ten years of spying for Israel he and his family would be able to immigrate to Israel and start a new life with the funds accumulated in the Swiss bank account. Pollard told his investigators he was shocked to find out that Israel was planning to use him for an entire decade.
The investigation concluded, among other things, that using polygraph tests is efficient, even as a deterrent; that it is important to suspend exposure of officials to classified material until background security checks are complete; and that superiors must pay close attention to strange and unusual behavior among their staff.