FBI Wades Into Obama’s Commutation Process
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel recently forced the CIA to release additional content from its 1987 Jonathan Pollard espionage damage assessment report (PDF). The National Security Archive – which appealed this declassification case to ISCAP – and many establishment media outlets characterize the partially released contents as something of an exoneration of the "cooperative" Pollard, whom the CIA debriefed under polygraph. They applaud the "good faith" of Pollard’s Israeli handlers who are said to have largely tasked the theft of classified U.S. documents that were of immediate and exclusive use defending Israel – but unfairly withheld by America despite intelligence sharing agreements. If this framing were true, it would make the ISCAP release extremely timely as the Obama administration moves into the final stages of Pollard’s for request for executive clemency. However, an examination of the still-heavily-redacted CIA report against other recently declassified files about the activities of other assets handled by Israeli spymaster Rafael Eitan – reveal is not quite the "get out of jail free" card so many claim. Other documents now in the declassification pipeline may further erode the benign portrayal of Pollard’s activities – though not necessarily in time to prevent his early release.
Although CIA’s damage assessment claims Pollard’s handlers "concentrated on providing Israel with US intelligence on the military forces and equipment of Arab and Islamic states and on Soviet military forces, equipment and technology" many such bullet points and assertions are followed by other large censored sections that leave readers wondering what other tasking was documented by the CIA. It may be that the blanked-out sections refer to other American assets run by Rafael Eitan – an Israeli spymaster who has probably done more damage to United states than any other Middle Eastern spy – that were better situated to deliver the goods. Pollard is far from Israel’s only successful spy. Eitan himself visited the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in 1968, a facility that "lost" more weapons-grade uranium than any other nuclear fuel processor in the US. Eitan would have likely relied on NUMEC president Zalman Shapiro and other helpful American colleagues for advanced hydrogen bomb designs and other assistance in the early 1970s. Eitan’s involvement in obtaining source code of the PROMIS intelligence case management program, a system compromised with secret back doors that was to be installed at the Justice Department and various foreign intelligence services, would have been a good source for "dirt" the CIA report claims Eitan wanted but that Pollard’s more sensible handlers vetoed.
The censored CIA damage assessment is highly valuable in reopening the question of exactly when and how Pollard may have been recruited into Israel’s U.S. espionage network. The CIA notes that Pollard attended a 1971 Weizmann Institute for Science camp in Israel and subsequently made sporadic claims to alarmed colleagues that he was a spy for Israel. Although any references that may exist to Israel’s nuclear weapons program are excised from the damage assessment, it is now established fact that the Weizmann Institute has long functioned as a front for Israel’s clandestine nuclear arsenal development, from fundraising to cyber-espionage against U.S. military installations.
Alarmingly, the CIA debriefing also claims Eitan tasked his American spies to insinuate themselves into agencies with a lax security such as the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence. Such perches did not systematically polygraph employees as a counterespionage measure, and Pollard planned on retiring to such a post that would better shield himself and Israel. Eitan repeatedly assured Pollard that nothing would happen if he were caught. Eitan’s confidence and placement policy may shed new light on other incidences such as former AIPAC director Morris Amitay’s confident decision to traffic in classified missile secrets to thwart an arms sale to Jordan after he left the US State Department. In Amitay’s case, Eitan’s dictum that "no drastic action would be taken by the United States" proved accurate, despite nearly driving Jordan into the arms of the Soviet Union according to the State Department. Eitan’s dictum also may also partially explain the State Department’s documented inability to enforce any end-use restrictions on Israel’s American-supplied weapons.
In sharp contrast to the news media’s overarching "no harm" portrayal of the CIA damage assessment, the report conclusion argues that Israel should be placed on the Attorney General’s list of "criteria countries" of high counterintelligence priority – while realistically considering whether Israel’s coveted (and lobby-enforced) "special relationship" would allow such an overdue and sensible measure. But overall, too much of the damage assessment is blanked out for any sweeping generalizations. A section tantalizingly titled "bought and sold" is blanked out. Yet another, the CIA’s entire "bottom line" on Pollard’s activities against the U.S. is also completely censored. It is therefore impossible to responsibly portray the damage assessment as an exoneration of Pollard.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, the main target of Pollard’s secrets collection, was alarmed enough to produce (and declassify this year) a short training video about how to detect and deter the next Pollard. The highly censored CIA report is not the final classified word with relevance over Pollard’s attempt to free himself – or the larger problem of ongoing Israeli espionage and cover action in America. In 1987 Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger concurrently submitted his own top-secret Pentagon memorandum in aid of sentencing Pollard that is still classified. It likely covers the more overarching questions of how to maintain advice and consent democratic governance responsive to the national interest when those highly motivated sleeper spies and operatives-in-waiting for Israel activated and caught are never seriously punished. In his pre-sentencing briefs, Pollard himself confidently asserted “…it was the established policy of the Department of Justice not to prosecute U.S. citizens for espionage activities on behalf of Israel.”
Today Jonathan Pollard’s health appears to be failing. If President Obama is going to send Pollard to Israel as a meaningful act of mercy, it will have to be soon. But since summer ended, US Pardon Attorney Ronald Rogers reports that (PDF) the FBI has submitted a four-page analysis for consideration alongside already-received stacks of high-profile politician, government appointee and community leader demands that Pollard be freed. Although a formal FBI report usually takes place during the final phases of a pardon (as opposed to clemency) process, in cases where Israel is involved, US presidents rarely follow established procedures. However, it is unlikely a federal law enforcement agency that has compiled thousands of pages in hundreds of other cases detailing parallel but unpunished Israeli conventional and nuclear weapons component smuggling, obstruction of justice, economic and national defense espionage – and with an awareness of how much worse it could get – is now recommending leniency for Pollard. Unfortunately, the FBI rarely classifies its damage assessments but rather keeps them out of ISCAP’s clutches through more simple Privacy Act and law-enforcement Freedom of Information Act exemptions. It is unlikely FBI’s assessment, favorable or not, will ever see the light of day. The Executive Office of US Attorneys, on the other hand, is now under heavy pressure from Pollard supporters and detractors to finally release the still-classified final words of Casper Weinberger.