Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1989, Page 24

The Other Side of the Coin

Spin Doctor: Wolf Blitzer's Book on the Pollard Espionage Case

By Dr. Alfred W. Lilienthal

The Jerusalem Post's Washington correspondent, Wolf Blitzer, has written the most complete account to date of the celebrated Jewish-American spy who, while working for US Naval Intelligence, passed along thousands of top secret, highly sensitive documents to Israel. Blitzer's book, Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathon Jay Pollard, indicates that Blitzer, who was born in Buffalo, NY, is infected with some of the Jewish duality that was Pollard's downfall. Unlike Pollard, however, Blitzer adopted Israeli citizenship, went to work for an Israeli newspaper in 1973, and makes no effort to conceal where his loyalty lies.

The first portion of his book, covering Pollard's approach to the Israeli government, secretive meetings with his Israeli handlers, the procedure adopted for obtaining the secret documents after his assignment to the US government's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, and the sudden unravelling of these machinations, is told in a crisp, suspenseful manner worthy of a Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum.

In the latter part of the book, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that the author is subtly trying to exculpate Pollard and is in agreement with Pollard's remarks during Blitzer's prison interview that all countries spy, not only against their enemies but also against their friends. So what, they ask, is so upsetting about a Jewish-American doing what he did?

Young Pollard, from his childhood through his early education, was obsessed with being a Jew, not in believing in Judaism. Religion, in fact, played no part at all in his deep-seated passion for the Mediterranean state which he viewed as the birthright of all Jews.

Rejected by the CIA as too flaky, Pollard became "personally paranoid" about anti-Semitism in the Navy, where he served for three years. He decided to become a spy for Israel. Pollard concluded that, although there was some intelligence exchange between Israel and the US, the US was not passing along sensitive intelligence, including military capability figures on friendly Arab countries, notably Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as on the "terrorist" Arab states, Libya and Syria, and on the Soviet Union. Why, he wondered, didn't the United States give Israel this kind of important information? The author poses the same question himself in the book's introduction.

Steven Stern, a close family friend, introduced the spy to his chief Israeli handler, Col. Aviem Sella, a brilliant former Israeli fighter pilot whose grandparents were slaughtered by the Nazis and who was getting his Ph.D. in computer science at New York University.

Overseeing the operation from Israel was General Rafael "Rafi" Eitan, who served as antiterrorist advisor for two prime ministers and headed LAKAM, the Defense Ministry's office of scientific liaison. With the assistance of a three-member team of intelligence experts, Eitan analyzed and distributed the stolen documents to the relevant Israeli military offices.

The picnic came to an abrupt ending when the suspicions of Jerry Agee, Pollard's Navy boss, were aroused. Pollard had been spotted by a coworker leaving the office with documents taken from the communications center. After further investigation, Agee alerted the FBI. Following six hours of unbroken interrogation, Pollard consented to a search of his apartment, but not before he had called his wife Anne, and through the use of the code word "cactus," alerted her to clear the apartment of documents and to warn his handler, Col. Sella.

An FBI search of the Pollard apartment yielded, hidden under women's clothes in the master bedroom, 57 classified documents. Pollard blithely told his questioners that he had brought these documents home to read and had forgotten to return them. Although he was placed under close surveillance, he was not arrested.

Pollard could not imagine that those for whom he had spied would betray him. However, when he and his wife fled to the Israeli Embassy in his green Mustang, closely followed by FBI agents, embassy security guards forced him to leave. When he did, he was arrested, jailed and brought to trial.

Israel's contention that this was purely a "rogue operation" fell apart with the revelation that high-level Israeli officials were aware of the espionage and that Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was even shown some of the documents.

All Israeli participants in the affair were rewarded. Col. Sella, though under federal indictment for his participation, was almost made a general and placed in charge of the large Tel Nof Air Base. When Washington protested, he was instead named to head the Israel Defense Forces staff college. "Rafi" Eitan became director of Israeli Chemicals, the largest government-owned company in the country.

The plea bargain agreement reached between Pollard's attorney and the US government had led him to believe he would never be given a life sentence. Judge Aubrey Robinson, however, received from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger a classified memorandum which detailed the significant harm caused to national security by the defendant and showed how the US could suffer enormous national security damage even when secrets are shared with friendly countries. The memorandum was never released, save to Pollard and his attorney, but Robinson sentenced Pollard to life imprisonment. Anne Pollard was sentenced to five years in prison.

Pollard admitted having passed through Israeli handlers a quantity of documents great enough "to occupy a space six feet by six feet by ten feet," the most damaging of which was the communications handbook showing US methodology for selecting spies in the US and important information relating to intelligence personnel.

Prosecuter Joseph diGenova, US attorney for the District of Colombia, answered the Pollard charge that anti-Semitism had played a significant role in his conviction and sentencing. He noted that of the six members of the government's team involved in the case, five were Jews.

To the Israelis, Pollard has become a hero and many Jewish-Americans have rallied to his side. There have been appeals for commuting his "harsh" sentence, and funds are being raised to sustain a publicity campaign for this purpose. When Pollard finishes his term in jail-a minimum of ten years-he will have waiting for him an Israeli passport to the land of his dreams and a $600,000 nest egg. Israeli spies, who are apprehended, receive twice the amount of their salaries. The Israeli government is paying Pollard through an account in his new name, David Cohn.

Who said that crime doesn't pay?

Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal served in the Middle East in World War II and has spent a lifetime since then educating Americans on Middle East realities. He is the author of What Price Israel?, There Goes the Middle East, The Other Side of the Coin and The Zionist Connection.