May/June 2011, Page 76


Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice

By Ronald J. Olive, Naval Institute Press, 2009, paperback, 320 pp. List: $18.95; AET: $14.50.

Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore

Capturing Jonathan PollardSo eager was Jonathan Pollard to sneak American secret intelligence to Israel that he left his luncheon companion to obtain the telephone numbers of some pay telephones near his apartment. Pollard's companion was Aviem Sella, a colonel in the Israeli air force deputized by Yosef Yagur of the Israeli Consulate in New York to check Pollard out.

Sella had told Pollard that he would set up a communications link with a single Hebrew letter assigned to each pay telephone near Pollard's apartment in Washington, DC's Dupont Circle neighborhood. The colonel would call Pollard at home, give him the Hebrew letter for a designated phone, and Pollard would then go to that phone to receive Sella's instructions.

Sella had discovered that Pollard was a nonstop, boastful talker. But to test how good he was, Sella told Pollard to provide him with a, presumably, top secret photo of Tuwaitra, Iraq, a nuclear facility which Sella had bombed in 1981. This Pollard provided at their next meeting, plus other highly secret material.

Pollard, who liked to be called Jay, was the youngest of three siblings born in Galveston, Texas. His father, Dr. Morris Pollard, was a well-known research microbiologist who had attained a prestigious position at Notre Dame University while his son was young. The family traveled a lot in Europe, including Germany. Jonathan's visit to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, made a powerful impression on him and increased his already strong love for Israel.

Pollard, who had been picked on in undergraduate school, graduated from Stanford University, where he told fanciful stories about being in the Mossad, Israel's secret foreign intelligence service. He also claimed to be a member of the Golani Brigade, a prestigious Israeli military unit. Some of his fellow students said dismissively, "That's just Pollard."

Pollard tried to get into the CIA, but was turned down. He did manage to get a top secret job with the U.S. Navy, however, and later received a SSI (special security) clearance. Throughout his life Pollard was considered to be very bright, but unstable and inclined to stretch the truth and lie.

Pollard stole more than a million pages of highly classified material for Israel. By virtue of his clearances he could simply carry bundles of material out of his office. The Israeli Embassy rented a special apartment on Washington's Van Ness Street, a few blocks from the embassy, for receiving and photocopying the purloined documents supplied by Pollard.

Pollard and his girlfriend Anne made an Israeli-sponsored and paid-for trip to Europe and a separate trip to Israel, where they met Mossad chief Rafael Eitan and talked about what financial reward Pollard could expect. Pollard pushed for more, Eitan pushed back.

Some "spy excitement" appears when Pollard calls Anne, now his wife, in November 1985 with two out-of-context words: "cactus" and "wedding album." This alerted a frantic Anne that Pollard had been arrested, that she was to inform Sella and Yagur of Pollard's arrest, and that she was to remove all classified material from their Dupont Circle apartment.

Sella made heroic efforts to get from Washington to New York to Tel Aviv to avoid arrest and a possible prison sentence. He succeeded, as did Yagur. Meanwhile, Pollard seemed to believe that the Israelis had a scheme to protect him.

Anne, a small woman, gathered up 70 pounds of secret material which she planned to throw in a dumpster in the alley. But she saw two men, whom she took to be FBI agents, parked in a car. She assumed they were after the Pollards—when actually they were looking for another spy. Anne asked a neighbor to take the sack to Washington's Four Seasons Hotel. Not finding Anne there, the neighbor took the package back to his apartment and put it in his bathtub.

Author Olive, the agent at the heart of the Pollard investigation, and his FBI colleagues had no idea of Pollard's religion (he claimed he was a Presbyterian) or to whom he would deliver his stolen secrets. He had had a habit of offering secret material to various people, perhaps to bolster his ego. But when he ran for cover to the Israeli Embassy on Van Ness Street, a light suddenly dawned: It was for Israel that Pollard had stolen American secrets.

Pollard had been instructed to stall for 72 hours if arrested. He never mentioned Israel during the first 72 hours of his interrogations—thereby enabling not only Sella and Yagur to escape, but also Erit Erb, Israeli Embassy secretary in Washington.

Jonathan Jay Pollard was first of all arrogant. When his Israeli connection finally became clear, he rebuked his captors, "You botched it, you thought it was the Soviet Union." His passion was to help Israel, but he insisted on being paid. Israel did agree to $2,500 a month. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's 40-page memorandum to the sentencing judge about the enormous cost of Pollard's theft and urging a harsh prison sentence made no impression on Pollard. He appeared to feel no remorse.

The American team that went to Israel to "recover" Pollard's stolen materials got a truly shoddy runaround fron the Israelis. When a prominent American member of the team was leaving Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport he was asked by a security guard if he had enjoyed his stay in Israel, and replied that he had "for the most part." The guard then said in a cold, hard voice, "Good, because you will never be coming back here again." His remark reflected the way the American delegation had been treated in Israel.

Capturing Jonathan Pollard is recommended reading for those looking for the grubby details of Israel's massive theft of U.S. secrets, and for an Israel that looked out for its own interests without a care for the interests of its patron and ally, the United States.

Andrew I. Killgore is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.