Richard A. Clarke was the counterterrorism chief for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

It was Clarke who was in the hot seat, running the White House Situation Room, on 9/11 — he it was who had overseen the efforts to prevent 9/11, and he who wrote a devastating book on 9/11, “Against All Enemies,” after resigning in 2003. The book castigated George W. Bush’s administration for failing to heed his warnings on al-Qaeda before 9/11, for squandering the opportunity to eliminate al-Qaeda in the wake of 9/11, and for deciding instead to go to war in Iraq.

Clarke used to come to Israel often as the United States’ National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism, but he hadn’t been here for 15 years, until last week. As chairman of the Washington, DC-based firm Good Harbor Security Risk Management, Clarke flew in to speak about cyber warfare at Tel Aviv University’s Third Annual International Cyber Security Conference.

During the conference, Clarke, 62, sat down with The Times of Israel for a characteristically no-nonsense interview in which we discussed Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, ongoing terror threats to the United States, the reasons behind the continued incarceration of spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard and a whole lot more.

As was to be anticipated for a man who held vast responsibility for the wellbeing of his nation, Clarke was brisk, blunt and clear in his assessments. He said flatly that the Iranians will “complete” their nuclear program unless someone stops them. He also said that he was “on the apocalyptic side” when gauging the repercussions of military intervention to stop them. “The Iranian government won’t take it lying down,” said Clarke. “And there’s some relatively high risk that it would expand into a war that not only involves Israel, but involves attacks in the United States through cyber attacks from Iran, and involves attacks on the American Gulf allies. And that could be very, very messy. It could have worldwide economic effects. And I don’t know how it ends.”

He also said that the Stuxnet computer virus that penetrated Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility had been a failure, and that there was no cyber means now to thwart the Iranian drive.

Assessing that time after time, America had arrogantly, albeit with good intentions, “gone into countries” believing it could “fix” them, and failed, he said that in the case of Syria “sometimes, taking action makes things worse.” In grappling with Syria, “you’ve got a choice between really bad alternatives,” he said. And it was President Barack Obama personally — not the State Department and not the Defense Department — who had prevented greater US involvement.

He also highlighted what he said was an under-appreciated Israeli concern regarding Russia’s on-off sale of S-300 air-defense systems to Bashar Assad’s regime: If the S-300 were deployed by Damascus, Clarke noted, it could provide air cover for Hezbollah, denying Israel air supremacy in southern Lebanon — a real game-changer.

Shifting focus to American soil, Clarke said the US was “unlikely to see” another 9/11-style mega attack, because terrorism was so high a priority for the FBI and the police nowadays, whereas “it wasn’t on the top 5” in 2001. But attacks like the Boston bombings would recur, he feared, because “I don’t think America or any country that I know of has the ability to detect when someone who has been radicalized moves into violence,” and a couple of people acting together can so easily buy guns and the components for bombs.

Richard Clarke (photo credit: Times of Israel staff)

Richard Clarke (photo credit: Times of Israel staff)

We spoke in a white-walled, unfurnished, small-windowed room situated a long way down a winding corridor to the side of the main conference hall. Only the fresh fruit on the desk between us offset the interrogation room atmosphere. That, and the entry midway through our interview of a Tel Aviv University maintenance worker, who proceeded, fairly loudly, to make himself a cup of coffee.

The Times of Israel: It seems to be the new common wisdom at this conference that the Stuxnet computer virus was a failure — that it barely set back the Iranian nuclear program and that it detrimentally legitimized that kind of warfare.

Richard Clarke: Well, it did. I think it’s hard for the United States now, if someone else were to do something like that, it’s hard for the United States to criticize it because people will say, “well, you did it.” So, yes, I think Stuxnet had a few down sides.

One of those down sides was that the actual attack code became publicly available. As far as I can tell the attack code was supposed to die and not get out onto the Internet, but apparently the same way it got into Natanz [Iranian nuclear enrichment facility], it got out, and ran around the world trying to attack things. But of course it couldn’t, because it was programmed only to attack in a rather specific set of circumstances. Nonetheless it tried to attack things and people therefore grabbed it and decompiled it, so it’s taught a lot of people how to attack.

And in the gung ho-ness of being offensive, people have neglected defensive protections?

I don’t think I would put it that way. People have neglected defensive systems, not because they’re spending all their time on the offense, but because no one really knows how to do defensive systems. The technology right now doesn’t work as well on the defense as it does on the offense. Historically, there’s this phenomenon in military science called “offense preference,” where certain circumstances are created where the offense always wins. And usually that’s in a small period in history and then the technology shifts. But right now and for some time now, we have been in this period of offense preference in cyber, where the offense usually wins.

Is there a cyber means to stop Iran, to stop this nuclear program?

Well, I think we’ve kind of tried that. And by trying Stuxnet when we did and being discovered, I think it’s going to be very difficult to do something like that again. The Iranians are now much more careful, much more observant.

They’ll have enough material to make many bombs, not just one or two — an arsenal in waiting. And the breakout time could be a matter of weeks after that

And therefore, how do you see the Iranian nuclear drive playing out?

I think you have to believe that over time, they’ll complete the program, unless someone stops them.

And they will want to break out to the bomb, or they will stop at the breakout level?

They may not know yet themselves. They will complete the program in the sense that they will have the weapons components that can be easily assembled and they’ll have enough material to make many bombs, not just one or two. They’ll have sort of an arsenal in waiting, and the breakout time could be a matter of weeks after that.

Whether or not they’ll take the next step and assemble parts into weapons, I don’t know. I don’t know if they know. But it can’t be much longer before they’re in that circumstance.

And therefore this current US administration’s assertion that we’ll know and we’ll have time, which is what I understand the administration is saying, which Joe Biden said…

I think the Israeli government said that too.

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaking to Barack Obama in the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem in March. (photo credit: Pete Souza/Official White House)

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaking to Barack Obama in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in March. (photo credit: Pete Souza/Official White House)

That we’ll know and we’ll have time?

Yeah. The last time that the president and the prime minister talked about this publicly together, they said that they had reached an agreement on the intelligence. There was no disagreement on the intelligence. There was a disagreement on interpretation about policy. So I think there is probably an understanding that both sides have, that they will know when a certain line has been crossed. There’s a disagreement on where to draw that line. The United States is willing to wait longer into the program than Israel would prefer.

If we’re now seeing essentially, the increasing mastery of the process by Iran, and the increasing accumulation of material — so that when they get to breakout level they’ll be able to build several bombs, rather than one bomb — and they’re very close now, then any differences that there might be [between the US and Israel] are surely marginal now in terms of how much time you’d then have…

Apparently the US government doesn’t believe that we’re at breakout yet. Now you could argue that maybe the US intelligence isn’t as good as it thinks it is; maybe the Iranians have taken steps to camouflage or to conceal or deception; they may be further down the line, there may be two programs, all that. But, we’re pretty close.

Has this been handled sensibly by the US and Israel? Are you confident that basically the Americans and Israel know what they’re doing and they’re handling it as best as they possibly could…?

A president deciding to bomb an Iranian nuclear facility has to know there is some significant probability that that will precipitate a major conflagration

Look, if the United States and/or Israel ever had to use force against the Iranian nuclear program, I believe that would precipitate a major conflagration. Now, there are people who say, “Oh, they’ll just take it. They’ll just take the hit, they’ll go to the UN, they’ll complain and they’ll go back and start it all over again.” I don’t think so. I know that there are people in the Israeli government who believe that.

There’s a range, from relatively sanguine all the way to apocalypse.

Right.

So, you’re…

I’m more on the apocalyptic side. I think the Iranian government won’t take it lying down. And there’s some relatively high risk that it would expand into a war that not only involves Israel, but involves attacks in the United States through cyber attacks from Iran, and involves attacks on the American Gulf allies. And that could be very, very messy. It could have worldwide economic effects. And I don’t know how it ends.

I’m not saying it’s definitely the outcome. I’m saying it’s a high enough probability. You know, when you go to a president of the United States with considerations for something like this, you always get a “What are the risks?” and you try to put probabilities on those risks. It’s not a science, so you really can’t do that with any accuracy. But I think a president of the United States deciding to bomb an Iranian nuclear facility has to know there is some significant probability that that will precipitate a major conflagration in the region, that will have adverse effects on Israel, on America’s friends in the Gulf, and perhaps on the United States.

And therefore…

Well, Obama and Netanyahu seem to have closed the door — Netanyahu certainly has, and I think Obama has publicly closed the door — on accepting an Iranian nuclear capability. There was, until maybe last year, at least the option that the United States could say, “Well, we’re going to engage in deterrence, we’re going to engage in containment.” Obama pretty well shut that door.

So, despite all sorts of potentially apocalyptic consequences, the key players here are saying that Iran has to be stopped.

Yeah, I think the straightforward analysis at the moment is, if Iran continues and crosses the red line, wherever you think the red line is, that the United States has said it will act. And if it does, I think there’s a really high probability of a major conflict.

That appears to be the road that we’re on.

It appears to be the road that we’re on if you believe that Iran will cross the red line. If you believe the Iranians are “rational” within our framework, our mental view of the world, they won’t cross the red line, because their economy is already teetering, they have domestic stability issues. They may believe that being bombed and being involved in a major conflagration will threaten the regime. Others over there may believe that it would unite the country behind the regime. But you remember when the Iran-Iraq war ended, it did so because the ayatollah [Khomeini] said continuing down this path will threaten the revolution.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during his meeting with President-elect Hasan Rowhani in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday, June 16, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks during his meeting with President-elect Hasan Rowhani in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday, June 16, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

And the current grand ayatollah [Khamenei] may believe continuing down the path to full weaponization would risk the revolution. That’s a possibility. So they may short stop – they may get up to a line and not go across it.

In other words, you think that our notion of rationality may apply to them?

We don’t know. It’s very hard to put yourself in the mindset of the Iranian leadership, particularly if it comes down to one man.

We recently carried an opinion piece by an Iranian-born academic being very adamant that these guys are awaiting the hidden imam, that this is where Khamenei’s head is, where Ahmadinejad’s head is, which would not be rational by our understanding…

That’s certainly not rational in our worldview, but they may nonetheless, despite all of their mystical beliefs, religious beliefs, they may nonetheless understand that if they cross this line on weaponization, all hell is going to break loose.

And that their survival…

And that their survival at the moment is threatened, and that they should therefore put it off to some future date when maybe the invisible imam can tell them what to do.

Is there more that can be done on the sanctions level, on the diplomacy level?

You know, we’re kind of running out of sanctions. The good news is they’re having an effect. The sanctions in South Africa took a very long time to have an effect, but they did. The sanctions on Libya took a moderately long time to have an effect, but they did. If you’re willing to stick with it and really go after enforcement — because the country that being sanctioned always finds ways to get around – if you’re really good at enforcement and you’re really persistent, over time sanctions can have an effect. I think they’re having that effect on Iran.

America has given them various ways out though, and could have done more to prevent some of those.

Could have done more, and could have done it sooner.

If you were advising the president now, you would say, ‘Tell the Israelis we will take action if necessary, you don’t need to act alone, hang tight for a little while longer.’

I think that is what the president is being advised.

And that’s good advice?

At the moment it is, because the alternative is too risky.

Let’s talk a little bit about the situation up north — American policy on Syria, and how you see that affecting Israel by extension. It seems like a terrible moral failure of the international community that Bashar Assad has been allowed for two years to massacre his people. And America, as the representative of the free world and decency and the value of the gift of life, would seem to be very hesitant, and has allowed this situation to persist. And now, by the way, we see maybe Assad’s actually going to prevail, which is another victory for Iran of course and trouble for us…

That’s all true. People assume, when there’s a crisis in this region, that the United States should do something about it. And they assume, therefore, that the United States should take action. And sometimes, taking action makes things worse.

I think we have a president who is acutely aware of that – a president who has looked at the history of American action in this region and elsewhere, and seen that with all the good intentions in the world, the United States has gone into countries with a certain amount of arrogance. Whether it’s the big problem of Vietnam, or the big problem of Iraq, or the little problem of Somalia, the United States believed it could, if it spent enough money, gave it enough attention, it could “fix” a country or “fix” a problem. And our record of fixing problems is not very good.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, visits the Umayyad Electrical Station on May Day, May 1, 2013, a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital (photo credit: AP/SANA)

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, visits the Umayyad Electrical Station on May Day, May 1, 2013, a day after a powerful bomb hit the capital (photo credit: AP/SANA)

You look at the Syrian situation. It is, as all situations are, unique. Analogies to Libya, analogies to other places, really don’t hold up. There is not just a small tribe like Gaddafi had. In Syria, 15 percent of the population are Alawite and then you add in the Copts and the Druse and he’s got about 20 percent of the population behind hiim, and they are the 20 percent of the population that run the security services and the military. They have nowhere to go. They’re not going to go to Switzerland or Riyadh and spend the rest of their lives in some palace like Idi Amin.

So, you have that difference. You have the difference that Iran and Russia are players; the difference that they have a pretty good air defense system. Not that you couldn’t take it out. You could, but it would be costly, and in the process the Russians would perhaps get involved. You also have, and after the revolutions in Egypt and Libya we are acutely aware of this, you also have the problem that the people who might take over are probably as bad from an Israeli perspective or from an American perspective as the existing regime.

Who wants the Muslim Brotherhood running Syria? So you’ve got a choice between really bad alternatives.

If you have S-300s in Syria, that range extends over the Hezbollah parts of Lebanon. Then, in the future, when Hezbollah starts firing Katyushas or more advanced rockets into Israel, and Israel wants to do something about it – retaliation – if Syria pays back their debt to Hezbollah, that changes the military balance.

And I think what you’re seeing in the US policy is Barack Obama — it’s not the US government, because at various points in time I think the State Department and the Defense Department have been willing to do things. The leaderships of those departments have been willing to do things and Obama has said, “no. I’m not persuaded. I’m not convinced.”

Sometimes the best course is to do nothing when all the courses of action are a) unpredictable as to the outcome and b) run serious risks.

It’s a terrible situation. You’d like to be able to do something to stop it. It’s not clear that we can do something to make the situation better.

It would seem that Russia is continuing to supply weaponry to Syria and that the lines between the regime in Damascus and Hezbollah are increasingly blurred. There’s acute concern here about some of his weaponry that is flying around, and we’ve hit them two or three times and now they’ve told us that they’re going to hit back if we hit them again…

Yeah.

It’s pretty scary right now.

Yeah, I think the situation is scary right now because if Russia feels that there is a real risk of the US and its friends imposing another no-fly zone, then they want to get air defenses in there in advance. The S-300 [air-defense system], I gather, is a very impressive system that may change the air balance, and that’s a problem for Israel. Israel likes to have the freedom to operate over Syria when it has to. And with that system going in, that may change things. [The S-300] may also extend into Lebanon and provide a sort of air cover for Hezbollah in Lebanon, which changes the dynamic there. I haven’t seen the media focus on that. There’s undoubtedly a decision being made down the street here about whether or not to do something when the S-300 shows up.

We have the sense in the last few days that maybe the Russians have delayed it or are delaying it…

They should have understood from the beginning that this is not just about defending Damascus. The S-300 changes the balance over Lebanon.

If you have S-300s in Syria, that range extends over the Hezbollah parts of Lebanon. Then, in the future, when Hezbollah starts firing Katyushas or more advanced rockets into Israel, and Israel wants to do something about it – retaliation – if Syria pays back their debt to Hezbollah, that changes the military balance.

In the context of Syria, and of Iran, is Israel an asset to the United States, a huge, wonderful, undeniable, 100% asset? Or, if it wasn’t here you wouldn’t have the risk of apocalyptic warfare breaking out in one context or another every few years? ‘We love the Jewish state, but if it was somewhere else that would be a lot more convenient for us?’

I think this region is inherently a place of instability. And if Israel weren’t here, the instability would be here anyway…

Israeli policy for as long as I can remember has been that Israel needs to be able to defend itself without having the United States fight alongside. That policy evolved a little bit, so that Israel has to be able to defend itself, perhaps with American weapons, perhaps with American intelligence support and all that. But Israel has always said, “Look, we want to be able to take care of ourselves and we don’t want to drag you in unnecessarily.” Frankly, if Israel were here or Israel were not here, this region, which continues to have important economic implications for the world because of the oil, would always have been unstable. What you’re seeing now is the playout of Sunni-Shia hostility that goes back centuries. Now it’s resurgent.

If you look from the Iranian-Iraqi border all the way through to the Mediterranean — across Iraq and across Syria and across Lebanon — what you’re seeing play out is one large Sunni-Shia conflict that has nothing to do with Israel. So if Israel were somehow in Latin America, this region would still be unstable, and still be important.

Coming to the US now, in the context of the Boston bombing, do you think that America is more effective at protecting itself, and has taken the necessary steps to protect itself against Islamic extremist threats and other terrorist threats?

I don’t think America or any country that I know of has the ability to detect when someone who has been radicalized moves into violence. You can’t know when that’s going to happen. You can’t predict when that’s going to happen. And it’s a problem for the United States and it’s a problem for European societies as well, where we have in our countries thousands of people who have been radicalized into Islamic extreme beliefs. And we have to accept that. We have to tolerate that. Their having those beliefs is not a crime.

The amount of time and energy and resources given to countering violent extremism is pretty small, and the reason for that is in part we don’t know what to do

Many of them are citizens of the UK or Germany or the United States. You can’t monitor them all 24 hours a day. And when one or two of them get together and make that crossover from being radicalized to being willing to do violence, you can’t tell. And I don’t know of any way effectively to stop that, to monitor that – with thousands of people — and know when that has occurred.

Maybe the West could be doing more to try and marginalize Islamic extremism and encourage a more moderate Islam. I think America gets things better than Britain, for example. I mean, the Brits are incredibly stoic, but rather reluctant to acknowledge the extent of the problem.

The Brits have had problems. I think they recognize the problems. They have difficulty doing anything about it.

This composite photograph shows Tsarnaev Tamerlan, 26 (left), and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing (photo credit: AP/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young)

This composite photograph shows Tsarnaev Tamerlan, 26 (left), and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing (photo credit: AP/The Lowell Sun & Robin Young)

The fact of the matter is that Western governments and Western experts on counter-terrorism have realized that what we have to do is get into the pre-radicalization phase. There’s this whole thing now called “countering violent extremism,” and the theory behind that is that governments would conduct programs that would make it less likely that Islamic youth will become Islamist youth. And it’s also going on in Islamic countries. No one’s got it right yet and we all pay lip service to the need to do this, but the amount of time and energy and resources given to countering violent extremism is pretty small, and the reason for that is in part we don’t know what to do. It’s a relatively new field where there’s not a lot of empirical evidence of what works.

Here, you have a UN organization that is responsible for education of the Palestinians in the refugee camps in Gaza, and I am sure that generation after generation are growing up being taught about Israeli illegitimacy. Media is a huge factor here as well. There are things that you can do. You can make funding contingent on…

…curriculum changes

Right. And you can invest in media.

You know some Arab countries, not many, but some, are trying to change curriculum. They are trying to monitor what imams say in mosques on Fridays and that’s good. It’s just not enough. Not enough people are doing it.

I have a few other specific things I want to ask you about. There’s an Argentinian prosecutor named Alberto Nisman who investigated the AMIA bombing. He issued a new report last week in which he talked about the fact that Iran had basically set up via its embassies terror networks all over Latin America and as far as he knows they’re still there. And he also connected this same network and some of the same people to the 2007 thwarted attack at JFK. My bigger question is about America’s defense against terrorism, post 9/11: Is America as vulnerable as it was, much less vulnerable…?

No, it’s nowhere near as vulnerable as it was because for one thing, the federal government and the state and local governments have all made this a priority. Frankly, prior to 2001, it wasn’t. The number one issue for our FBI, our domestic, federal police, is now terrorism. It wasn’t on the top 5 in 2001. Now you’ve got somewhere between a third and half of the federal agents of the FBI who are counter-terrorism officers, so they go around looking, in small towns throughout the country, they go around looking for terrorists.

People can’t register for flight school in America nowadays without being noticed?

What we cannot detect and therefore cannot stop and therefore will continue to happen, are things like the Boston bombing,

No. It’s a whole series of things which are much better than they were then. That having been said, it’s still very easy for one or two people to cause a lot of chaos. And it’s virtually impossible to stop it. So, it’s going to happen periodically, and what’s always surprised me is that it happens relatively little. People ask me why and I don’t know why. It may be because the FBI does so many sting operations that most people think if someone comes up to them and proposes a terrorist attack, they’re an FBI agent. I’m serious, which is fine. It may be that potential terrorists think our defenses are better than they are, and think that we really are listening to all their phone calls and last week [with the controversy over PRISM] probably helped them think that even more. But we really don’t know why it doesn’t happen more often.

A massive mega-attack?

Big, big attacks that require large numbers of people, lots of preparation, lots of communication, lots of training are much more likely to be detected now than ever before and therefore we are unlikely to see those. I won’t say it won’t happen, but it’s a lower probability than ever before.

What we cannot detect and therefore cannot stop and therefore will continue to happen, are things like the Boston bombing, where you get one or two people acting together that can buy guns — because you can buy guns on the corner in the United States, on the corner of any street you can buy a machine gun. It’s ridiculous, but you can. And you can buy the components for making bombs at your local drug store or local hardware store, and all the instructions are on the internet. And so we’ll probably continue to have that – every society will probably continue to have that.

What about a mega cyber-attack? Are there terrible and devastating things that can be done that are not well-protected against?

In theory.

If a cyber attack could take control of the traffic grids in this country, water distribution — they’re defending against cyber-attacks all the time — electricity… Is the West effectively protected? Is the US protected or is that the big thing we have to worry about?

Thus far, major cyber-attack capability has been resident only in states. There’s been capability of individual hackers and criminal groups to do theft and that sort of thing. But to do the kind of intelligence preparation and then execution necessary to take down a power grid, that’s been something that only a state organization could do. I think over time that changes. I think over time that skill set gets out into non-state actors and people who can be rented. So, theoretically, you could have major cyber disruptions in the future from non-state actors.

A police officer walks by the nose of Pan Am flight 103 in a field near the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, 1988 (AP/Martin Cleaver)

A police officer walks by the nose of Pan Am flight 103 in a field near the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, 1988 (AP/Martin Cleaver)

I’m endlessly fascinated by the Lockerbie affair [the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 in which 270 people were killed], which you, in your book ‘Against All Enemies,’ mention as the Libyan bombing at Lockerbie. I can’t imagine it wasn’t Iranian. I can’t imagine it wasn’t done, you know, via this PFLP-GC cell in Frankfurt, but everybody tells me that I’m wrong.

I didn’t run that investigation. I know the people who did. I’ve gone over it with them a lot. They initially did not believe it was Libyan and the evidence drew them to that conclusion. They didn’t come in with that conclusion. They are aware of all the other evidence and I think what we’re dealing with here is a case where there’s coincidence. And I know intelligence analysts like to say, “Coincidences never occur,” but they do. They do. And I believe it was Libyan.

Do I have 100 percent confidence of that? No. But I have pretty high confidence.

Last thing. Is there anything you can tell me about [Jonathan] Pollard. The degree of insistence in the United States that this man should not be free does not quite add up on the basis of what we know publicly.

Jonathan Pollard speaking during an interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, NC, in May 1998. (photo credit: AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)

Jonathan Pollard speaking during an interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, NC, in May 1998. (photo credit: AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)

Yeah and I don’t know whether there’s some additional information. I don’t know whether there’s additional information about what he may have done that adds to the heinousness of the crime and explains the intelligence community’s insistence. I will say this: The US intelligence community, the US law enforcement that supports the intelligence community, treats any espionage or even the disclosure of information, like we have in the case of the Snowden guy, they react in extremes to it. And they always say, as they have with Snowden, that incredible damage has been done. Sometimes they exaggerate. But it’s not Pollard alone. This is part of a pattern of the institutional bureaucracy of the intelligence community, and the law enforcement community supports it, reacting extremely strongly to espionage.

And I think that’s because they want to deter it. I think that’s because they realize how vulnerable they are to it. You know, the last number I saw was 875,000 people in the United States who have “top secret” clearance. How many people live in Tel Aviv?

Less than that. (About 400,000.)

So, the chances of an Edward Snowden or a Pollard happening are pretty high out of 875,000. And even with modern technology, it’s very hard to monitor people’s activities and stop this or predict who’s going to be a problem. So for the US counter-intelligence community, they are constantly living on a time bomb. And they want to demonstrate to anyone who is thinking about this sort of thing that there’ll be no break. You do this, it’s a life sentence. And you can’t think about, “Oh I’m going to do this and run the risk that, if I get caught, well, it will only be 20 years of my life” and maybe the cause is worth that. They want to send a message. And it’s not anti-Israeli. It’s just an anti-espionage message that anybody who does this is going to go away for life.