Pollard gathered intel on Arab and Soviet weaponry, not US military activities, CIA document reveals

Declassified 1987 damage assessment says jailed spy’s Israeli handlers ‘never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities or equipment’

Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, NC, May 1998. (AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)
Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, NC, May 1998. (AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)

A 25-year-old CIA document concerning convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard sheds new light on the information he was asked by his Israeli handlers to obtain.

According to the 1987 damage assessment of Pollard’s crimes, which was declassified on Friday, the US-born Jew who is currently serving a life sentence was not asked by his Israeli handlers to gather information on US military activities, as was widely believed, but rather, to collect US intelligence on Arab states, Pakistan and the Soviet Union, and especially their weapons systems.

Jonathan Pollard's U.S. Navy head shot (photo credit: United States Navy)
Jonathan Pollard’s U.S. Navy head shot (photo credit: United States Navy)

The document was published by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The CIA, which had earlier sought to prevent publication, heavily redacted the pages.

Pollard, 58, was specifically urged by his Israeli handlers to provide Israel with information on Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs, and Soviet air defenses.

According to Pollard, as detailed in the document, Israel gave him a prioritized list of intelligence gathering requirements:
* Arab (and Pakistani) nuclear intelligence
* Arab exotic weaponry, including chemical weapons
* Soviet aircraft
* Soviet air defenses
* Soviet air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface missiles
* Arab order-of-battle, deployments, readiness

The report also said that Pollard provided data on the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunisia. The information helped Israel plan a 1985 raid on the facility.

According to the document, Pollard had a short but intensive spying career, starting in June 1984 and ending with his arrest in November 1985, when he was captured trying to flee into the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, which refused to take him in.

The report said that following his conviction in a plea bargain, Pollard cooperated with investigators, revealing much of the information he had passed on to his handlers.

“Extensive post-plea debriefings of Pollard, aided by a review of document-receipt records, yielded an extensive account of Pollard’s espionage objectives, activities, and compromised documents. A series of polygraph interviews tended to confirm that his cooperation with US authorities was bona fide,” read the assessment penned by analysts in the CIA’s Foreign Denial and Deception Committee and Navy Intelligence.

The document provides extensive background on Pollard’s motivations and moves toward spying for Israel, starting with an influential trip to Israel at the age of 12.

“Pollard claimed that he had begun dreaming about future emigration to Israel at age 12 when that country won a dramatic victory in the six-day war of June 1967. According to Pollard, another influence was his attendance in the summer of 1971 at a three-month science camp in Israel, which featured strong encouragement to emigrate,” read the report.

Former student acquaintances of Pollard reportedly told investigators that he bragged about his role as a Mossad agent and, on one occasion, waved a pistol in the air and screamed that everyone was out to get him.

According to Pollard’s polygraph-enhanced post-arrest debriefing statements, he “eagerly seized an opportunity to volunteer his services to Israeli intelligence in late June 1984.”

“At that time, Pollard met his initial Israeli handler, Col. Aviem Sella — a noted fighter pilot on study leave in the United States — through a pro-Israeli activist, who was an old friend of the Pollard family. Pollard passed classified material to Sella concerning military developments in several Arab countries during at least three meetings, June-August 1984,” the document reveals.

The report states that Pollard received his first formal training by the Israelis during a trip to Paris in November 1984, while he was serving as an analyst for US Naval intelligence. “Here, Pollard met Rafael Eitan, advisor on counterterrorism to Prime Minister Shamir and the senior Israeli in charge of the case, as well as Joseph Yagur, Counselor for Scientific Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, who immediately replaced Sella as Pollard’s direct handler,” it read.

Pollard was then put on the Israeli payroll with a monthly salary of $1,500, which was later raised to $2,500.

“After returning from Paris, Pollard shifted his espionage into high gear. Beginning in late January 1985, he made large, biweekly deliveries of classified material, on every other Friday, to the apartment of Irit Erb, a secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Pollard recalled that his first and possibly largest delivery occurred on 23 January and consisted of five suitcases full of classified material,” read the document. “Pollard recalled that Yagur on at least two occasions indicated that selected items of his intelligence were known and appreciated by ‘the highest levels of the Israeli Government.'”

When it came to gathering intelligence on the US itself, the report found Israel “did not request or receive from Pollard intelligence concerning some of the most sensitive US national security resources.”

“The Israelis never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities or equipment,” it said.

The document also describes how, at one point, Yagur specifically told Pollard to ignore a request from Eitan for US “dirt” on senior Israeli officials, and told Pollard that gathering such information would terminate the operation.

Israeli and Jewish pressure to release Pollard has risen in the past year, along with a deterioration in his health. Recently, Pollard was briefly hospitalized after collapsing in his jail cell at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, North Carolina, after complaining of being in serious pain for several weeks. In April, Pollard was hospitalized for a week and a half with a life-threatening condition before being returned to his cell.

On Wednesday, a bi-partisan initiative by US congressmen circulated a letter calling on their peers to urge President Barack Obama to commute Pollard’s life sentence to time served.

“Mr. Pollard has now served 25 years in prison, many of which in solitary confinement, for his actions,” says the letter circulated by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). “There is no doubt that he paid a heavy price and, from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence, we believe he has been imprisoned long enough.”

The letter has so far garnered 40 signatories, mostly from Democrats, but with an increasing number of Republicans.

Pollard’s wife Esther recently asked Obama to grant clemency for her husband, since US presidents often grant clemency requests from Thanksgiving through the winter holidays. Former American officials, including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former assistant defense secretary Lawrence Korb, have also called for Pollard to be granted clemency.

In July, however, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expects Pollard to serve out his life sentence.

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