Back in 1976, a college student acquaintance of mine, Jay Pollard, used to talk in great detail about his work for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. I listened for hours, even if I never quite believed his stories. Eleven years later, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger would tell the court that convicted Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst, of stealing 360 cubic feet of classified material for Israel: “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called year of the spy, to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the US and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

This important case deserves a more definitive chronicle than that produced by Wolf Blitzer, Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. In the end, after a good read, you still do not know just how deeply implicated Israeli political leaders were, what exactly Pollard stole, how the Israelis recruited him, whether other Americans worked for the Israelis, or what really made Pollard tick.

Like the dog that didn’t bark, Blitzer’s account is most interesting for what it does not say. In particular, his failure to explore serious, published charges about the broader ramifications of the Pollard espionage ring, including the possibility that it had ties to Soviet intelligence, suggests just how sensitive some of the remaining issues in the Pollard case really are. Blitzer is at his best describing Pollard’s early life. As the various witnesses reminisce to Blitzer, a fascinating, Rashomon-like tale unfolds. To his family, Pollard was bright, warm, sensitive and stable. But somewhere — Blitzer prefers not to speculate where — Pollard became deeply troubled, subject to grandiose delusions, flights of fantasy and personal conflicts that led him to ruin.

The source of Pollard’s unhappiness, according to his own story, was his “daily fight” against brutish anti-Semites in school, an experience which convinced him that only in Israel could Jews be safe. That belief was reinforced by his attendance at a Hebrew Day School, with its “highly concentrated curriculum of religious and Zionist indoctrination that regularly stressed the advisability of aliya, or emigration to Israel.” But even in Israel Pollard could not find security. As a teenager he won a coveted chance to attend a science camp at the Weizmann Institute. A scientist at the Institute recalled that Pollard “left behind him a reputation of being an unstable troublemaker, the worst case of this kind in the history of the summer camp.”

In his own mind, Pollard was always the victim. He returned from camp, this time to become the target of “white fascists” and “militant blacks” at school. Later, at Stanford, he dropped his pre-medical plans because his fellow students were “sabotaging” his lab results. In the late 1970s, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, he found the environment “very anti-Jewish,” except for his mentor Uri Ra’anan, a former registered agent for Israel.

One of his former Stanford friends recalled that Pollard “had a penchant for playing dirty jokes on people” such as wiring room lights so fireworks would go off when the lights went on. One practical joke that Pollard took all too seriously was his claim, through college, to be an officer in the Israeli army and intelligence service. (His college yearbook actually lists him as “Colonel Pollard.”) Pollard now dismisses all that as a game and a misunderstanding — or worse, as a smear invented by government agents.

Blitzer misses one truly remarkable incident: In 1976, several years before his recruitment by Israel, Pollard confided to a close friend that his assignment from Mossad was “to be planted within the US government.” [1] If he was not telling the truth, Pollard certainly had a remarkable facility for making his fantasies come true. And his openness about his fantasy life makes one wonder how he ever managed to get a military job, much less a top secret security clearance. All the more so since he had been turned down by the CIA for a job in the late 1970s because of his heavy drug use.

Just how Pollard was recruited by the Israelis remains unclear. Blitzer’s version is that a New York stockbroker and family friend, Steven Stern, introduced Pollard to Col. Aviem Sella, who recruited him for Israeli intelligence. (Blitzer hints that Pollard had been giving Stern inside tips on the Persian Gulf oil market.) Stern claimed that he did not know Pollard wanted to meet Sella in order to volunteer as a spy. Yet even before meeting Pollard, Sella received clearance to enlist Pollard to work for LAKAM, a scientific intelligence gathering unit of the Defense Ministry. Either Stern had tipped off Sella about Pollard’s desire to work undercover for Israel or Sella routinely sought to recruit every well-placed American (or American Jew) that he met.

Blitzer gives only the sketchiest details about LAKAM. He notes that it was “partially responsible for the theft of the blueprints for the French-made Mirage jet fighter in 1968” and that “one major and supersensitive objective was to strengthen Israel’s nuclear development program.” He fails to mention that Rafael Eitan, the head of LAKAM who “ran” Pollard, had in 1968 gone undercover as a chemist to visit the NUMEC nuclear reprocessing facility in Apollo, Pennsylvania, from which Israel is believed to have secretly obtained several hundred pounds of nuclear-grade plutonium. [2] Just as this coup helped propel Eitan to the top of his field, so Sella’s successful raid on Iraq’s nuclear power plant in 1981 made him a star.

Perhaps the most significant questions raised by the Pollard case are what Israel hoped to gain from the information Pollard supplied, and what damage, if any, his spying did to the United States. Just prior to Pollard’s sentencing, the Justice Department raised the possibility of a so-called “false flag” recruitment — that Pollard was misled into thinking he was serving Israel when in fact his information went to a hostile power. Edward Epstein writes in his recent counter-intelligence primer, Deception, that KGB officers have “pretended to be Israeli officials, NATO military attachés and even neo-Nazis.” [3] One of the most serious intelligence breaches of all time, the loss of naval codes through the John Walker spy ring, was made possible by an agent’s belief that he was working for Israel, not the KGB. Could the Soviets have similarly profited from Pollard’s enormous intelligence haul? Was Pollard a dupe as well as a traitor?

Blitzer disposes of the problem with a fatuous quotation from the defense brief, which notes that Pollard questioned his controllers “at length to satisfy his curiosity, and to establish their bona fides. Even the best trained agents could not have known the details or events on which these individuals were quizzed. The specter of a ‘false flag’ was in reality, therefore, non-existent.”

But Pollard could have learned nothing from his handlers, who presumably were loyal Israelis. The question really is who were the ultimate consumers of the intelligence. Pollard never interrogated the anonymous individuals whose specific demands for information guided his spying.

According to Pollard, his handlers showed absolutely no interest in intelligence on the topic of terrorism. Instead, Blitzer reports that “perhaps the most important single document Pollard provided to Israel consisted of a lengthy, extremely sensitive US handbook on communications intelligence that had been his handlers’ number one priority in obtaining.” Access to the handbook, he adds, would “signal to hostile powers that the United States had penetrated their most sensitive communications.” Such a handbook would be of far greater value to the Soviets than to Israel. So too would the vast information Pollard collected on “US ship positions, aircraft stations, tactics and training operations,” to cite the US government’s sentencing memorandum.

The notion of a false-flag recruitment of Pollard is more than a mere theoretical possibility. Israel has been infiltrated many times in the past by Eastern Bloc agents; its openness to Soviet emigres makes it all the more vulnerable. Knowing this, many US counter-intelligence analysts firmly believe either that Soviet “moles” directed Pollard’s intelligence collection or that Israel sold his invaluable material. Neil Livingstone, a professional “terrorism expert,” says “there’s no question that Mossad’s penetrated. A lot of what Pollard stole wasn’t related to Israeli security. Israel is a great trader of intelligence. To get an advantage someplace, they get something someone else wants and they create an indebtedness.” [4]

Official US suspicion that Moscow was the ultimate consumer of Pollard’s take grew, according to historian Stephen Green, “when, during the Pollard investigation, a Soviet defector in US hands revealed that in addition to the two Soviet spies serving prison terms in Israel (Shabtai Kalmanovitch and Marcus Klingberg), there was a third who had not been caught. He was well placed in the Defense Ministry and still ‘active.’” [5]

UPI reporter Richard Sale, who has excellent sources in the intelligence community, wrote in two little-noticed stories published in December 1987 that “US counterintelligence agents became aware of the Israeli-Soviet espionage pipeline when data stolen by Jonathan Jay Pollard…were ‘traced to the Eastern Bloc,’” in the words of one Justice Department official. [6] Sale, citing a State Department source, wrote that top Israeli defense officials had “traded stolen US intelligence documents to Soviet military intelligence agents in return for assurance of greater emigration of Soviet Jews.” “It began as a straight data-for-people deal,” Sale’s source said, but as a result “the Soviets penetrated the Israeli defense establishment at a high level.”

Sale’s sources also revealed that the most significant Soviet penetration had taken place in the early 1980s, under Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. One US intelligence analyst was quoted as saying that Sharon had “surrounded himself with people who are extraordinarily vulnerable to penetration.” One official very close to Sharon was Rafael Eitan, the LAKAM spymaster who directed Pollard. It was Sharon who brought the “embittered and angry” Eitan back into the intelligence community as head of LAKAM after his advancement in Mossad was blocked. [7]

Another member of the Sharon clique was the international arms dealer Ya’akov Nimrodi, one of the private arms dealers who orchestrated Israel’s role in Irangate. Though Blitzer does not say, Nimrodi is probably the “leading international arms dealer who specialized in sales to Iran,” code-named “Uzi,” who helped run the Pollard espionage operation. [8] Sharon had introduced Nimrodi to Armand Hammer, whose close commercial and political ties to the Soviet Union are well known. [9] “Uzi” ordered Pollard in the fall of 1985 to steal classified information on missile systems that could defend Iran’s Kharg Island oil facilities from Iraqi air attack; Nimrodi and his partners soon thereafter, in November 1985, arranged the profitable sale of US-made HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in exchange for US hostages. [10]

Blitzer is rightly skeptical of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s claim that the Pollard operation was a mere “rogue operation,” citing the fact that the Israeli government continues to put money into Pollard’s bank account in recognition of his services. Pollard himself never bought the “rogue” theory, noting that the guidance he received “suggested a highly coordinated effort between the Navy, Army and Air Force Intelligence services.” Sella received a promotion in the Air Force. Eitan was made head of Israel Chemicals, the largest state-owned industry in the country. (Blitzer might also have mentioned that one of Israel Chemical’s leading foreign representatives, Shaul Eisenberg, is a sometime Mossad agent who reportedly helped negotiate the sale of Chinese Silkworm missiles to Iran.) [11]

Given a life sentence for his espionage, Pollard has become a martyr to many Israeli and American Jews. A fall guy, perhaps, but Pollard is too pathetic for martyrdom. His sad fate should arouse indignation not against the US criminal justice system but against those who used him for reasons that can still only be guessed. Israel lied to the United States about the involvement of its top officials. It obstructed Washington’s efforts to assess the damage to national security and trace the stolen documents. The true tale of Israeli espionage in the United States has yet to be told.


[1] Oakland Tribune, November 23, 1985. The quote is from the friend’s diary.
[2] Washington Post, June 5, 1986.
[3] Edward Epstein, Deception (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 182.
[4] Washington Inquirer, June 2, 1989.
[5] Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 1989.
[6] UPI, December 13 and 27, 1987. For a longer analysis of these revelations, see Jonathan Marshall, “No Secrets Between Friends?” City Paper, January 15, 1988.
[7] Blitzer, p. 12. For more details on the Sharon-Eitan connection, see New York Times, December 1, 1985; Amos Perlmutter, “What the Pollards Did to Israel,” Newsday, December 11, 1985.
[8] Blitzer, p. 99.
[9] Davar, November 29, 1985. For more on the Sharon-Hammer connection, see Village Voice, January 29, 1985. For an extremely critical look at Hammer’s alleged ties to Soviet intelligence, see New York Times Magazine, November 29, 1981.
[10] Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, November 1987 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1987), ch. 10; Blitzer, pp. 169-170.
[11] Jerusalem Post, July 5, 1988.

How to cite this article:

Jonathan Marshall "Blitzer, Territory of Lies," Middle East Report 162 (January/February 1990).

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