Jonathan Pollard spied on Arabs and Soviets, not on the US

Jonathan Pollard in 1998

Contrary to all the reports and rumours over the decades, it now appears that Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy imprisoned in America for life, never spied on American activities at all  and was never asked to by Israel.  Rather, he passed to Israel US intelligence on the military capabilities of Arab states and the USSR (all emphases below are mine):

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.

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.


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.

The question urgently arises, why was Pollard’s plea-bargain ignored and why was he in any case, plea-bargain or not, sentenced to such a terribly harsh sentence if he never spied on the US? The injustice and unfairness screams out to the heavens.

Here is the heavily redacted actual CIA document(h/t IMRA).

Here is the National Security Archive article mentioned in the Times of Israel and which summarises the document:

When Naval Investigative Service analyst Jonathan Pollard spied for Israel in 1984 and 1985, his Israeli handlers asked primarily for nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union – not on the United States according to the newly-declassified CIA 1987 damage assessment of the Pollard case, published today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University ( The damage assessment includes new details on the specific subjects and documents sought by Pollard’s Israeli handlers (pages 36-43), such as Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs, and Soviet air defenses. The Israelis specifically asked for a signals intelligence manual that they needed to listen in on Soviet advisers in Syria. The document describes how Pollard’s handler, Joseph Yagur, told him to ignore a request, from Yagur’s boss, for U.S. “dirt” on senior Israeli officials and told Pollard that gathering such information would terminate the operation (page 38).

Under the heading “What the Israelis Did Not Ask For,” the assessment remarks (page 43) that they “never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities, or equipment.”


The CIA denied release of most of the Pollard damage assessment in 2006, claiming for example that pages 18 through 165 were classified in their entirety and not a line of those pages could be released. The Archive appealed the CIA’s decision to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, established by President Clinton in 1995 and continued by Presidents Bush and Obama. The ISCAP showed its value yet again as a check on systemic overclassification by ordering release of scores of pages from the Pollard damage assessment that were previously withheld by CIA, and published today for the first time.


Until his arrest, Pollard delivered approximately 800 documents, many of which were classified top secret or codeword. In addition, he stole an estimated 1,500 current intelligence summary messages.3

The documents provided information on PLO headquarters in Tunisia; specific capabilities of Tunisian and Libyan air defense systems; Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare productions capabilities (including detailed satellite imagery); Soviet arms shipments to Syria and other Arab states; naval forces, port facilities, and lines of communication of various Middle Eastern and North African countries; the MiG-29 fighter; and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Also included was a U.S. assessment of Israeli military capabilities.4

Pollard’s disclosures were alarming to U.S. officials for several reasons, some of which were noted in their official declarations (Document 6, Document 8). One, despite the fact that both the U.S. and Israeli considered each other legitimate intelligence targets, was Israel’s willingness to run a human penetration operation directed at the U.S. government. Another, was the damage to the intelligence sharing arrangement with Israel since its acquisition of material from Pollard weakened the U.S. position vis-a-vis intelligence exchanges with Israel. In addition, there was no guarantee that such documents, revealing both sources and methods as well as assessments, would not find their way to the Soviet Union via a Soviet penetration of the Israeli intelligence or defense community as had happened with a number of other allies. Further, since Israel was a target of U.S. intelligence collection particularly technical collection – operations, the documents could be used by Israeli counterintelligence and security organizations to help Israel neutralize or degrade U.S. collection operations.

The chutzpah of the US in punishing Israel, via Pollard,  for “damage to the intelligence sharing arrangement with Israel” is quite breath-taking. If the US had been sharing that information to Israel, information vital to its very existence, Israel would not have felt the need to run a spy like Pollard. Withholding intelligence from an ally which could ultimately endanger it is not the behaviour of an ally.

Furthermore, the article states: “there was no guarantee that such documents, revealing both sources and methods as well as assessments, would not find their way to the Soviet Union via a Soviet penetration of the Israeli intelligence”. But there was no guarantee that such documents did reveal these sources and methods. To indict Pollard for something that might happen but ultimately did not is immoral and a breach of any kind of reasonable legal action, especially between allies.

We can add to the utter injustice of Pollard’s case when we consider that Soviet spies who committed much worse crimes and in fact led to the deaths of American spies received lesser sentences.

Jonathan Pollard’s health is very fragile at the moment which has induced many American politicians to request clemency, as the Times of Israel link above reports:

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.

Pollard has been dealt with very cruelly  over the years by both the Administration and the prisons system which has kept him for at least 7 years in solitary confinement – this for a man who never physically harmed anyone.

With these startling new revelations from the CIA – despite their avoidance tactics – it is high time that Jonathan Pollard was released forthwith from his extreme, cruel and unusual punishment, and brought home to Israel.

For more on Jonathan Pollard, here is the website for Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

This entry was posted in International relations and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Jonathan Pollard spied on Arabs and Soviets, not on the US

  1. reality says:

    so how come in the last 25 years no Israeli MK or politician has explained this & asked for his release-indeed they’ve done their utmost to ignore him-methinks they are scared of what he may reveal. Its only been recently that they’ve half heartedly jumped on the band wagon (basically just paying lip service asking for his release). If Netanyahu or former prime ministers really had wanted him home they would’ve given some sort of ultimatum to USA. Apart from that, the USA have behaved disgustingly towards Pollard. Perhaps he should sue them in a human rights court of law.Alternatively I cannot believe that we’ve never caught US spies spying on us so its time to throw_them in jail & chuck away the key forever.

    • anneinpt says:

      You’re quite right about the shameful attitude of successive Israeli gov’ts. However in recent years Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship and the gov’t (I can’t remember under whose leadership) admitted he was our agent.

      And Israel HAS caught American spies. Here’s another link. Yet the gov’t let them go without demanding Pollard or anything else in return. It’s incomprehensible to me. Israel didn’t even slam those spies in jail after a big noisy public trial. Think of the embarrassment we could have caused the Americans! We are pathetic wimps.

  2. peteca1 says:

    America is a country that is highly patriotic, and the Gov’t takes a dim view of people who betray the trust in their own country. Pollard was jailed because he revealed US secrets. I’m not sure it mattered to the US Gov’t what the subject matter of the secrets actually was. You are right that Pollard’s case seems to get an extremely harsh treatment from Washington DC – for reasons unknown. Perhaps there are hidden politics playing into this … maybe there are. Maybe there were other consequences that stemmed from the data that was transferred to Israel … perhaps Israel conducted other covert operations that are not publicly known. It doesn’t seem likely that the general public will ever find out.

    The only practical way that Pollard can be released is if there is a “spy swap”. This type of thing is not unusual between the West and Russia – but it would be bizarre between the USA and Israel. Why would Israel hold an American spy? It seems very unlikely. But other than some kind of intelligence swap – Pollard’s freedom appears to be a long way away.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Pete, As “reality” below says, “what, Israel’s aren’t patriotic?”.

      The issue isn’t one of patriotism. Every country views spies as somethign not to be tolerated. I’m not arguing that Pollard wasn’t a spy or that he didn’t deserve a punishment.

      BUT he didn’t deserve to have his plea-bargain ignored or rejected. It had been agreed upon. What kind of justice system is that? If a murderer can cop a plea, why can’t a spy who spied FOR AN ALLY (excuse caps lock, I feel very strongly about this).

      He also didn’t deserve such a harsh sentence when worse spies than him, who really did endanger and even led to the deaths of American agents abroad, got lesser sentences. He also doesn’t deserve such harsh treatment within the prison. He’s not a dangerous man. He’s a nerdy. Why wasn’t he allowed to see his dying mother, his dying father and attend either of their funerals? Why is he in a maximum security prison?

      You are probably right that the only way he could be released would be via a spy swap unless he’s granted clemency.

      You ask:

      it would be bizarre between the USA and Israel. Why would Israel hold an American spy?

      But as I wrote in my post – America most definitely DOES spy on Israel. Everyone spies on everyone in this world, including allies. As I wrote, Israel actually caught American spies, but like the wimps we are we released them home – perhaps expecting a similar gesture for Pollard, but we were sorely disappointed.

  3. reality says:

    so the Americans are patriotic? & we’re not -probably not enough or we’re too scared of the big bad US of A. pathetic.Its time that the papers revealed all they have about American spies-where’s wikileaks when you need them?

    • anneinpt says:

      The Jonathan Pollard website seems to have plenty of information. The problem isn’t info. The problem is acting on it, and it seems that our gov’ts are definitely wimps.

  4. peteca1 says:

    Just checking back on your comments.
    No – i didn’t mean to imply that somehow Americans are more patriotic than Israeli’s. I wasn’t trying to make any comparisons. I was just commenting on the general nature of Americans – the people as a whole do tend to be quite patriotic. Hence if the Gov’t annnounces that “Pollard was a spy” that’s probably enough for a lot of Americans to condemn him at first glance, and never look at the details.

    I do find it puzling why the Gov’t wound enter into a plea bargain agreement and then break it. That’s relaly not like them. Something must have definitely occurred that really soured the US Government towards Pollard. Apparently it is something that still cannot be discussed. It’s interesing that Pollard only conveyed “third party inforamtion” – which seems like it should offer the possibility for a reducee sentence. My own guess, and it’s a total guess is that one of two things happened: (1) Pollard’s case attracted animosity from high-level politcians somewhere in the US system (who knows why), or (2) Pollard leaked some kind of information that was more damaging, in addition to what you mentioned in your story. Whatever happened, it appears that America is very angry with him.

    In any case, we will probably never find out the truth. Unless Israel acquires something “of value” to exchange for Pollard, he doesn’t seem to be any closer to freedom.
    Pete, USA

  5. Pingback: A Palestinian airline bomber is released from US jail but Jonathan Pollard remains incarcerated | Anne's Opinions

Comments are closed.