35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Jonathan Pollard: Revisiting a Still Sensitive Case

Published: Dec 14, 2012
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Briefing Book #407

Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Washington, D.C., November 24, 2020 – Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel in 1987, was released from parole this week.  Pollard, 66, spent almost three decades in prison before being paroled in 2015 on condition that he could not travel outside the United States, had to submit to a curfew, and wore an electronic monitor.  Any company that employed him had to have special government monitoring software on its computer systems.

Pollard’s case was a constant source of tension between the United States and Israel as successive American presidents came under pressure from Israeli leaders and domestic constituencies to reduce or end his sentence.  On the other side of the ledger was the U.S. intelligence community, which consistently expressed outrage over the incident.  As recently as 2006, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet threatened to resign if the White House released Pollard. 

Today, the National Security Archive is reposting an Electronic Briefing Book on the Pollard case.  First published in December 2012 by then-Senior Fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson (who passed away in 2017), it features almost two dozen CIA, Defense Department, and other records on the case, Pollard’s background, the impact of his espionage, and the Israeli intelligence establishment.  Among the highlights are a detailed 1987 CIA damage assessment, initially heavily redacted but later substantially restored after an Archive appeal to an interagency panel, and a Defense Intelligence Agency biographic sketch of Pollard’s initial Israeli handler.

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Original Posting from 2012

The Jonathan Pollard Spy Case: The CIA's 1987 Damage Assessment Declassified

New Details on What Secrets Israel Asked Pollard to Steal

CIA Withholding Overturned on Appeal by National Security Archive

Washington, D.C., December 14, 2012 – 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 (www.nsarchive.org).

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).

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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 assessment also notes that Pollard volunteered delivery of three daily intelligence summaries that had not been requested by his handlers, but which proved useful to them, and ultimately handed over roughly 1,500 such messages from the Middle East and North Africa Summary (MENAS), the Mediterranean Littoral Intelligence Summary (MELOS), and the Indian Ocean Littoral Intelligence Summary, in addition to the more than 800 compromised documents on other subjects that Pollard delivered to the Israelis in suitcases.

The damage assessment also features a detailed 21-page chronology of Pollard's personal life and professional career, including his work for the Israelis, highlighting more than a dozen examples of unusual behavior by Pollard that the CIA suggests should have, in retrospect, alerted his supervisors that he was a security risk. Prominent on the list were false statements by Pollard during a 1980 assignment with Task Force 168, the naval intelligence element responsible for HUMINT collection. Pollard is now serving a life sentence in prison for espionage.

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.

Today's posting, edited by Archive senior fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson, includes more than a dozen other declassified documents on the Pollard case, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency biographic sketch of Pollard's initial Israeli handler, Col. Aviam Sella. Among many other books and articles, Richelson is the author of The U.S. Intelligence Community (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2011, 6th edition), which the Washington Post called "the authoritative survey of the American cloak-and-dagger establishment."


Jonathan Pollard: Fantasist and Spy

By Jeffrey T. Richelson

Nineteen-eighty-five became known as the "Year of the Spy" in the United States after a series of arrests and one defection revealed several serious penetrations of the U.S. intelligence and defense establishments by foreign intelligence services. On November 22, Larry Wu-Tai Chin, a long-time CIA employee, was taken into custody by the FBI and accused of spying for the People's Republic of China. Two days later, former National Security Agency employee Ronald Pelton was arrested and charged with having provided the Soviet Union with details of five signals intelligence operations. Those arrests followed the apprehension, in May, of a former member of the U.S. Navy, John A. Walker, Jr., who had started turning over highly-secret documents to the KGB in 1968. And in September, before he could be arrested, former CIA officer Edward Lee Howard absconded to Moscow.[1]

But no arrest was more stunning than that of Jonathan J. Pollard, a thirty-one year old analyst for the Navy's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center (ATAC). Pollard was detained on November 21, after a futile attempt to gain access to the Washington, D.C. embassy of Israel to one of whose intelligence services, the Scientific Liaison Bureau (LAKAM), he had been delivering a vast assortment of documents. News of Pollard's arrest was not the first time that the issue of Israeli intelligence activities directed against U.S. targets had been in the press. That subject had been the subject of press coverage several years earlier after the CIA's study of the organization and operations of Israel's intelligence and security services (Document 1) had become public, after it had been recovered from the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the November 4, 1979 takeover.[2]

Release 2006 vs Release 2012

The outlines of Pollard's personal and professional life, as well as details of the nature of the material he turned over to Israel became the subject of both newspaper and magazine reports, books, and official, sometimes heavily redacted, internal documents (Document 3, Document 13) as well as declarations prepared for the court by both the government and defense in aid of sentencing (Document 7a, Document 8a, Document 10). Both official and media reports indicated that Pollard had first expressed his willingness to provide Israel with highly-classified documents during a late May 1984 meeting with Israeli Air Force officer Aviam Sella (Document 2a, Document 2b, Document 11). 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 7a, Document 10) – some of which were direct responses (Document 9) to claims and analysis made by Pollard in his sentencing memorandums (Document 6, Document 8b). 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.

Of all the spy cases from 1985, the Pollard case has been the one that has had the longest life in terms of media coverage - in part because of efforts, both by private citizens and the Israeli government to have his life sentence commuted. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's 1993 appeal to President Bill Clinton resulted in a letter from defense secretary Les Aspin expressing his opposition and stressing three points: the requirement to maintain control over the disclosure of intelligence to foreign governments, the damage done by Pollard's disclosures, and Pollard's alleged inclusion of classified information in letters from prison. In 1998, in an attempt to facilitate his release, the Israeli government publically acknowledged (Document 15). Pollard's role as an Israeli asset. And, former Director of Central Intelligence, George J. Tenet reports that the subject was raised by the Israeli government in 2006, and he threatened to resign if Pollard was released. As recently as January 2011, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Barack Obama, without success, to free Pollard.[5]

Relevant to that debate and as well as the historical record are the specifics of the Pollard's professional career, what he compromised, and the assessment of the damage from the compromised material. While some of that information has been disclosed, either officially or unofficially, much of the official record has been redacted from released documents. The recent release of a significantly less-redacted copy of the damage assessment performed by the DCI's Foreign Denial and Deception Analysis Committee (Document 13b) thus, even if it has no impact on views concerning Pollard's fate, adds significantly to the historical record concerning his activities.

Among the specific items of note in the newly released assessment are an account of Pollard's claim (p. I-18) upon his late arrival for an interview, that he spent the weekend rescuing his wife from the Irish Republican Army after they had kidnaped her. Pollard's connection with a naval intelligence unit, Task Force-168, responsible for human intelligence activities is also among the topics discussed in the damage assessment. The committee's report also provides new insight to exactly what information the Israelis wanted and why as well as what information they did not want (pp. 38-46), including U.S. capabilities or plans. With regard to Syria, for example, Pollard was requested to provide documents concerning a suspected research and development facility, an electronics intelligence (ELINT) system, remotely piloted vehicles, a national command, control, and communications center in Damascus, Syrian military units with attached Soviet advisors, and medical intelligence on Syrian president Hafiz al-Assad. A common denominator for Israeli requests concerning Syria and other countries was the predominant focus on military intelligence relevant to Israeli security.

The study also describes (on p. 38) an incident involving LAKAM chief Rafi Eitan, in which he requested documents or information from Pollard on a variety of topics. According to Pollard, his case officer, standing behind Pollard, shook his head "no" in response to many of Eitan's requests - including those for information on the PLO's Force 17, CIA psychological studies or other intelligence containing 'dirt' on senior Israeli officials, as well as information identifying the "rats" in Israel (by which he apparently meant Israelis who provided information to the United States).

The study also reports (p. 60) on Israeli use of the NSA's RASIN (Radio Signal Notation) manual, which was requested on at least two occasions, in assisting its monitoring of a communications link between the Soviet General Staff and the Soviet military assistance group in Damascus.





[1] Jeffrey T. Richelson, A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford, 1995), pp. 388-403.

[2] Scott Armstrong, "Israelis Have Spied on U.S. Secret Papers Show," Washington Post, February 1, 1982.

[3] The most significant media account on Pollard is Wolf Blitzer, Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard: The American Who Spied on His Country For Israel And How He Was Betrayed (New York: Harper & Row, 1989). With regard to the count of stolen documents, see Director of Central Intelligence Foreign Denial and Deception Analysis Committee, The Jonathan Jay Pollard Espionage Case: A Damage Assessment, October 30, 1987, p. 45.

[4] Richelson, A Century of Spies, pp. 401-402.

[5] Ibid., p. 403; George J. Tenet with Bill Harlow, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), p. 67; M.E. "Spike" Bowman, "The Drumbeats for Clemency for Jonathan Jay Pollard Reverberate Again," Intelligencer, Winter/Spring 2011, pp. 7-10; Jonathan S. Tobin, "The Pollard Spy Case, 25 Years Later," Commentary, March 2011, pp. 37-43.