Spies, Diplomacy and Double Standards

While Israel demands that the U.S. release spy Jonathan Pollard, it continues to persecute Mordechai Vanunu for exposing the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, raising questions about secrecy, double standards and diplomacy, an issue addressed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Although it looked for a time, after the latest breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that the notion of trying to buy some cooperation from Benjamin Netanyahu by freeing the spy Jonathan Pollard had expired along with talks, it appears that a stake still has not been driven through this really bad idea.

It should be. Pollard’s record has not changed. He was responsible for one of the most voluminous thefts of U.S. secrets ever. He is nobody’s patriot, having been paid handsomely for his betrayal and having tried to peddle his pilfered secrets to other governments in addition to Israel’s.

Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the photo from his U.S. Naval Intelligence ID.

Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the photo from his U.S. Naval Intelligence ID.

And please, let us not hear any more the gratingly oxymoronic comment that leniency should be shown to Pollard because he was “spying for an ally.” Label Israel however you want — and there are good reasons, including ones involving misuse of U.S. secrets, to question the label “ally” — but espionage is a hostile act. Insofar as anyone acts this way, they are not acting as an ally.

To release Pollard short of his duly pronounced sentence would be another blow against public understanding of the reality that it is impossible to have any effective program of national security without secrets. That understanding already has been weakened lately with the badly inappropriate lionization of another wholesale stealer of U.S. secrets, most of whose disclosures have had nothing whatever to do with the privacy rights of American citizens on whose behalf he claimed to be acting.

The sort of trade involving Pollard that has most recently been contemplated would hardly buy anything anyway. At most it would keep going for a short additional time talks that were going nowhere. To make them go somewhere would require a fundamental decision by the Israeli government to trade conquered land for peace, and releasing Pollard would not bring about such a decision.

Think about what such a trade would say about the issues under negotiation and especially about the Israeli position on such issues. It would show that whatever the Israeli government was holding out on before and that became part of the trade was not really a matter of principle or of Israeli security as had been claimed.

It would reveal the whole business to be tawdry bargaining, of the sort that strings along a process enabling the Israeli government to appear to be working toward a two-state solution without really doing so, rather than a genuine and focused pursuit of peace in partnership with the Palestinians. And it would enable Netanyahu to reap whatever short-term domestic benefit comes from winning release of the spy.

Maybe Netanyahu has no shame in being part of such dealings, but it would be demeaning to the United States. It would show the Obama administration to be so desperate for what it would bill as a diplomatic success — or rather, just the absence of failure — that it was willing to play Netanyahu’s cheap game. It would give political benefit to a government that has caused much trouble to U.S. interests. And it would not divert Israel from a course that is over the long term destructive to Israel’s own interests.

The one good thing about Pollard being eligible for parole next year is that, if he is in fact paroled, the sordid idea of releasing him early in a deal with Israel will finally be gone once and for all.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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3 comments on “Spies, Diplomacy and Double Standards

  1. lumpentrol on said:

    Releasing Pollard would be interpreted as a declaration of war against the US intelligence community.

    Talk of releasing Pollard is part of a psychological operation designed to flush out any remaining loyal American or person of integrity within this community of super-gangsters.

    It would only happen as a prelude to a coup.

    Releasing Pollard would be an open signal to every spook in America that they live, work, die for Israel.

    No. Pollard will not be released.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    At last. Professor Pillar writes an article I can whole-heartedly endorse. Pollard didn’t just spy. He sold the entire U.S. Signals Intelligence program: cryptography, deciphering and encryption techniques, short wave, microwave, satellite communications, code books, manuals, technical information, tracking capabilities, and perhaps even nuclear defense protocols. As far as lionization of “leakers” is concerned, I assume Prof. Pillar refers to Ed Snowden. I am glad to know the extent of U.S. Government abuse of 4th Amendment protections, but I can’t escape the gnawing suspicion brought on by the slow, tantalizing striptease that he, Greenwald and Poitras have been marketing like a new Motown record label. Was the goal to expose abuse? Then what happened to the other 50,000 documents they claim to have. Is it a personal insurance policy? Does the rest of it really even exist? I have to regard the “Snowden Chronicles” with the same level of skepticism as the raid on Abottabad: SHOW ME THE BODY! In the meantime, Pollard is right where he belongs. If Snowden stole information revealing crime, obstruction of justice or conspiracy, that’s a thing. But if he’s got defense technology and countermeasures, that’s another thing. The double-standards we have slowly developed as a direct result of placating the intractable Israelis and their Neocon fan club have spread malignant transformation to every organ of our government. Oh, the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

  3. TheAZCowBoy, Tombstone, AZ on said:

    Commenarry on back-stabbing traitor Jon Pollard:
    Mr. Sanford: ‘You wrote a great letter.
    Thanks!

    Pssst: Perhaps the next one will hit on the UNITED SNAKES (US/Israel/NATO) and how they are coming together in Ukraine and Syria like so many low life thugs undeserving of the world community’s respect but perhaps a good bitch (((slapping))) in the hands of: VA-ROOM! VA-ROOM! Papa Putin in his Harley, of course!