Free Pollard Now, Pay Later

The proposal to free spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel extending a temporary freeze on settlement building has now received support from four Democrats in Congress. Although many claim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated this latest bid to free Pollard, it may not be that simple. Since the 1990s the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has publicly and privately called for Pollard’s release. The 52 organizations in the Conference constitute a key block in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) executive committee. Hitching Pollard’s release to any suitably strong vehicle – whether steaming in from Israel or propelled from within the U.S. – is therefore an AIPAC priority. Like its behind-the-scenes support for Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program, Pollard’s release is not something AIPAC can lobby for openly. This is because – as with many of AIPAC’s initiatives – freeing Pollard is both unpopular and a zero-sum game in which America must lose in order for Israel to win.

The logic behind exonerating one massive illegality to temporarily stanch another seems to be that in exercising clemency the U.S. will win time to advance the so-called “peace process” underway between Israelis and Palestinians. But will freeing Pollard instead only touch off yet another crippling wave of Israeli espionage against the United States? Has exercising leniency toward the many instances of Israel-related espionage ever worked in the past? Over 400 pages of FBI news clippings [.pdf] released on Sept. 7, 2010, in response to a 2009 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for files about the 2005 AIPAC espionage investigation reveal one inescapable reality: now that the “free Pollard” initiative is underway, American governance will likely suffer greatly whether or not President Obama ultimately chooses to reward yet another crime committed in the name of Israel.

The news sources clipped by the FBI are broad, ranging from “Chalabi-gate: None Dare Call It Treason” by Justin Raimondo (May 28, 2004) to “Still Dreaming of Tehran” by Robert Dreyfuss and Laura Rozen (April 12, 2004). Rozen’s analysis seems to be an FBI favorite, appearing in multiple instances and highlighted with markings etched by anonymous G Men. The FBI even boxed in a cryptic reference in her article “The Big Chill” from The Nation on July 14, 2005:

The Nation has learned that among the documents the FBI has in its possession is a memo written by [Steven J.] Rosen in 1983, soon after he joined AIPAC, to his then-boss describing his having been informed about the contents of a classified draft of a White House position paper concerning the Middle East and telling his boss that their inside knowledge of this draft might enable the group to influence the final document. The significance would seem to be an effort by the FBI to establish a pattern of Rosen’s accessing classified information to which he was not authorized, not just from Franklin but over many years. Rosen’s attorneys declined to comment on the allegation.”

That reference is enlightening. The FBI held back in its pursuit of Steve Rosen in 1983, but by 1984 it was forced by the U.S. trade representative to launch a full- blown investigation into how Rosen’s AIPAC trade research team obtained yet another classified document full of still-classified American industrial secrets. By 1986 the FBI even learned that Israeli Minister of Economics Dan Halpern passed the stolen document to AIPAC – but the DOJ shut down the investigation after Halpern claimed diplomatic immunity. The DOJ thus thwarted the FBI’s plans to interview U.S. government officials or possibly other Americans that might have leaked the document to Israel. U.S. economic interest groups from pharmaceutical makers to the bromine industry complained bitterly about the DOJ’s failure to enforce statutes protecting them from such abuses. Prosecutorial leniency for AIPAC espionage in 1984 had adverse economic consequences that undermined confidence in subsequent bilateral trade agreements. But Pollard’s capture and prosecution during the very midst of the earlier AIPAC espionage investigation seemed to indicate the U.S. was – in one limited instance at least – sometimes capable of enforcing the laws of the land.

The newly released FBI clipping file also includes an Oct. 20, 2006, Time article detailing a federal investigation into whether Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) – in exchange for help from AIPAC to obtain leadership of the House Intelligence Panel – agreed to intervene with the Bush administration to convince it to go easy on AIPAC’s Weissman and Rosen. Again prosecutorial leniency prevailed, and nothing came of the Harman investigation. By 2009 reporter Jeff Stein revealed that Harman had been overheard on a 2005 federal wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against the indicted pair.

A fascinating read, the FBI’s news-clipping file provides a timely snapshot of how Israel-related espionage cases undermine the rule of law and poison governance in America. In case after case, solid evidence gathered by law enforcement, independent investigative reporting, and criminal indictments gave way to elaborate PR campaigns alleging anti-Semitism and demanding DOJ and judicial leniency under various outrageous pretexts. Rosen and Weismann’s prospects were buoyed by the oft-repeated slogan that in soliciting and distributing closely held U.S. national defense information, the pair were only “doing what reporters do every day,” a deeply flawed slippery-slope analogy. Firefighters light small fires to rob advancing blazes of fuel – just as arsonists also sometimes set things alight.

It is clear from the news clippings that AIPAC’s goal – as exercised though Rosen and Weissman – was gathering enough kindling to set ablaze U.S. military strikes against Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran, securing inside information on the president’s policy options and other fuel it could use to incite the media and public before George W. Bush left office. While it is touching that the FBI was at the time thumbing through Mother Jones articles lamenting that the forces behind the launching of one disastrous war on false pretexts in the Middle East were jockeying for yet another, the totality of the FBI file documents the collapse of the rule of law through DOJ intransigence. The DOJ should have indicted AIPAC for espionage in 2005 – which probably would have led to its demise – rather than gingerly pursuing two AIPAC operatives (one is now suing AIPAC for “defamation”). Instead, a DOJ back-room deal permitted AIPAC to walk, culminating in the current bid to free one of the most notorious spies ever caught on American soil and a renewed drive to hit Iran through any means. The DOJ has, over time, proven to be a moribund destination where Israeli espionage cases go to be ignored, neglected [.pdf], or pardoned.

Ever since it sprang from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ U.S. “information office” in the early 1950s, AIPAC has engaged in many covert activities designed to serve its foreign principals – all at tremendous moral and financial cost to America. The Pollard-pardon-for-illegal-settlements-freeze proposal should be considered seriously by all Americans and the U.S. government – not as part of any credible peace process, but rather as a signal that it’s time to re-register AIPAC as an Israeli foreign agent and implement a new no-tolerance policy toward Israeli espionage within our hobbled Department of Justice.