Sy Versus Spy: Why the Mission Without Mercy?

The hailstorm that’s coming down on Jonathan Pollard’s head is a veritable wonder to behold. Admirals and generals, C.I.A. directors and their minions are whispering in the ears of Seymour (Sy) Hersh, who then repeats in The New Yorker one allegation after another maintaining that Jonathan Pollard was the worst spy to ever hit the beaches. Peter Beinart of The New Republic is granted the New York Times Op-Ed page to spread these rumors as if they were established, proven-in-court facts, which they are not. Mr. Beinart goes on to imply to this country’s Jews that if they don’t fall in line on keeping Mr. Pollard locked up forever, they will be suspect among their fellow Americans ever after for having dual loyalties.

Now it isn’t quite clear just what Jonathan Pollard did or did not do. He may or may not have given the Israelis the code book that enabled them to listen to our listening devices. Mr. Pollard claims the State Department gave it away. The Israelis may or may not have sold the same book to Russia for the release of Soviet Jews. This is the stuff of spy stories, and truth seems to have fallen victim to some giant squid who has left his blackest ink across reality. What is clear is that those paranoids, including Mr. Pollard, in the intelligence service cooked up all kinds of intrigue. What I do know is that Mr. Pollard agreed to a plea bargain in which he confessed to giving Israel secrets about Iraq’s chemical capacity. That done deal was broken when then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote a letter to the sentencing judge asking life imprisonment. Jonathan never got a chance to confront his accusers in open court and defend himself. If these belated accusations are true, as they may or may not be, no proof has been demonstrated. The accusations are not backed up with evidence the world can examine. The Government never produced any proof–all it did was withdraw a plea-bargain deal and avoid an open trial.

Along with the hints of dark deeds has come character assassination: Jonathan Pollard smoked dope as a young man; he used cocaine and was supporting a habit by snitching cartloads of documents; he tried to sell arms to Afghanistan and was a mercenary; he took money for his misdeeds. Now I wasn’t there, and maybe he did. Maybe he was a coke fiend. Maybe he was just a Zionist idealist. But no matter what, I’d like to see the evidence. The fact that higher-ups in the Government have said something is so doesn’t make it so.

There is the matter of the body count in Vietnam, the attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro with a poison pen. The Government told us we weren’t selling arms to the Nicaraguan contras; it told us we didn’t help Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende. Why should we believe the Government now? I am wondering how history is going to look back at us and judge our silence.

So let us assume that all the nasty talk is true and Jonathan Pollard really is the shifty no-goodnik doper who caused the C.I.A. such grief: Do we still want him in jail longer than any other person similarly convicted? What about due process? Why wasn’t he allowed to confront his accusers? Now he sits in jail and can’t answer the editorials and Op-Ed pieces, because he’s not allowed a public voice. Is this the American justice system we’re so proud of, the one we are protecting with all those spy dishes circling above our heads? Anybody can say anything about Jonathan Pollard and he cannot reply. Something feels rotten here.

Is it possible that someone besides Mr. Beinart is trying to intimidate the Jewish community or to demonstrate the untrustworthy nature of Jews? Is someone in our State Department trying offer the Arab world proof of our loyalty? I hate to resort to conspiratorial questions and frighten myself with unlikely possibilities, but this Pollard affair is really a mystery. The other spies were not such nice people, either. Mr. Pollard doesn’t seem to be Anatoli Scharansky or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Alfred Dreyfus. There are analogies, but they are inexact and not helpful in trying to understand what’s going on. But if his name were Jonathan Johnson and he was black and he spied for the African National Congress and was given a life sentence, what would the American Civil Liberties Union think then? Since Jonathan is just a Jew, the A.C.L.U. doesn’t care if the mold grows over his body

and questions of due process are shrugged off. Amnesty International doesn’t want to touch him. They have their questions about Zionism, anyway.

He is a lonesome man, almost alone in his incarceration. He has a few friends, most of them without power in the Jewish organizations, most of them frustrated and exhausted. When all the big guys claim he deserves no mercy, then I am curious. What are they afraid of? Why no mercy? Why are the powerful so incensed that this man might be released and go live in Israel and father a child with his wife? Why are they afraid of him? Or are they covering up their own hides? If so, then what? One thing is for sure, when so much power is exercised, so many editorials are written and so many leaks to journalists are made in order to keep one small powerless person in prison, the rest of us should be worried. Why the overkill? Why the determined public relations campaign? If Mr. Pollard is the scum of the earth but is not dangerous to us now, why are the powers behind the action so rancorous, so bitter, so cold of heart? In what way could a spy who has surely been out of the loop for the last 13 years have anything in his head that could harm us now? Doesn’t C.I.A. Director George Tenet know that the Lord has said, “Vengeance is mine”?

When I read the Hersh article in The New Yorker , I was struck with the absurd game-playing through which the intelligence service earns its daily bread. I wondered why, in most cases, one country could not simply speak to another, not in code, but just in human words. I wondered if all the electronic blips that amount to eavesdropping are going to save us from anything. So far, they have not warned us of massacres in Africa, starvations, bombings, temple riots, plane explosions, governments falling. So far, it seems to me that we would do better to listen to CNN than play spy with devices that seem to work as well as those found in a cereal box. The spooks seem ridiculous. Could Mr. Pollard’s release put some further egg on their faces? Whatever else Jonathan Pollard did, he did a good deed for Israel, and that belongs on his balance sheet.