An American With Dual Loyalties Jonathan Pollard’s Freedom Is a Reminder of Wider Suspicion
While many in the Jewish community are celebrating the upcoming release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, some are still reflecting bitterly on his case.
For many in sensitive government security positions, and for those working as defense contractors, Pollard’s espionage for Israel represents not only a moral lapse, but also a practical problem they still need to address when seeking the government’s trust.
“I can’t help but believe that what Pollard did had a huge impact on how security clearance decisions are made,” said David H. Shapiro, a Washington lawyer who represents civilians denied clearance needed for their work with government defense agencies. In his latest case, the security agency reviewing clearances listed Pollard’s espionage acts as further proof that American Jews have been spying for Israel.
Pollard’s arrest, three decades ago, marked a watershed moment for many American Jews making their way up the government security establishment ladder. The impact was felt mainly by lower-level contractors seeking clearance to work on defense projects. For others, the case was seen mainly as a source of shame. Making matters worse was the warm embrace Pollard received from Israel and from America’s organized Jewish community.
“When you champion someone like Pollard, it strengthens suspicion against us. It’s a threat to our livelihood,” said Michael Shurkin, a former government intelligence officer who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “You go to shul in Washington and you see many people with positions in clandestine agencies. We are all grateful for how few problems we’ve had, and we all fear that the climate might change because of people like Pollard.”
The prison parole board’s July 28 decision will set Pollard free November 21, when he completes 30 years of his life sentence. Pollard, who was a Navy intelligence officer, was caught stealing secret documents and giving them to his Israeli operators. While in prison he was granted Israeli citizenship, and consecutive Israeli governments have called for his release. The American Jewish community also joined the call and, more recently, highlighted his lengthy prison time as reason for an early release.
The Pollard case instantly fed into an already existing suspicion some in the defense establishment and the intelligence services held toward American Jews. And for the first time, it was a clear-cut, undisputed case of spying, not a rumor circulating in anti-Semitic circles.
American Jews in government positions that required security clearance faced questions about Pollard routinely. “I was asked about it once in a security clearance interview. I didn’t appreciate it,” Shurkin recalled. “You can’t help but feel threatened by it and discouraged. There are many Jews in the clandestine agencies, but for some of us there is also this awareness that you can’t take this trust for granted.”
Security clearances are required not only from those holding senior positions in the defense and intelligence agencies, but also from thousands of outside contractors providing services for agencies that require access to classified material. It is a lengthy process that involves extensive background checks and interviews. Any incriminating detail, even if circumstantial, could lead to a denial of clearance. “There has not been a year gone by that someone in the Jewish community applying for a sensitive position has not been impacted by the Pollard affair,” said a former communal leader
Guilty: Anne Henderson Pollard and her husband Jonathan Pollard at their wedding on August 9, 1985, in Italy. The couple were arrested for selling American secrets to Israel and China.
Handler: Rafi Eitan, former Israeli agent, was in charge of Mossad interaction with Pollard.