On the morning of November 21, 1985, on the instructions of Israeli officials, Jonathan Jay Pollard and his wife Anne made their way to Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC. They were admitted to the embassy compound, but after several minutes asked to leave.
Upon exiting, they were arrested by waiting FBI agents. Jonathan was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and Anne was accused of unauthorized possession of classified documents; both were imprisoned. Anne was released after serving three years of a five-year sentence. Jonathan was sentenced to life without parole and, to date, remains in a federal prison.
Jonathan Pollard was raised in South Bend, Indiana, in a staunchly Zionist family. While working as an analyst for the U.S. Naval Intelligence Service, he became convinced that the United States was reneging on its commitment to provide Israel with vital intelligence at a time of increased security threats to the Jewish state.
In May 1985, after protests to his superiors were cursorily dismissed, he made contact with Colonel Aviem Sella of the Israeli Air Force, then on sabbatical in Washington. Pollard offered to provide him with intelligence material that would then be transmitted to LAKAM, Israel’s Office of Scientific Liaison, headed by former Mossad agent Rafael Eitan.
Over the following months, Pollard provided Sella with more than 1,000 classified documents, containing information on Soviet arms shipments, Syrian missile technology, Iraqi chemical weapons production, Pakistan’s nuclear program, Libyan air defenses, and assessments of PLO forces.
Despite Pollard’s ideological motivation, Sella “corrupted” Pollard by giving him cash payments. Changes in Pollard’s spending habits aroused his superiors’ suspicions, and he was placed under surveillance. Fearing arrest, he notified Sella, who immediately fled the United States. Sella left no contingency plans for the Pollards.
The Pollard case had potentially serious repercussions for the special relationship between Israel and the United States. While the United States may not have complied with its intelligence commitments to Israel, the Israelis had engaged in a serious breach of trust by spying on their ally. At first, Israeli leaders–including Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin–refused to take responsibility for the affair, claiming that it was a rogue operation.
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