Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. intelligence analyst turned spy for Israel, wants the American government to ease up on the conditions of his parole. In legal briefs, he has argued that Washington should stop monitoring his personal computer and online activities and not force him to wear a personal GPS device that tracks Pollard’s movements in New York, where he has been living since his release from federal prison last year.
To which the U.S. intelligence community has essentially replied, “Oh, hell no.”
In a series of declarations filed late Friday with the U.S. Parole Commission, senior U.S. intelligence officials forcefully argued that Pollard still poses a risk to national security because if left unchecked, he could divulge U.S. secrets—and even old ones could do harm.
“Some of the sources and methods used to develop some of the intelligence exposed by Mr. Pollard not only remain classified but are still in use by the Intelligence Community today,” Jennifer L. Hudson, a senior official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a written statement (PDF).
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had previously said that some of the information Pollard is believed to have exposed is still classified at the secret and top secret level (PDF). But Hudson’s declaration adds a new dimension as to why the intelligence community thinks Pollard, who is now 61, is still a dangerous man.
Pollard was sentenced arrested in 1985 while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy, before the dawn of the internet and when the intelligence community’s main enemy was the Soviet Union. Could the information he leaked really be so revealing more than 30 years later?
“I would have no doubt, given the volume of the material,” one former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with Pollard’s case told The Daily Beast. In particular, Pollard may have known which up-and-coming leaders the U.S. was trying to recruit as future spies in the 1980s, and if they’re in positions of influence today in Israel or other Middle Eastern countries, they could still be providing useful intelligence, the former official noted. “The last thing you want is him talking about what’s in his head.”
Of course, there’s another motivation for the intelligence community to try to keep restrictions on Pollard’s parole: “They want to fuck with him,” the former official said.
U.S. spies don’t easily forgive, and they don’t forget.
Current and former intelligence officials hold Pollard in especially strong contempt to this day, both for the scale of his treachery and the acute risk it posed to U.S. interests at the time.
In recent statements to the Parole Commission, the U.S. government has said that “the breadth and scope of the classified information that [Pollard] sold to the Israelis was the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date” and included “thousands of Top Secret documents to Israeli agents which also threatened U.S. relations in the Middle East among the Arab countries.”
“I think what he did is exceeded only by our friend Edward Snowden,” retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence, said in an interview in 2014, when Pollard’s parole seemed possible.
Pollard has said he only intended to help Israel defend itself by providing security information that the U.S. was unwilling to share with its key Middle East ally.
Nonsense, spooks say.
One former official who worked on the damage assessment after Pollard’s espionage was discovered said that he was driven not by patriotism for Israel, but by the need to pay for his high-spending lifestyle and drug habit. “It was all about money, and he put most of it up his nose. He was known in Washington as the ‘candy man’ for God’s sake,” the former official said.
Pollard may claim that his spying was only intended to benefit Israel, but among the secrets he shared was a 10-volume manual that described how the National Security Agency intercepted Soviet communications, as well as technical details of military spy satellites.
“Contrary to what he’d have you believe in his reinvention of Jonathan Pollard, it had nothing to do with Arab countries or the security of Israel, but had everything to do with U.S. collection methods, to include most specifically against the Soviet Union,” Brooks said.
The manual was valuable because “it tells your enemy what we don’t know,” and what channels of communication the U.S. was monitoring and thus should be avoided, said the former official who worked on the damage assessment. The manual likely has little to reveal about current intelligence-gathering techniques—which are mostly conducted by spying on a global communications network that didn’t exist in the mid-’80s—but Pollard’s actions were considered so dangerous at the time as to be unforgivable now.
Pollard has long insisted that nothing he shared compromised the lives of U.S. agents in the field. And there’s no conclusive evidence that information he gave to Israel made its way to Moscow.
But current and former U.S. officials maintain that Pollard couldn’t have controlled how the information was used and that secrets could have been exposed in Israel.
“Mossad at that time was well penetrated by the KGB,” Brooks said, referring to the Israeli and Soviet intelligence services. “The Israelis will admit to that.”
In arguing now that Pollard’s online and offline activities should still be closely monitored, officials also provided a more detailed look at the kinds of intelligence he compromised and how they think it could still damage U.S. operations and interests.
Pollard is believed to have compromised information gathered from human sources that could reveal the identity of U.S. agents, even if indirectly, which could cause “significant harm to the source, his or her family, and his or her associates,” wrote Hudson, the senior official with the intelligence director’s office. “Even in cases where the source is no longer alive, such disclosure can place in jeopardy the lives of individuals with whom the source had contact,” she argued.
In addition to information about human spies, Pollard also shared secrets about signals intelligence, or SIGINT, which includes electronic communications intercepts, Hudson said. “Some of the SIGINT documents believed to have been compromised by Mr. Pollard would reveal intelligence sources and methods still in use today.” She didn’t specify which ones, but she noted that some of the “documents at issue implicated details of intelligence relationships with and the equities of NSA’s foreign partners.”
What’s more, Hudson said that Pollard also revealed information about how spy satellites track the movement of weapons and military forces on the ground, which is relevant to current intelligence operations. Even though those methods “continually evolve,” she acknowledged, officials have determined that those spying techniques, if disclosed, “would compromise current collection and analytic methods.”
That’s a thin reed on which to hang Pollard’s restrictions, his attorneys will surely argue. A lawyer for Pollard didn’t respond to a request for comment. But in previous filings, they have said that the GPS monitoring and the online tracking are an unconstitutional invasion of Pollard’s privacy and liberty, and that the restrictions are impeding their client from getting a job in New York. His lawyers also noted that when he pleaded guilty to espionage, Pollard promised not to divulge any further classified information.
U.S. intelligence officials have left little doubt about how seriously they take that promise.
In a letter to the Parole Commission in February, Clapper, the intelligence director, said that the intelligence community couldn’t say for sure whether there was a “‘reasonable probability’ that Mr. Pollard would commit some new crime…” But, he said, officials continue to believe that tracking Pollard is the best way to keep him in check.
Pollard may have been paroled, but as far as one-time colleagues in the intelligence community are concerned, he can never be reformed.
—with additional reporting by Nancy A. Youssef