The case of Jonathan J. Pollard, the U.S. naval analyst caught passing classified documents to Israel, has been called a “rogue operation” by the Israeli government, which claims not to have known that it was receiving classified information illegally. To call the case a “rogue operation,” however, is to ignore the fact that Jonathan Pollard is neither the first nor the only U.S. government employee to be investigated for passing classified information to Israeli officials.
In 1978, in a Washington, D.C. restaurant, I overheard Stephen D. Bryen, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer and now a deputy assistant secretary of Defense, offering “Pentagon documents on the bases” to officials of the Israeli government. After I reported this incident to the Justice Department, FBI and Justice Department investigators gathered sufficient evidence on Dr. Bryen’s activities to recommend he be brought before an investigative grand jury for espionage. The case was quietly closed, however, by Philip Heymann, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, a close personal friend and associate of Dr. Bryen’s attorney. Bryen was never formally charged or made to account for his actions under oath.
Since the closing of the Bryen investigation left many important questions unanswered, the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) filed a Freedom of Information Act suit to obtain the investigative documents, When the Justice Department refused to release these documents, the NAAA took the matter to court and eventually won at every level.
These events led to the publication of my book, The Armageddon Network, which describes the Bryen investigation, his current activities, and the Justice Department role in the affair. It raises the question of a possible cover-up by the Justice Department of Israeli espionage activities.
Examination of the Bryen and Pollard cases reveals many parallels. Both were in positions to request and receive highly classified military information. The FBI investigation of Stephen Bryen revealed that he requested information which was outside the scope of his position as a Senate staffer. Likewise, the indictment of Jonathan Pollard stated that “Pollard gathered and obtained classified national defense information and documents, many of which were unrelated to his assigned duties … in order to provide these materials to … the government of Israel.”
Another similarity is the close relationships of both men with high-level Israelis. FBI agents discovered that Stephen Bryen met regularly with Zvi Rafiah, a counselor at the Israeli Embassy, two or three times a week. This close relationship with an Israeli official with military and intelligence connections reinforced FBI suspicions of Bryen’s activities.
Jonathan Pollard had close relations first with Colonel Aviem Sella and later with Joseph Yagur, Israeli Embassy attaches in the U.S. who worked for Rafi Eitan, a well-known Israeli intelligence officer. Eitan headed the top-secret science and technology spy unit known as LEKEM. Since the Bryen investigation, Zvi Rafiah is reported to have become a consultant to Israeli defense industries whose specialty is advice on how to obtain U.S. Pentagon contracts. Aviem Sella has been promoted to Brigadier General running the Israeli air base in the Negev. Rafi Eitan has been appointed to head one of the Israeli Government’s largest industrial companies.
In The Armageddon Network, I asked whether the Pentagon document which Bryen spoke about with the Israelis, which included a detailed analysis of Middle Eastern air defense and radar systems, may have assisted in the 1981 Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor. New York Times columnist William Safire reported recently that then Colonel Sella, one of Jonathan Pollard’s main contacts, was a major player in the attack on Iraq.
Israeli espionage in the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, and such activities are directed not only at obtaining damaging information on Arab nations, but on the U.S. as well. In opinions pertaining to the Bryen investigation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the documents Bryen had requested “could prove to be a major embarrassment to the U.S. government” and “placed in the wrong hands, such information would not serve the best interests of the U.S. government.” One document was described as “particularly damaging to the U.S. government.”
Likewise, it was revealed that the information supplied to Israel by Jonathan Pollard contained highly sensitive information. In 1979 a CIA report stated: “The Israelis devote a considerable portion of their covert operations to obtaining scientific and technical intelligence. This has included attempts to penetrate certain classified defense projects in the United States and other Western nations…” The investigation into the Pollard case reveals that such espionage activities continue to take place. In fact, former U.S. Government officials state that Israeli espionage activities in the U.S. are second only to those of the Russia and other.
The same 1979 CIA report went on to note: “The Israeli intelligence service depends heavily on the various Jewish communities and organizations abroad for recruiting agents and eliciting general information … Israeli agents usually operate discreetly within Jewish communities and are under instructions to handle their missions with utmost tact to avoid embarrassment to Israel.” Apparently, agents for Israel, such as Jonathan Pollard, also operate within the U.S. Government.
Michael Saba directs the Washington-based Attiyeh Foundation and is the author of The Armageddon Network which is available from the American Educational Trust.