Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jonathan Jay Pollard Spy Case

Polygraphs & Tall Tales

In 1977, Jonathan Pollard applied for a job in the CIA. He did not get it. A polygraph test indicated that he could be a security risk and might not be free of illegal drugs.

Jonathan Pollard's Naval Intelligence ID
Jonathan Pollard's Na-
val Intelligence ID

A 25-year-old Pollard was hired by Naval Intelligence in 1979 as an Intelligence Research Specialist. He worked at the Field Operational Intelligence Office in Suitland, Maryland. The Navy did not know of the CIA's findings regarding their new employee. He would work in Naval Intelligence for a total of seven years.

The job consisted largely of analyzing data and making reports on it. Jay was not altogether happy at work due, he claimed, to the tendency of some of his fellow employees to make anti-Semitic jokes or remarks. He also heard criticisms of Israel that he regarded as expressions of anti-Semitism. He would later state that workers who made such comments were not reprimanded for them and that, along with the statements themselves, made him extremely uncomfortable as well as angry.

Many people regard the Navy as the least pro-Israel branch of the American service. Access to ports is obviously a major concern and that makes relations with the Arab world in general, and the Persian Gulf states in particular, especially important to the Navy.

What's more, a tragedy occurred in 1967, during the Six-Day War, that had a strongly negative effect on the feelings of many Navy personnel toward Israel. The Israelis bombed an American intelligence-gathering ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34. Israel apologized and claimed, quite plausibly, that it was an accident caused by Israeli pilots mistaking the Liberty for an Egyptian ship. Friction was exacerbated because the Israelis insisted that the U.S. vessel had been in a war zone while the Americans maintained it had been in international waters.

A version of the sinking had been gossiped around the Navy that was far more sinister. It also reflected unfavorably on both the United States and Israel as allies. According to this story, President Lyndon Johnson wanted an Israeli victory but not one that was nearly so quick and decisive as the Six-Day War turned out to be. The White House wanted to cultivate friendly relations with the Arab nations because of America's extreme reliance on oil and, to that end, the Liberty was there to gather intelligence that would be shared with the Arabs and used against Israel. Thus, the Jewish state deliberately attacked a ship of its most important ally. This account of the tragedy is highly fanciful but the fact that it was believed at all is both symptomatic of and a contributing factor to the alienation of some Navy personnel from Israel.

Jay Pollard got access to classified data after two years on the job. The American government recognizes five different basic degrees of sensitivity concerning secret information. They are, in order of escalating importance: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, and, the most sensitive of all, Special Compartmented Information (SCI). Wolf Blitzer defines these terms as follows "According to US government regulations, information is classified Confidential if its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause 'damage' to the national security; Secret if its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause 'serious damage' to the national security; and Top Secret if its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause 'exceptionally grave damage' to the national security. SCI is a designation reserved for especially sensitive classified information, 'the dissemination of which is strictly controlled and limited to selected individuals within the military and intelligence community who have special security clearances."

Pollard became upset because he did not believe the United States was sharing all the data with Israel that it should. Later Jay would remark bitterly that Soviet military equipment was "quietly entering [the Middle East] unnoticed by the Israelis, who were depending upon the U.S. intelligence community for warning of such activity."

In 1981 Jay met 21-year-old Anne Henderson, the pretty, shapely, blue-eyed, and flame-haired secretary who would become the first major love of his life. She was also Jewish but less of a devout Zionist than her future husband. However, as Wolf Blitzer writes in Territory of Lies, Anne "slowly came to share his feelings and commitment." Henderson had frequent health problems because she suffered from a rare stomach disorder that made it hard for her to digest food. However, she pursued a career and generally active life despite occasional flare-ups of the illness.

The couple was soon living together, then planning to marry.

Jay suffered a crisis at work that led to his security clearance getting suspended.

Relations between the intelligence communities of the United States and that of South Africa were strained and America needed information about what was going on in the South Atlantic. Pollard approached a superior, saying that he was a friend of Lt. Gen. P. W. van der Westhuizen, South Africa's chief of military intelligence. The two men had become buddies when they were attending Fletcher. Permission was granted to Pollard to establish a "back channel" to Westhuizen.

However, Navy officials began to smell something fishy when Pollard told them elaborate tales of his having lived in South Africa and his father serving as a CIA station chief in the country. They realized that Jay was spinning a tall tale and insisted he see a psychiatrist.

He did. The shrink found Pollard free from mental illness and the young man's security clearance was restored.

In 1984 Jay won an assignment that he heartily welcomed. He was transferred to the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center (ATAC) of the Naval Investigative Service's Threat Analysis Division. He would be working under Jerry Agee, a tall and balding career Navy man who had spent two decades working in intelligence.

As Blitzer notes, "Pollard was assigned duties that included research and analysis of intelligence data pertaining to potential terrorist threats." Agee found his new employee competent. "He was able to do some fairly quick analysis and be, I thought, above average in his analysis of things, what it meant as a threat."

He remembered other things about Pollard. "[He] made comments that he had worked for Israeli intelligence," Agee said.. "[Jay was] a bullshitter. He was always telling tall tales. It was more or less a joke in the office: 'Did you hear the story about Pollard?' There were a lot of Pollard stories."

It does not seem to have occurred to those in this "intelligence" community that a compulsive braggart given to fabricating self-aggrandizing stories, a person for whom the line between fantasy and reality often blurred, was perhaps not an individual to be trusted with America's most vital secrets.

In truth, Pollard had already violated his contract against disclosing secrets although not yet as a spy. In 1982, he removed sensitive documents to show them to social acquaintances. There is an old saying, "Scratch the adult, find the child." The lonely, bullied boy had become a man so insecure that he compromised U.S. security in order to impress his friends.

President Ronald Reagan (AP)
President Ronald
Reagan (AP)

Pollard was increasingly frustrated and disgusted by things he saw at the NIS. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had signed a "bilateral intelligence-sharing agreement" with Israel. Pollard was convinced that NIS officials were simply ignoring its directives authorizing release of important data to Israel. He later said that he should have "gone through channels" to report these alleged failures to higher ups. He did not do so.

He claimed that he saw a photograph of a poison gas factory being constructed in Iraq and requested permission to transmit it to Israel. Jay said his superior laughed and said Jews were too sensitive about gas because of their experiences in World War II.

In 1983, Shi'ite terrorists bombed a Marine Corps headquarter in Beirut. The U.S. retaliated with an air raid but Pollard believed it was too little, too late. America was not doing enough to protect its own in the Middle East, Pollard concluded. Thus, it could not possibly be expected to do what it should to protect Israel.

Jay Pollard would have to do it instead, he decided.

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