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Let the Chips Fall

June 13, 1986

As part of a plea-bargain agreement Jonathan Jay Pollard, who has confessed to spying for Israel while working as a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, is talking to the Justice Department about what he did and what he knows. On the basis of this, some people at the department are saying that there may be more to Israeli espionage activities in the United States than has so far has come to light.

William H. Webster, the director of the FBI, has added to these suspicions by suggesting that the Israeli government has been only selectively cooperative in providing information about the Pollard case. Last week the State Department seemed implicitly to agree when it once again called on Israel for full cooperation in illuminating the affair. That drew a sharp complaint from Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who professed to see a deliberate attempt by some to foul the atmosphere between the two countries. Now the State Department, in a carefully worded statement, says that it knows of "no evidence of any espionage ring involving Israeli officials." The statement had White House approval, but rumblings of discontent from the Justice Department are still being heard.

The State Department's interest right now is directed at trying to contain the political damage produced by the Pollard case. One highly publicized incident involving American secrets bought and paid for by Israel has been bad enough for the course of bilateral relations. Revelations of other Israeli spying, separate from or linked to the Pollard case, could do far more to erode political bonds between the two countries and weaken an already shaky Israeli government. That's what the State Department hopes to avoid.

The interest of the Justice Department is in finding out who besides Pollard and four unindicted Israeli co-conspirators may have broken U.S. laws. Some in the department are upset by what they see as pressures, presumably inspired by reasons of state, to limit the investigation and potential prosecutions. The main reason is that law-enforcement officials plainly are not satisfied that the Israel government has told all that it knows and done all that it can to aid the espionage investigation. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence to support that view.

Israel's contention from the beginning has been that the Pollard case was an unauthorized departure from policy, conducted by a "rogue" intelligence unit without the knowledge or approval of higher political authorities. Legal filings by the Justice Department as well as events in Israel cast strong doubt on that contention.

One of Pollard's Israeli co-conspirators is a veteran intelligence official. In the wake of the Pollard case, which is said to have embarrassed and distressed his government, he was transferred from his intelligence post to a comfortable civilian job. Another unindicted co-conspirator is an Israeli air force officer who, after the Pollard case broke, was promoted from colonel to general and put in charge of an air base. If these are the punishments for rogues, the rewards must be enticing indeed.

If Pollard's spying was unsanctioned and unknown to higher authorities, what became of the secret U.S. information--literally suitcases full of it--that he passed on to his Israeli handlers? At some point some of this material must surely have entered the intelligence stream reaching such officials as the prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister, the chief of staff. Did no one ever ask where this information came from and, having been told, order an immediate stop to an activity that supposedly was in defiance of a policy not to spy against the United States?

Israel's actions in the Pollard case have done more to promote suspicions than to allay them. All this supports the Justice Department's view that there is much more to be learned. Now, apparently with Pollard's cooperation, the department is pursuing leads. The deal struck long ago between Israel and the United States was that the two countries would not spy on each other. That agreement, and the trust underlying it, has been breached. An American citizen was paid to spy for Israel. Perhaps others were involved. The effort to find out should be allowed to run unimpeded.

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