Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How the U.S., Israel and Russia treated their captured spies

By Jock L. Falkson

This is about Israel’s spy, Jonathan Pollard . . . Gary Powers, an American pilot who was tasked to spy on the Soviet Union . . . and Yosef Amit, an Israeli who spied for the U.S on Israel. What they did and how they were judged are compared.

The American Spy

Gary Powers was an experienced pilot who worked for the CIA. He was a veteran of many covert espionage missions piloting America’s most advanced U2 spy plane.

U-2 missions were launched by the U.S. to systematically photograph military installations in hostile countries - especially the Soviet Union. Because the U2 flew above 70,000 feet it was not vulnerable to existing Soviet anti-aircraft or missiles. So the U.S. had it good while Russia gnashed it teeth.

On May 1, 1960 however, Gary Powers’ plane became the first U2 to be shot down by a newly developed Soviet surface to air missile. Powers parachuted safely down and was captured.

The U.S. was clearly embarrassed by Powers’ capture but not enough to lie that one of their "weather planes" had strayed off course “after its pilot had difficulties with his oxygen equipment." CIA officials had not yet realized that the plane had crashed almost intact and the Soviets now had access to the very latest U.S. air force secrets. It was an incredible coup.

After intense interrogation by the KGB Powers finally broke down and confessed. He also apologized for what he had done.

Powers received a cold reception when he returned to the U.S. for having failed in his duty to activate the aircraft’s self-destruct demolition charge to destroy the plane’s hush-hush military equipment, especially its highly advanced long distance camera and photographic film. Powers was also criticized for not using the suicide pin supplied to him by the CIA to ensure that he would not be forced to spill the beans should he be captured.

America’s Israeli Spy

Yosef Amit was a former Israel Defense Force intelligence major who was turned by the US to spy on his country by an American naval officer in Haifa, in the early 1980s. His U.S. handler was Tom Waltz, a Jewish CIA officer based in Tel Aviv.

Amit provided the CIA with highly classified information about Israel's troop movements and future plans in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He stole and delivered top-secret military documents from Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.

After he was discovered in 1987 important classified military and Shin Bet documents were also found in his home. When interrogated, Amit confessed fully. He gave the names of his American handlers in Israel and details of monies he was paid. He was arrested and convicted of espionage.

Israel's American Spy

It is interesting to compare the difference in attitude of Israel and the U.S. in regard to their mutual counter spying and how they judged each other’s spies. Israel, as you may recall, was forced to issue a public apology for having the temerity to spy on its American ally. It had to promise it would never do such a terrible thing again.

To no one’s surprise Israel did not have the chutzpah to demand that the U.S. should also apologize when the U.S. spy was captured.

While it is certain that Israel would not dare to break its promise, you can be sure that Israel’s major ‘ally’ continues its spying operations from the enormous office block it occupies in Tel Aviv. A good many intelligence officers are certainly housed in this multi-officed building.

At his trial Pollard vigorously insisted he never supplied information that would hurt the U.S. - only information the U.S. had gathered from Israel’s enemies that was important to Israel’s security. And which he believed was being unfairly withheld by the U.S. since both countries had agreed to share important security intelligence.

It should be remembered that Israel never appointed Pollard as its spy in Washington, nor did it train him. However, after Pollard started to provide us with valuable classified information we saw fit to pay him. Pollard appreciated this as a clear invitation for him to continue.

How the U.S., Russia and Israel punished their spies

In August 1960, Powers was tried and convicted of espionage against the Soviet Union. He was sentenced by the Russians to 3 years imprisonment, followed by 7 years hard labor. In February 1962 however, he was exchanged along with an American student in a spy swap for Colonel Rudolf Abel, the Russian spy captured by the FBI. In all Powers served 18 months jail time.

Let us understand one thing clearly: Powers presented the Russians with a plane-full of its most valuable military secrets. It was a terrible blow to the U.S - an irreparable loss. It is quite certain that Pollard never supplied anything of equal quality to Israel.

Yosef Amit, America’s spy in Israel, was sentenced to 12 years in an Israeli prison. He was released in October 1993 after serving 8 years. Israeli officials once considered offering to exchange him for Jonathan Pollard but did not follow through. (Pity.)

Pollard pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to “deliver national defense information to a foreign government” and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in exchange for a lesser sentence than the maximum provided under law.

Regardless, he was sentenced to life imprisonment - a punishment not inflicted on any other enemy spy. He has been festering in jail for the past 25 years of which his first 7 years were spent in solitary confinement – regarded by many as the most barbaric of human punishments. The U.S. seems intent on keeping Pollard in jail for the rest of his miserable life.

Why the U.S. has been so brutal to its Israeli ally while both Russia and Israel were comparatively restrained can only be explained by Caspar Weinberger’s last minute intervention.

The Weinberger Travesty

Just before the judge was to deliver his verdict, Caspar Weinberger, a former Secretary of Defense, submitted a 40-page affidavit in which he listed a number of dire consequences the U.S. would suffer as a result of Pollard’s crime. He unashamedly urged that Pollard be harshly judged and sentenced. (Strangely enough in later years he was reported to have said “the Pollard matter was comparatively minor.” !)

Did Weinberg’s dire warnings that Pollard's spying would severely damage America’s security turn out to be true? No. Reports have it that not one of his prophesies was realoized. Be that as it may, Weinberg clearly had no judicial right whatever to influence the judge’s sentencing.

If he wanted to play a role in Pollard’s trial he should have offered his information to the Prosecutor before or during the court proceedings so that Pollard’s defense team could cross examine him. He made no attempt to do so.

Weinberg’s intervention was a judicial travesty. The judge should have declared a mistrial immediately after he finished reading the document in question. Why he did not constitutes yet another travesty.

Summing it up:

America’s spy Gary Powers served 18 months in Russia. America’s spy, Yosef Amit, served 8 years in Israel. Israel’s spy in America, Jonathan Pollard, has served 25 years in a North Carolina prison . . . and counting.

Surely a savage contrast in crime and punishment and, sadly, a brutal blight on our ally, the world’s greatest democratic super power.

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