How Pollard’s 1985 Capture Was Accidental


pollardJonathan Pollard, a Jewish American citizen, then 31, could have avoided life imprisonment fairly easily had he chosen slightly different actions in the last days before he was arrested.

His American friends never believed him capable of being a spy. “He seemed too sloppy,” they said.

Pollard’s dramatic capture was accidental. He was at the center of an insignificant investigation that was about to be closed, but because of one act of panic, he found himself behind bars as one of the United States’ biggest foes.

Pollard first attempted to work for American security institutions in 1977. He applied to the CIA and was turned down after failing the polygraph stage. In 1979, he achieved his desire when he was hired to do security work for the U.S. Navy as a civilian employee in Maryland. He relished the fact that the Navy did not know that the CIA had rejected him two years earlier.

Two years after he was hired, he had a high security clearance. He became an analyst of raw intelligence material. He was suspended from his position when it was discovered that he had been in contact with South African intelligence agents, but the suspension was annulled very shortly afterward.

In June 1984, the Navy transferred Pollard to work in the new Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council of the Threat Intelligence and Analysis Division. Even before that, he had offered his services to a colonel in the Israeli Air Force, Aviem Sella, who was on a study break in the U.S. For close to two years, Pollard gave thousands of documents to Sella, who transferred them to a special intelligence department.

At this stage, suspicions about Pollard began to bubble, but every time they arose, they were quickly dismissed. But one day, a colleague saw Pollard heading down to his car, even though Pollard had said he was going to the office basement. At first, the colleague disregarded what he saw, but later, on his wife’s advice, reported it to his supervisors. That started a chain of events that seems as if it comes from a particularly bad action film.

Many details began to come together, even if, after 30 years, they sound unbelievable. Pollard’s wife, Anne, left their home with a suitcase full of incriminating documents, saw an FBI vehicle stopped near their home and was certain that she and her husband had been found out, and quickly retraced her steps and asked her neighbors to hide the suitcase in their home.

Had Anne chosen to dump the suitcase into the nearest trash can, the affair would have ended differently. She was simply upset because she did not know that the FBI agents were tracking Ronald Pelton, another spy who worked for the National Security Agency, who lived on their street.

The Pollards were not on the FBI’s radar at the time. Agents had already finished tracking Jonathan Pollard and were about to close the investigation. Their opinion was firm: Pollard was a ne’er-do-well incapable of taking part in what the administration suspected. But Anne’s mistake had already been made. The father of the neighbor in whose home the suitcase had been hidden was a Navy officer, and reported the mysterious suitcase to the security personnel on his base. The information reached FBI officials, and it became only a matter of time until Pollard was captured.

On Nov. 21, 1985, Pollard was caught. Shortly before that, he had an opportunity to escape to the Israeli Embassy and receive immunity. Three days before his capture, he failed another polygraph test and had to confess that he had passed classified documents to foreign agents. But the name of Israel never came up.

Actually, nobody knew that Pollard was a Jew or that he considered his Jewishness important. He used that to claim, falsely, that he had given the material to Kurt Lohbeck, a reporter for the CBS network in Afghanistan, who gave it to Pakistan and another country. Over the next three days, the American investigators contacted their agents all over the world, but nobody suspected Israel.

Actually, the investigators made the right choice. Pollard was caught red-handed. According to various testimonies, he indeed passed information to the apartheid regime in South Africa, passed valuable information to the Pakistanis, tried to make deals with the Chinese, and sent information to Australia. It was finally discovered that Israel had received help from him with documents that Israel handed over to the Russians.

‘An exaggerated punishment’

Twenty-four hours before he was captured, Pollard told his handlers that he felt he was about to be arrested. He knew he had to escape to the Israeli Embassy, but as the Americans admitted, luck was with them when Pollard made his last mistake. All Pollard had to do was call a taxi or even take a subway to reach the embassy. But he chose to drive there in his car, which was under surveillance by American agents.

When the Israelis saw that he was being followed, the embassy gates were closed to him. For all practical purposes, he was thrown to the surprised American agents who, together with senior American officials, realized for the first time that Pollard had spied for America’s senior partner in the Middle East.

To this day, many Americans consider Pollard the most dangerous spy in the history of American espionage. Then-President Ronald Reagan said the only place for Pollard was prison. High-ranking American security officials justified the sentence.

Still, FBI agent Michael Grimm would admit many years later that he and his colleagues reached a different conclusion: “The sentence meted out to Pollard was exaggerated and does not match the act that was committed.”




  1. “many Americans consider Pollard the most dangerous spy in the history of American espionage.”

    While nobody knows what damage Pollard caused — neither Pollard nor the Israeli government ever came clean — it is highly unlikely that he caused the level of damage caused by Julius Rosenberg, John Walker and Jerry Whitworth, Aldrich Ames, or Robert Hanssen.

    “The sentence meted out to Pollard was exaggerated and does not match the act that was committed”

    Not true. The law to which he pled guilty clearly provides for a life sentence:

    “18 USC 794(a)

    Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to communicate, deliver, or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defense, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life, except that the sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the jury or, if there is no jury, the court, further finds that the offense resulted in the identification by a foreign power (as defined in section 101(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) of an individual acting as an agent of the United States and consequently in the death of that individual, or directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information; or any other major weapons system or major element of defense strategy.”

    With the exception of Walker, who got the same life sentence as Pollard, all the people I named above got stiffer sentences.

  2. Charlie, you yourself quoted “with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States”; providing information to an ally does not show any ill intent towards the U.S. All the supposed testimonies that Pollard spied for China, Pakistan, South Africa, and the whole wide world were never cross examined, and were not the reason why Pollard received the life sentence – that was solely for spying for Israel. The American spying establishment claims that even though spying for the friendly state, somehow Pollard inadvertently caused some horrendous damage that is so incredibly secret that even 30 years later can not be identified. Basically we are asked to discard common sense and presumption of innocence, and to blindly believe the honesty and judgement of the same kind of people who brought in the Nazis after WW2, made various medical experiments on unconsenting civilians, who violate our rights with wholesale surveillance while letting the real treats such as Boston bombers slide through the cracks. Charlie, I don’t have to give you all these reasons; just stop all this self hating – goyim won’t like you anyway.