As Jonathan Pollard walks out of prison, a reminder of why he was there

The release of Jonathan Pollard after serving 30 years in prison for spying on the U.S. isn’t the end of the “free Pollard” campaign. His supporters, who see him as a loyal Zionist, now want him to be able to emigrate to Israel.

For this reason, it’s worth being reminded of the fact that Pollard’s motives for stealing classified documents had little to do with ideology and a lot to do with making money.

In 1998, W. O. Studeman, Sumner Shapiro, J. L. Butts, and T. A. Brooks wrote:

Jonathan Pollard is serving a life sentence for stealing massive amounts of highly classified and extremely sensitive U.S. national security information. In terms of sheer volume of sensitive information betrayed, Jonathan Pollard rivals any of the traitors who have plagued this nation in recent times. Nobody is clamoring for the release of traitors like Aldrich Ames, John Walker or Jerry Whitworth, but Pollard, by manipulating his supporters and conducting a clever public relations campaign both here and in Israel, has managed to generate a small but vocal movement advocating that he be released and allowed to emigrate to Israel, where he expects to be something of a national hero.

We, who are painfully familiar with the case, feel obligated to go on record with the facts regarding Pollard in order to dispel the myths that have arisen from this clever public relations campaign aimed at transforming Pollard from greedy, arrogant betrayer of the American national trust into Pollard, committed Israeli patriot.

Pollard pleaded guilty and therefore never was publicly tried. Thus, the American people never came to know that he offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel. They also never came to understand that he was being very highly paid for his services — including an impressive nest egg currently in foreign banks — and was negotiating with his Israeli handlers for a raise as he was caught. So much for Jonathan Pollard, ideologue!


Senior U.S. intelligence official says escalation of Russian bombing in Syria ‘should be fun’

When journalists grant government sources anonymity, the proforma explanation for doing so is the following line (or one of its common variants): officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to comment publicly.

That claim is almost always false. Authorization is besides the point. The primary reason for an official wanting anonymity is so that his or her remarks will have no return address. No one other than the journalist offering their source camouflage will be in a position to come back with a follow-up question. When there is no risk of any comeback, assertions can be made and opinions expressed in the knowledge that they will escape critical scrutiny. Likewise, propositions can be floated and later easily abandoned.

Another reason sources want anonymity is for the same reason that internet trolls conceal their identities: they don’t want to be held responsible for the language they use. They imagine that invisibility creates space for unvarnished honesty — even though the evidence more often shows that this kind of freedom from social inhibitions has a habit of releasing the inner jerk.

The Daily Beast reports: [S]ix U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.

“Now maybe they will start attacking [ISIS],” one senior defense official smugly wondered last week. “And stop helping them,” referring to ISIS gains in Aleppo that came, in part, because the group took advantage of Russian strikes on other rebels and militant outfits.

Since the plane crashed, Russia has struck two ISIS-controlled areas in Syria: Raqqa and Palmyra.

“I suppose now he’ll really let ISIS have it. This should be fun,” one senior intelligence official told The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]

Fun, perhaps, if you’re an intelligence analyst with a 9-5 job in Langley, Virginia, or the Pentagon. But although Raqqa and Palmyra are under the control of ISIS, they still have civilian populations. And bombing isn’t fun for anyone on the receiving end.

It is already clear that in its bombing operations in Syria, Russia is not greatly concerned about the precision of its targeting. It’s definition of inefficiency is for a jet to return to its base without releasing its bombs.

Those U.S. officials who now relish the prospect of Russia “finally take the gloves off” against ISIS are conjuring images of what are euphemistically described as “robust kinetic operations” — the type that ISIS apparently deserves. Implicit in this characterization is the assumption that restraint is an expression of timidity, the antidote to which is unrestrained force.

In reality, the effect of indiscriminate bombing will be to tell local populations that there are no outside forces working for their liberation.

If the enemies of ISIS pose a greater threat than ISIS itself, the logic for joining ISIS only becomes more compelling.


Senators investigating ‘revolt’ by U.S. military analysts over ISIS intelligence

The Daily Beast reports: Leading Congressmen from both parties said Thursday that they’re investigating allegations that intelligence on ISIS was being skewed to match the Obama’s administration’s rosy depictions of the war against the terror group.

The news comes less than a day after The Daily Beast revealed that more than 50 analysts with the U.S. military’s Central Command formally complained that higher-ups were improperly interfering with ISIS intelligence reports. Top d efense and intelligence officials also said they’re looking into the accusations.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain, told The Daily Beast, “We’re investigating… Our committee is looking at it, we have jurisdiction and oversight.” [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his under secretary of defense for intelligence to make clear to military officials that the Pentagon chief expects “unvarnished, transparent” intelligence, the Pentagon announced Thursday. [Continue reading…]


50 intelligence analysts says ISIS intelligence is being politically manipulated

The Daily Beast reports: More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said. [Continue reading…]


Spies: Obama’s brass pressured us to downplay ISIS threat

The Daily Beast reports: Senior military and intelligence officials have inappropriately pressured U.S. terrorism analysts to alter their assessments about the strength of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, three sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. Analysts have been pushed to portray the group as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is, according to these sources, and to paint an overly rosy picture about how well the U.S.-led effort to defeat the group is going.

Reports that have been deemed too pessimistic about the efficacy of the American-led campaign, or that have questioned whether a U.S.-trained Iraqi military can ultimately defeat ISIS, have been sent back down through the chain of command or haven’t been shared with senior policymakers, several analysts alleged.

In other instances, authors of such reports said they understood that their conclusions should fall within a certain spectrum. As a result, they self-censored their own views, they said, because they felt pressure to not reach conclusions far outside what those above them apparently believed.

“The phrase I use is the politicization of the intelligence community,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast when describing what he sees as a concerted push in government over the past several months to find information that tells a preferred story about efforts to defeat ISIS and other extremist groups, including al Qaeda. “That’s here. And it’s dangerous,” Flynn said. [Continue reading…]


U.S. military officials suspected of covering up the lack of progress in the war against ISIS

The New York Times reports: The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on. [Continue reading…]


Officials divided over which poses the greater threat to the U.S: ISIS or Al Qaeda?

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration’s top intelligence, counterterrorism and law enforcement officials are divided over which terrorist group poses the biggest threat to the American homeland, the Islamic State or Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The split reflects a rising concern that the Islamic State poses a more immediate danger because of its unprecedented social media campaign, using sophisticated online messaging to inspire followers to launch attacks across the United States.

Many intelligence and counterterrorism officials warn, however, that Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Syria are capitalizing on the turmoil in those countries to plot much larger “mass casualty” attacks, including bringing down airliners carrying hundreds of passengers.

This is not an academic argument. It will influence how the government allocates billions of dollars in counterterrorism funds, and how it assigns thousands of federal agents, intelligence analysts and troops to combat a multipronged threat that senior officials say is changing rapidly. [Continue reading…]


Spy software gets a second life on Wall Street

The Wall Street Journal reports: Spies are infiltrating Wall Street.

A wave of companies with ties to the intelligence community is winning over the world of finance, with banks and hedge funds putting the firms’ terrorist-tracking tools to work rooting out employee misconduct before it leads to fines or worse.

“Both Wall Street and the intelligence world want the same thing: to find unknown unknowns in the data,” said Roger Hockenberry, the former chief technology officer of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services and now a partner at the consulting firm Cognitio Corp. in Washington.

“Financial firms aren’t looking for terrorists, but good customers and attempts at fraud,” he said.

The CIA gave many of these companies their big break: After the terror attacks of September 2001, a private-equity arm of the CIA known as In-Q-Tel began seeding companies that could help it sift through vast repositories of data to quickly identify threats. Those skills have become more valuable on Wall Street as firms try to keep up with rogue traders in increasingly complex and rapidly moving markets.

Of 101 companies publicly seeded by In-Q-Tel, 33 have taken on Wall Street clients in recent years, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal. [Continue reading…]


Jonathan Pollard deserved to languish in prison as long as he did

Fred Kaplan writes: Jonathan Pollard, who’s been in prison the past 30 years for selling secrets to Israel, will be released on parole this November. Two things are worth noting. First, contrary to many skeptics, his release is not a political ploy to relax Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Second, contrary to claims by Pollard’s supporters, his punishment has been completely justified; he ranks as one of the 20th century’s most appalling American spies.

The first myth is easy to puncture. Pollard’s life sentence came with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He started serving time in November 1985. So, 30 years is up in November 2015. It’s math.

The second myth takes longer to unravel. At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.

Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life. [Continue reading…]


Why is the U.S. releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard?

Michael Weiss writes: “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,’ to conceive of a greater harm to the national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

Thus spake U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986 in a still largely classified declaration, more or less sealing the life sentence handed down to Jonathan Pollard, a former analyst at the U.S. Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center who over a 17-month period in the mid-1980s passed along enough classified intelligence to Israel to fill, by his own admission, a 6x6x10-foot room.

After decades of trying in vain to get out of jail, Pollard will be released on November 20 after serving 29 years in a federal prison. The timing, coming so soon after the U.S. helped ink an arms control agreement with Iran, has raised eyebrows not least because anonymous U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal last week that the Obama administration was planning to release Pollard as a salve to Israel to try and convince the Jewish state to tone down or abandon its fierce criticism of the Iran deal.

The administration has repeatedly denied that any such quid pro quo arrangement was being brokered and insisted that Pollard’s fate was entirely up to an independent parole board. “I haven’t even had a conversation about it,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Tuesday.

However, while it’s true that Pollard was in any event due for a mandatory parole hearing this year under the terms of his sentence, the Journal scoop proved uncannily prescient. [Continue reading…]


Pollard’s release and the shame of American Jews

Noah Feldman writes: I’m relieved that the nightmare of Jonathan Pollard’s imprisonment is about to be over. Not because I feel any sympathy whatsoever for the convicted spy who will be paroled in November after spending 30 years in prison. No, what relieves me is that, once he’s freed, we’ll be spared the spectacle of respectable American Jewish leaders calling for his early release. Those requests have been harmful to the principle that American Jews can be totally loyal Americans and also care about Israel. The end of this whole shameful episode is therefore cause not for celebration, but for relief.

Even at this distance of time, it remains stunning to me that anyone outside Israel would think Pollard was unfairly treated. Those who advocated the release of the former Navy analyst advanced a variety of reasons. The most significant and consistent argument was that Pollard had been the victim of a U.S. government deception: First the Department of Justice told him they would seek something less than a life sentence. Then the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, wrote a letter to the sentencing judge asking for the maximum sentence on the grounds that Pollard’s stolen secrets had badly damaged the country’s security.

It’s hard to imagine anyone less well placed to complain about a government trick than a person who deceived that very government, his employer to whom he had sworn an oath of loyalty. Even if the government’s approach was sneaky, it pales next to Pollard’s actions.

Then there’s Pollard’s refusal to disclose all the information he had stolen, to say nothing of the distinct probability that some of what he passed to Israel was then traded to the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. [Continue reading…]


Why the Laura Poitras case is bigger than you think

Jack Murtha writes: When the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against three US government agencies this week, most media outlets ran stories on the details that built her argument, overlooking the issue of public records.

After all, who could resist the story of a bitter and burned federal government hounding a journalist who appeared to have crossed some unspoken line? More than 50 times between 2006 and 2012, her lawsuit alleges, security forces targeted the journalist for intense rounds of detention and questioning. Government officials had, at one point, even confiscated her laptop, cellphone, and notebooks. Poitras’ films had largely focused on the rotten fruits of post-9/11 America, both at home and abroad. She went on to win top-notch awards for her work with Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who in 2013 leaked National Security Agency files on hidden mass-surveillance programs.

It’s an important story with profound implications for the press. Yet lost in the narrative was the legal spine of her case, a second threat to journalism in this country: the worrisome way the federal government handles FOIA requests. [Continue reading…]


For U.S. allies, paradigm shift in intelligence collection

The Associated Press reports: Fearful of an expanding extremist threat, countries that for years have relied heavily on U.S. intelligence are quickly building up their own capabilities with new technology, new laws and — in at least one case — a searing debate on how much the American government should be allowed to spy on their own citizens.

Responding to a jihadi movement that is successfully recruiting people from around the world, France and Canada are both passing laws that would dramatically ramp up their surveillance apparatus. In France, lawmakers are on the verge of approving a bill that would let the government install “black boxes” to collect metadata from every major phone and Internet company.

Canada’s measures were rushed through after a two separate attacks in October 2014 on Canadian soldiers — including one that ended when the gunman stormed Parliament and was shot to death by guards and police. France’s law went into high gear after the January terror attacks on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket that left 20 dead, including the gunmen. [Continue reading…]


Privacy experts question Obama’s strategy to tackle cyber threats

The Guardian reports: Cybersecurity and digital privacy experts are questioning the need for Barack Obama’s latest bureaucratic initiative, a new agency spurred by the massive Sony hack that critics fear will expand the government’s role into monitoring online data networks on security grounds.

White House security adviser Lisa Monaco planned to unveil on Tuesday the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, the name of which speaks to its position within a US intelligence community whose ongoing, surreptitious reach over the internet has attracted global skepticism.

The remit of the new center, subordinate to the office of the director of national intelligence and modelled on the National Counterterrorism Center, is said to be the combination of the various intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies’ understanding and analysis of new or emerging malicious cyber-attacks.

Over the past five years, the administration has stood up new entities, such as the National Security Agency’s military twin US Cyber Command, or expanded the remit of others, like the Department of Homeland Security, to safeguard government – and increasingly civilian – networks.

“Given the number of other agencies that have cybersecurity threat integration responsibilities, it’s not clear that a new agency is needed,” said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology. [Continue reading…]


The black hole of U.S. intelligence spending

Mike German reports: The annual intelligence budget exceeds $70 billion per year, but that figure represents just a small portion of what the U.S. spends on national defense and homeland security. In a recent interview, Ben Friedman of the Cato Institute does the math:

The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight and the Columbia Journalism Review back up Friedman’s estimate that the U.S. now spends roughly $1 trillion a year for national security. This figure dwarfs the combined defense budgets of all possible contenders, combined.

Friedman argues that the threats we face today don’t justify such profligate spending. Protected by oceans and bordered by friendly nations, there’s little risk of a foreign invasion. Deaths from wars and other political violence abroad have sharply decreased as well. Terrorism and violent crime in the U.S. are at historically low levels.

Yet despite the relative safety our nation enjoys and the enormous effort and expense dedicated toward strengthening U.S. security, Americans feel less safe than any time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So the question isn’t just whether our national security measures are necessary, but whether they work. Do our intelligence agencies actually improve U.S. security and give policy makers the best available information to make wise policy decisions?

Unfortunately, the excessive secrecy shrouding intelligence activities means Americans have little public information from which to evaluate whether the intelligence enterprise is worth the investment. Friedman explains how too much secrecy undermines effective policy making, and makes government “stupid:” [Continue reading…]