Conversation: Reflections on the Pollard Case

MIN READAug 14, 2015 | 17:48 GMT

Margaret Fox: Hello, I'm Margaret Fox, editor here at Stratfor and I'm joined today by Fred Burton, our vice president of intelligence, to talk about the upcoming release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. So Fred, you actually were an agent at the Diplomatic Security Service at the time.

Fred Burton: Many years ago Margaret.

Margaret: Many years ago, at the time that Pollard was arrested. So I imagine that you have a unique reaction to the news that he's going to be released. Could you share a little bit more about who Pollard is? Who is this guy and why has he been in jail for 30 years?

Fred: Well Pollard, as we wrote in our piece Broken Trust on our website, was a spy for Israel. But before that, during this time period, he was actually working as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government. And he handed over many highly classified documents to the Israeli intelligence service on a range of different issues. And at the time the case was so complex for us because we expected the Russian KGB to spy on us, but we never thought that the Israelis would actually spy on us.

Margaret: And so when this happened, when it turned out that someone among your own was actually spying for Israel, how did that impact the mindset among those that you worked with?

Fred: What happens when you have a spy scandal in your midst is it really does create a sense of paranoia inside all the different organizations. And what happens is you start looking over all the previous meetings that you might have attended. You start thinking about all the communications and teletypes and all the different classified information that you've seen and you start thinking of it from a damage control perspective. And literally in those days Margaret, there were a lot of good records kept on paper documents. So for example, if I wanted to, I could stuff many, many documents into my brief case or carry on bag, and literally walk out of the Department of State. And that could also happen throughout the entire government. So it was just a different world. It wasn't a digital world, it was a paper world, and there really was a pretty poor audit control over written documents.

Margaret: It sounds like the intelligence apparatus as a whole was much more vulnerable to this kind of breach back then than it is now. Would you say that's the case?

Fred: Well I'm not so sure in the light of what Snowden has done to us, when you start looking at his access and what he was able to hand over to the Russians. But in essences when you harken back to the Pollard case, it was also one of the situations like we discussed with Broken Trust in that we never really expected the Israelis to be spying on us, because there were many of us that would have willing tried to help if the Israelis had came to us with some very specific requirements or questions as to what they wanted or needed.

Margaret: Right. So you would have been happy to help them out. Why was it they were spying on you?

Fred: Exactly. And that gets back to many things that we've discussed in the office, such as that there are no friendly intelligence services. And as a young agent, I probably had been on the job just a couple years at the time when this broke, this was one of the vivid reminders that we are living in a very dirty world at times, and this is what nations do. They spy on each other.

Margaret: Now, you mentioned cooperating with foreign intelligence agencies. Have we cooperated very closely with the Israeli service prior to the Pollard case? And how did that relationship change after?

Fred: This was one of those events that caused a tremendous shift in our relations, not only from a foreign policy blowback perspective, but from an intelligence blowback as well. Once you've been burned by a foreign intelligence service, it's very, very hard to try to put that genie back in the bottle. So in many ways what happens is you take baby steps to try to build that trust back up.

Margaret: In your piece last week, Broken Trust, as you mentioned, you said that one of the most interesting facets of the Pollard case overall was the agent, the Mossad agent, that they actually had handle Pollard. Could you talk a little bit more about who is this Rafi Eitan?

Fred: Oh my goodness, he's one of the spymasters that if you look over the history of espionage and renditions that will go down in the hall of fame. This was the individual that actually kidnapped Eichmann on the streets of Argentina and brought Eichmann back to Israel to stand justice.

Margaret: A former Nazi.

Fred: A former Nazi killer. And so in many ways when you start looking at his exploits over the course of the history of the intelligence services of Israel, there is no person that stands on a higher mountain than Rafi Eitan. And as we were doing the damage assessment into the Pollard case and looking at that, you start thinking of that from an operational standpoint. And the tradecraft involved, here they picked a legend of their service to run this most trusted spy that was in our midst. So it was one of those lessons learned to us all that there are no friendly intelligence services.

Margaret: Sure, showed the value they placed on that particular source.

Fred: Without a doubt. Tremendous asset for the Israeli government.

Margaret: Well I think that is all we have time for today. Thank you so much for your time Fred and thank you so much for watching. For more on this and other topics, please do visit our website at

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