Israeli Spy Urged He Not Be Swapped for Jonathan Pollard: Source
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A 1990 letter suggests Israel wanted to swap a one-time intelligence officer convicted of spying for the United States for Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. Navy official convicted of spying for Israel.
The letter was written to the U.S. ambassador in Israel by Yossi Amit, a former major convicted of espionage and secretly sentenced in 1987 to 12 years in prison, according to an Israeli source familiar with the case. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, read portions of the letter to The Associated Press.
Amit’s case came to light Wednesday when the Israeli government announced he had been arrested in 1986 on charges of espionage, contacting foreign agents and attempting to contact foreign agents. Details were revealed under a new Israeli policy of publishing the identities of Israelis imprisoned for security offenses.
The Israeli statement did not say for whom Amit had spied, but Israeli and American sources said he was accused of spying for the United States.
Israeli news reports said Amit was arrested in 1977 on drug-related charges, discharged from the military and placed in a mental hospital for three or four years. He was reportedly released in 1981 or 1982, and became a private investigator.
His detective agency superior told the Israeli daily Haaretz that Amit would periodically take time off, saying he was going to Germany for medical reasons. Intelligence experts speculate Amit might have met his espionage contacts in Germany.
The suggestion that Israel exchange an unnamed spy it was holding for Pollard, who has been serving a life sentence since 1987 for passing classified information to Israel, was raised several times in recent years by Pollard supporters in the United States and Israel.
But according to former officials involved in the investigation and prosecution of Pollard, who was arrested in November 1985, Israel has never made the suggestion officially to the United States.
Senior officials of the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division have maintained since Pollard’s conviction that they have no interest in swapping him for anyone.
Nevertheless, Amit said in a letter to the U.S. ambassador - whom he did not name: ″I find it necessary to warn you not to get dragged in by this attempt by official elements in Israel″ to arrange a swap.
Amit, protesting his innocence of any espionage, also said that ″it has occurred to me that ... there might be those who want to use me as a bargaining chip in that affair (the Pollard case).″
Israeli newspapers have reported that a public committee of Pollard supporters was, in fact, a front for the Israeli government, which sought to distance itself from the espionage affair by saying Pollard was part of an unauthorized, rogue operation.
The CIA and State Department declined to comment on the Amit affair.
Israeli authorities, too, have declined to say anything more about the case - but their disclosure has raised a host of questions.
It was unclear whether Amit was the same spy mentioned in March 1987 by Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Durenberger told a group of Israel supporters that the United States had recruited an Israeli military officer as a spy in 1982, according to participants at the closed-door session.
Durenberger said the spy had passed sensitive information to the United States before being caught, participants said.
Durenberger complained that after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, then-CIA director William Casey changed the unwritten rule that the United States and Israel do not spy on each other. But he said that when he asked Casey about the alleged spy, Casey ″stiffed″ him.
Adm. Bobby Inman, who until the spring of 1982 served as Casey’s deputy, said he did not know of any agents the CIA had in Israel, saying the agency adhered strictly to the code that the United States and its close allies - like Israel and Britain - do not spy on each other. Inman, who resigned because of disgareements with Casey and the Reagan administration, said he did not know whether Casey might have authorized such recruitment later.