The Hunting Horse: The Truth Behind the Jonathan Pollard Spy Case

The Hunting Horse: The Truth Behind the Jonathan Pollard Spy Case

by Elliot Goldenberg

In 1987, former naval intelligence officer Jonathan Jay Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for passing classified information to the Israelis-the only person ever to be so severely punished for spying on behalf of an American ally. Why was his sentence so harsh? This fascinating, intensively researched book, by investigative journalist Elliot Goldenberg,


In 1987, former naval intelligence officer Jonathan Jay Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for passing classified information to the Israelis-the only person ever to be so severely punished for spying on behalf of an American ally. Why was his sentence so harsh? This fascinating, intensively researched book, by investigative journalist Elliot Goldenberg, finally reveals the whole story. After numerous interviews with top intelligence operatives and government insiders, Goldenberg is able to make a strong case that Pollard's sentence was not due to the severity of the damage he inflicted on the security of the United States, contrary to assertions by the Justice Department and the Pentagon. His greatest crime, Goldenberg insists, was that Pollard inadvertently stumbled upon and threatened to expose secret dealings between President Reagan's most-trusted advisors and Saddam Hussein. Pollard, realizing how much of a threat this might mean to Israeli security, took it upon himself to pass on vital information regarding these U.S.-Iraqi dealings to Israeli security. Pollard's information eventually helped Israel target Iraqi military establishments for strikes during the Gulf War.

The Hunting Horse (the Israeli code name for Pollard) provides a rare glimpse into what may be the greatest cover-up in American history, a world of secret agendas and covert operations that is too often kept hidden from congressional oversight and public scrutiny.

Editorial Reviews

Based on interviews with sources within the government and intelligence agencies, Goldenberg (an investigative journalist) argues that Pollard's punishment was extraordinarily harsh because he inadvertently discovered secret dealing between the Reagan administration and Saddam Hussein. Goldenberg examines the political nature of these deals, the spying that exposed them, and Pollard's trial. He also considers the effect of this episode on U.S. and Israeli policy, and their participation in the Gulf War. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.03(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


From May of 1984 until November of 1985, the Israelis had an agent-in-place—a mole—operating deep inside American intelligence. This agent, Jonathan Pollard, was run by a specialized unit known by the acronym LAKAM. He was one of Israel's most prolific spies, but his true identity was restricted to a very few. To the rest of Israeli intelligence, who knew of his probable existence only through his voluminous work product, he was respectfully given the name "The Hunting Horse."

* * *

The day Jonathan Jay Pollard plunged headfirst into the espionage profession he entered the spy novelist's realm of Tom Clancy and John Le Carré. Part blinded by ideology, part consumed by what he believed to be the truth, the difference is that Pollard became a very real inhabitant of a mostly unseen world in which covert operators lurk, secret agendas flourish, and its most dangerous predators play their deadly games for keeps. It is a world where fact and fiction easily coexist; a world the reluctant "black" operative quickly had to master. (As a "white" operative Pollard officially worked for the office of Naval Intelligence; as a "black" operative, he also worked as a spy for Israel.)

    No doubt, Pollard proved to be a fast learner. Still, while researching my book on his case, I was never able to fully comprehend why the United States government went after the young Jewish spy with such a vengeance. As the author of The Spy Who Knew Too Much: The Government Plot to Silence JonathanPollard, I obviously knew what the government had alleged about the brilliant double agent—a former civilian Naval Intelligence analyst Who, in 1987, received a life sentence in prison for passing on classified U.S. secrets to the State of Israel. And I knew that former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Pollard's ultimate boss at Naval Intelligence, had once castigated him as "doing substantial and irrevocable damage to this nation." In Weinberger's universe, Pollard was more of a traitor than John Walker, or, even, Benedict Arnold.

    Yet, as I dug deeper into this strangest of cases, I became increasingly convinced that there must also have been some kind of hidden agenda firmly in place here: first, to deal with what Jonathan Pollard had stumbled upon, and, second, to ensure this man remained sequestered behind bars until the day he died. So I continued asking many hard questions, some of which touched on an American foreign policy that had seemingly gone awry in regard to our longtime friendly relationship with Israel—once considered to be not only an extremely strong alliance, but a mutually advantageous one to both nations. From Pollard's unique vantage point, at least, more and more it appeared that the country of his birth was, for some reason, selling out his ancestral homeland. In a position to do something about this, he did. For his efforts, he paid an exceedingly high price.

    I understood all of that. Attempting to follow the trail Pollard blazed, while trying to think like he thought and feel what he must have felt, I came to believe that Pollard was a principled person who compromised American secrets, not for financial reward, as many have suggested, but to help ensure the survival of the Jewish state. What I never fully understood, though, was not if Israel was being betrayed by certain very powerful people in the United States government, since I felt that was obvious. What I could never quite figure out was why?

    I heard the theories, of course. The most convincing, to me, was what I call the "Fear of Fundamentalist Muslim Revolutions" scenario. It went something like this: Saudi Arabia, because of its oil, had suddenly become far more important to American national interests than Israel. In the past, Israel was at least useful as a buffer and an intelligence outpost, protecting us against Soviet expansionism in the region. But as the Soviet Union weakened (and eventually collapsed), whatever the Saudis wanted from us, they usually got, regardless of how the pro-Israel lobby in Washington felt. At the same time, the Saudi leaders (as the wealthy patrons of a repressive society) not only feared having a democratic Western country (or as they called it, a "Zionist entity") in their midst; they lived in constant fear of a fundamentalist Muslim takeover orchestrated by Iran—a fear shared by the United States which certainly did not want its oil supplies endangered.

    So I asked people in the intelligence community if some dangerous mix of terrorism and Muslim fundamentalism could not only threaten the stability of the Middle East region, but was the main reason—along, of course, with the fall of the Soviet Union—for, what I believed, was the apparent swing in U.S. policy away from Israel. The answer I got was always the same. Yes, they would say, if the United States was pulling away from Israel, then this was one of the reasons. But, no, some would also add, it was not the whole reason.

    Like the fictional Lt. Columbo—who always knew where he wanted to go but wasn't sure about what he was looking for when he got there—I was baffled. Searching for answers that I knew existed—while trying to solve a puzzle in which the pieces were meticulously hidden—would be the purpose, I decided, of writing this book.

On March 26, 1994, only three days after President Bill Clinton (nearly parroting former Defense Secretary Weinberger) officially turned down Jonathan Pollard's request for clemency—citing the "grave nature of his offense and the considerable damage his actions have caused our nation"—I received a thick parcel of mail from Pollard himself, in care of Butner Prison in North Carolina. Like all the rest of Pollard's mail to me, this, too, had a Washington, D.C., postmark on the envelope because, contrary to what another former defense secretary, Les Aspin, had alleged in an earlier "confidential" memo to Clinton (that was subsequently leaked by the White House to the media), all of Pollard's outgoing mail had to pass through the gauntlet of intelligence community censors.

    Aspin had stated in his well-publicized December 27, 1993, memo to the president that Pollard tried to "slip classified information" into fourteen of his letters sent from behind bars, although, according to Michael R. Gordon in the December 28, 1993, New York Times, "officials would not say what was in the letters, to whom they were addressed, or why Mr. Pollard would put classified information in correspondences that he knew would be monitored." While an unnamed Pentagon official tersely described the incarcerated spy as "a walking library," Pollard's attorney, Theodore Olson, quickly responded to Aspin's charges, stating that neither he nor Pollard had ever been told that any of Pollard's prison letters violated national security. Noted Gordon in the New York Times: "[Olson] said he did not know anything about the classified information cited by Mr. Aspin, and he suggested the information might have been nothing more than passing references Mr. Pollard used in defending himself against the government's charge that he damaged American security."

    Olson, a Washington insider; a partner in the powerful law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher; and former president Ronald Reagan's personal attorney, called the Pentagon's "one-sided charges, to which we have not had an opportunity to respond, extremely unfair." He added: "If the Pentagon uses accusations to hurt [Pollard], they have an obligation to allow him to confront his accusers. This is a violation of his fundamental constitutional rights which is what they continue to do with Mr. Pollard." The mail I received from Jonathan Pollard on March 26, 1994, was not the first time I had been contacted by my prolific "pen pal." As the author of The Spy Who Knew Too Much, I was no doubt high on the list of those with whom he wished to correspond. Since my book detailed what I believed to be an extensive government cover-up to keep the truth about what he learned secret, I had always felt it was in the public interest that whatever was in Pollard's letters should be brought out into the open. After all, the fact that those letters had to be cleared by Navy Intelligence would seem to be prima facie evidence that they in no way violated U.S. national security, as Mr. Aspin claimed, and should therefore have been made part of the public record.

    Actually, I have received literally hundreds of pieces of mail over the years from Pollard. But what he sent me this time was different. It included an op-ed piece by Douglas M. Bloomfield, a Washington-based columnist, with the headline: "Inman out of the picture, but troubling questions remain." Unlike Pollard's usual letters to me in which he would either plead his own case or chronicle a growing number of influential citizens and organizations calling for his release from prison, this time he added his own notes to the words of another writer.

    What Bloomfield revealed was nothing earth-shattering to anyone who had read the front pages of their local newspapers. He noted that following Israel's bombing of Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor, in June of 1981, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, then deputy director of the CIA, used his authority to slap a 250-mile limit on intelligence sharing with Israel, in essence insisting that Iraq, Iran, and Libya were "nonthreats" to Israeli security. Wrote Bloomfield: "As Saddam and his Scud missiles later demonstrated, that was not only a very bad judgment call, but a very dangerous one as well."

    Presidential candidate Bill Clinton would have agreed. On the eve of the Florida Democratic presidential primary in March 1992, the future president appeared at a synagogue in Delray Beach, Florida, and, speaking to a crowd of more than five hundred people, proclaimed, "If Israel hadn't bombed that Iraqi nuclear reactor, Iraq would probably have the bomb today."

    It was nearly two years later, on January 18, 1994, that Inman, President Clinton's nominee to replace Les Aspin as secretary of defense, announced he had had a change of heart and would not take the prestigious job the president was offering him. During a rambling (some say bizarre) news conference, Inman went so far as to charge New York Times columnist William Safire—who weeks earlier had written a column highly critical of Inman—of plotting against him with the help of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). In his column, Safire noted, among other things, that Inman's "animus [against Israel] also later contributed to the excessive sentencing of Jonathan Pollard...."

    During that same news conference, Inman disclosed previously secret details of military aid the United States gave Israel during the early 1980s, as well as a U.S. effort to nevertheless limit the sharing of satellite-based information with Jerusalem. Inman also admitted that while deputy director of the CIA it was he who made the decision to bar Israel from receiving certain satellite pictures after the Israelis had used these U.S.-originated photos to help them bomb the Osirak facility. (Contrarily, a well-connected Israeli intelligence source of mine told me that Israel had in fact never been allowed "overheads.") Inman said he then ordered that Israel would not be given satellite photos of countries more than 250 miles from its borders. He recalled that this provoked Safire—who somehow learned about the order—to go to then CIA director William Casey and ask that Inman's order be rescinded. Inman said that when Casey agreed to rescind the order, he (Inman) then went over Casey's head and got Defense Secretary Weinberger to make sure the order stood.

    Pollard, meanwhile, has long insisted that he only began spying for the Israelis because of what appeared to be a sudden logjam of intelligence information from the United States to Israel, beginning in 1982, a year after Weinberger began his watch as secretary of defense. In addition, Pollard has said that the first major piece of intelligence information he gave to Israel had to do with satellite photographs that he passed on to his initial Israeli handler, Col. Avi Sella—the same Col. Sella who, only a few years earlier, had led the Israeli bombing raid on Osirak.

In the op-ed piece Pollard sent me, Bloomfield noted that the Inman incident raised many questions that would linger beyond Inman's abrupt withdrawal from public life. "What was the impact on Israeli security and early warning capabilities of Inman's restrictions on intelligence sharing?" Bloomfield asked.

    "Major," Pollard wrote, right next to the question.

    "Was [Inman] eroding Israel's qualitative edge at a time when his president, Ronald Reagan, was pledging to protect it?" Bloomfield continued. "Did [Inman] have his own agenda?"

    "Yes and yes," Pollard wrote.

    (As to his second "yes," Pollard may have been a bit off the mark. As one of my intelligence sources told me in a telephone interview: "This was policy—secret and political, but a policy. Bobby Inman, in spite of being, in my opinion, a rabid anti-Semite, was still a soldier. He followed policy; he did not set it. It was, in all fairness, Pollard who set his own policy—and he was neither elected nor appointed to set policy.")

    Bloomfield also insinuated that Inman was a bit of an anti-Semite.

    "What consequences," Bloomfield asked, "did Inman's Jewish fixation have on the CIA and National Security Agency, which he headed, and how much residue remains?"

    Scribbled Pollard: "Just look at the well-orchestrated disinformation effort to prevent my release."

    Pollard then noted that these and other points Bloomfield underlined were "key questions which lie at the heart of my operation."

    "Why has it taken so long for them to be raised?" Pollard wrote. "And now that they all have, will people finally be able to appreciate the nature of the threat I saw to Israel's security?"

    Insisted Pollard, it was the shortsighted policies of Bobby Ray Inman, among others, that had helped turn him into an Israeli spy. At the very least, it seemed probable that Pollard still held a key to an invisible door that, when opened, would have revealed a room filled with secrets that were supposed to remain hidden from both public view and congressional scrutiny.

    At whatever the cost, I knew this was a room that I, too, would now try to enter.


    1. William Northrop, a former Israeli intelligence operative, said the name "Hunting Horse" referred to someone who was a gatherer of unusually large amounts of intelligence data. The name was given Pollard by AMAN (Israeli Military Intelligence) officers in 1984. Said Northrop, "Hunting Horse" is a transliteration from the Hebrew, and loosely means he would "hunt" up information on request and that he was a "horse" for his handlers; an exceptional agent on whose back his handlers ride up the promotional ladder.

    2. Clinton was referring to the Osirak reactor located at Al Tawaitha.

    3. In Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, author Bob Woodward writes that after the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor by Israeli pilots using U.S. supplied warplanes, Inman checked and found that, under the intelligence-sharing agreement set up with Casey's approval, Israel had almost "unlimited access" to U.S. satellite photography and had used it in planning its raid. (A well-placed Israeli intelligence source of mine disputes this point, however. "Israel had absolutely no access to U.S. `overhead' prior to Pollard turning it over," my source told me.) Nevertheless, Woodward notes: "Inman didn't see how the United States could maintain any balanced policy if Israel was permitted to drop bombs all over the Middle East using American intelligence." According to Woodward, Casey went along with Inman's new restriction on satellite data for Israel but was nevertheless "pleased that the Israelis had disposed of the problem, and he admired their audacity." Woodward adds that when the White House imposed sanctions on Israel for the bombing raid—withholding delivery of several F-16s—"Casey felt it might be a necessary diplomatic and political gesture, but privately called it `bullshit.'"

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