The Israeli recruiter of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has reemerged on American soil and is being scrutinized by the FBI, according to well-placed intelligence and law enforcement sources.
According to former senior Pentagon officials, Pollard was recruited in the fall of 1981 by Rafael "Rafi" Eitan, also known as "Rafi the stinker."
Eitan, a long-time clandestine operator who participated in Israel's kidnapping in Argentina of former Nazi official Adolf Eichmann and other highly sensitive operations, was then a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, these sources said.
Eitan was also director of the Office of Special Tasks, called LAKEM, a group in the Israeli Defense Ministry that had (and still has) a special mandate to penetrate classified U.S. defense programs and obtain top-secret technologies. It is especially interested in data relating to Tel Aviv's nuclear programs.
In 1981, the group consisted of scientific attaches or officials who reported directly to the Israeli Defense Ministry, the sources said. Sharon was Israeli defense minister at the time.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that Pollard, who began to work for the U.S. Navy in 1979, had first offered to spy for Israel in 1980, but that no action was taken by Israel until the fall of 1981.
At that time, the United States and Israel had a program of naval exchange visits to update each other on intelligence matters. In Israel, the program involved inviting an American official to an Israeli official's home for dinner.
To everyone's astonishment, Eitan put in an appearance at Pollard's dinner, and the recruitment was accomplished that night, former senior Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials said.
The recruitment occurred just a month after Sharon had had a run-in with the White House. According to former participants who attended the meeting, in Sept. 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Sharon came to Washington to present a far-reaching and extensive U.S.-Israeli plan for strategic cooperation. Begin turned the proceeding over to Sharon who went on to outline a set-up that involved joint use of air and naval bases, the positioning of U.S. military equipment, and joint military planning for contingencies in the region.
But the centerpiece of the program was to be the U.S. financing of a KH-11 satellite downlink for Israel tobe located at Tel Aviv. Sharon was especially stubborn about the downlink issue, according to former senior U.S. intelligence officials. He wanted Israel to have its own dedicated KH-11 downlink, which included encrypted signals that the United States couldn't read. In other words, the United States would supply its own intelligence means but be unable to have access to what the Israelis were taking from it.
According to one former Reagan administration insider, with close knowledge of the meetings, White House advisor Richard Allen told Sharon there would be no downlink, incensing Sharon who said that the U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship was all "band aids and mustard plasters" and the relationship didn't constitute a true strategic alliance. Soon after Sharon returned to Israel, the operation to recruit Pollard began in the Office for Special Tasks, led by Eitan.
Eitan has now reemerged.
According to federal law enforcement officials, Eitan has, for the last year or so, been traveling to the United States on an Israeli passport, but using an alias.
These sources told United Press International that Eitan lands at Columbus, Ohio, and then moves about the Midwest, to cities such an Indianapolis.
Eitan has been seen and photographed in the company of "known dealers who belong to a ring dealing in the drug ecstasy," one federal law enforcement official said.
He added: "The FBI is looking for evidence that Eitan is, or has been engaging, in questionable activities related to this ring."
The FBI probe is continuing, this official said.
When Pollard and his wife, Ann, were arrested in the fall of 1985, the Israeli government claimed that Pollard had been spying for only 14 months and that it had no official knowledge of his recruitment and that Pollard's activities were part of a "rogue" operation, according to former senior U.S. intelligence officials.
But very senior former Pentagon officials said the operation was sanctioned and that from the outset, Israeli leadership, at the highest level, decided on a full-scale cover up.
An extremely senior former Pentagon official said: "Top Israelis including Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, all knew that Israel had a high-level spy inside the U.S. military establishment. They knew Israel was getting weekly summaries of NSA intercepts, KH-11 photos and other highly restricted U.S. communications data."
In Israel, Sharon, who had resigned as defense minister after the massacre of Palestinians by pro-Israeli Lebanese Christian forces at Sabra and Shatila in the wake of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, became Israeli Minister of Trade and Industry in 1984.
Following the scandal he took care to look after the men who had helped him, according to former Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials.
Pollard's handler in the United States, Aviem Sella, was the Israeli Air Force's top expert in nuclear targeting and delivery of airborne nuclear weapons, these sources said.
When Pollard was arrested, Sella fled to Israel, but was soon promoted to Brig. Gen. in Israel's Air Force. His specific command involved Tel Aviv's nuclear weapons air arm at the Tel Nof air base. This raised such an outcry of protest in the United States that Sella was quietly moved to the Israeli Defense Force Defense College. His prestige in ribbons, Sella saw his career in the Israeli air force had entered a dead end, and he retired.
Eitan did much better. He returned to Israel and was promoted to a senior position with the largest state-owned business enterprise in Israel: the Israel Chemicals Company, following Sharon's recommendation, according to senior former U.S. intelligence officials.
The promotion involved a quid pro quo, former federal law enforcement officials said. "It's generally agreed that Eitan was to take the brunt of blame for the whole mess," said one former official who was close to confidential details of the case. "In return for his silence, Sharon would make sure he got a good job."
According to one former Pentagon official, Eitan told an Israeli newspaper in 1987 that all of his actions had been undertaken with the knowledge of his Israeli superiors but within a day had withdrawn the statement as not having come from him. "Of course it came from him," the former Pentagon official said.