In a bizarre postscript to a two-decade-old spy scandal, the FBI on Tuesday arrested an 84-year-old former U.S. Army civilian engineer and charged him with providing classified defense documents to Israel.
The alleged crimes that led to the arrest of Ben-Ami Kadish took place between 1979 and 1985, when Kadish, a U.S. citizen, worked at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal—a weapons research center in northern New Jersey. But the most intriguing part of the case may have less to do with Kadish, the accused octogenarian American spy, than his alleged Israeli "handler."
According to court documents unsealed Tuesday, Kadish's alleged handler turns out to be the same Israeli consular official in New York who also allegedly served as a "control" agent for Jonathan Pollard, the notorious former Navy intelligence analyst and convicted spy whose case cast a cloud over U.S.-Israeli relations for years.
The arrest of Kadish indicates that the long-term fallout from the Pollard case may not be over. A senior U.S. intelligence official (who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters) told NEWSWEEK that Kadish's alleged activities were first discovered within the last few years—more than 20 years after they occurred. The official said the information that identified Kadish came from supersecret intelligence monitoring related to ongoing inquiries about the Pollard case. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, where the case was brought, declined to comment on the origins of the case. Kadish's defense lawyer, Bruce Goldstein, did not respond to requests for comment.
Just what those continuing inquiries might be about is far from clear, given that Pollard was first arrested in 1985 and convicted (and sentenced to life) the next year. But former U.S. officials—including one who wrote a book on the Pollard case—noted that some investigators have believed for years that there was a high-level mole inside the U.S. government assisting the Israelis in identifying classified documents they wanted Pollard to obtain for them. The existence of an ongoing Pollard-related inquiry suggests that the FBI's counterintelligence agents are still trying to find this unidentified mole—much in the same way FBI and CIA agents during the Cold War spent decades trying to find supposed high-level spies inside the U.S. intelligence community.
Ironically, the charges against Kadish come just as federal prosecutors are also preparing to begin the long-delayed trial of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman—a case that has generated fierce controversy. The two men are accused of violating the "Espionage Act" for allegedly sharing classified information they received from U.S. government officials with members of the news media and the Israeli government. Rosen and Weissman pleaded not guilty and deny any wrongdoing.
The surprise connection between the Pollard affair and the arrest of Kadish is partly spelled out in an FBI complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. court in Manhattan. The document says that between the late 1970s and 1985, Kadish, a Connecticut-born American citizen, worked as a mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal. While working there he allegedly passed classified material to a man identified in the FBI complaint only as "CC-1" (Co-Conspirator No. 1)—an Israeli who was then working for Israeli Aircraft Industries, a large defense contractor. The complaint alleges that Kadish's brother had introduced him to the Israeli in the early 1970s, before Kadish began working at Picatinny.
Initially, the FBI document says, the Israeli handler did not ask Kadish to provide him with any classified material. But subsequently, according to the FBI document, CC-1 started providing Kadish with lists of specific documents that the Israelis were interested in seeing. According to the FBI, Kadish would then go to a secret documents "library" at the Picatinny Arsenal, fill out a form requesting access to the specific documents and take them back to his office. At the end of the workday, the FBI says, Kadish would put the secret papers into his briefcase and take them to his home, where CC-1 would photograph them in Kadish's basement. The next morning Kadish would return the papers to the documents library.
Among the classified documents that Kadish allegedly provided to the Israelis, the FBI says, were an item containing "restricted data" relating to nuclear weapons, a document with information about a modified version of the F-15 fighter jet that the United States had sold to an unnamed foreign country (most likely Saudi Arabia), and a document relating to the Patriot antimissile system, which the United States deployed to protect Israeli cities against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.
The FBI document does not identify CC-1. But in perhaps its most intriguing passage, it notes that before his arrest in November 1985 Pollard supplied classified information to the same Israeli official. That official, the complaint states, "left the United States and has not returned" since.
Ron Olive, a former U.S. official who worked on the Pollard case, tells NEWSWEEK that CC-1 could be only one person: Yosef Yagur, a former official of Israeli Aircraft Industries who served from 1980 to 1985 as science adviser at the Israeli consulate in New York. Olive, who was the Navy Criminal Investigative Service investigator in charge of the Pollard spy inquiry, says the person described in the new FBI documents as Kadish's handler "has got to be" Yagur. "There's no doubt it's him," Olive says. He adds that he identified Yagur as Pollard's handler in his book “Capturing Jonathan Pollard,” published by the Naval Institute Press. In 1986 Yagur was also identified as one of Pollard's Israeli handlers in a U.S. Justice Department sentencing memorandum.
Efforts to locate Yagur in Israel on Tuesday were unsuccessful. An Israeli Embassy official declined comment, saying only that "we were formally informed" about the charges against Kadish and "we conveyed the information to Jerusalem."
Olive says that in the Pollard case the evidence indicated that the Israelis had supplied Pollard with the titles—and in some cases the serial numbers—of secret documents that they wanted Pollard to get for them. The fact that the Israelis allegedly asked their informants to acquire specific secret documents created deep suspicions among investigators that Israeli intelligence might have had a highly placed mole somewhere deep inside the U.S. government who could identify very sensitive secrets that more expendable informants could then steal, according to Olive. But Olive says U.S. investigators never discovered whether such a high-level Israeli source existed; nor did they try very hard to find him.
In its court complaint requesting a warrant to arrest Kadish, the FBI indicates it has no evidence that Kadish leaked any classified material to his Israeli contacts anytime after about 1985, when Pollard was arrested and his handler, "CC-1," is believed to have fled the United States. The FBI complaint says that late last month, during an interview with the FBI, Kadish acknowledged providing CC-1 with between 10 and 100 classified documents from the Picatinny Arsenal library, saying he believed the information would "help Israel." Shortly after the FBI first interviewed Kadish, the FBI document says, Kadish got a phone call from CC-1, in which the alleged Israeli handler told Kadish to lie to the cops. "Don't say anything. Let them say whatever they want. You didn't … do anything … What happened 25 years ago? You don't remember anything," the FBI document alleges CC-1 told Kadish.
The complaint says Kadish told the FBI that although he never leaked classified documents after 1985, he kept in touch with CC-1 after the Israeli left the United States 23 years ago and visited his alleged handler in Israel in 2004. Kadish also told the FBI he had never been paid to deliver classified documents, but instead had received small gifts from his handler, as well as an occasional dinner at a restaurant in the Bronx.
U.S. officials said that at this point the evidence suggests the classified material that Kadish allegedly supplied to Israel was far less important or voluminous than the boxes full of highly secret material supplied to the Israelis by Pollard, who worked at sensitive Navy intelligence bases in the Washington area. Pollard had clearances for top secret and even more highly classified material, including some of the most sensitive U.S. counterterrorism information. According to the FBI complaint, Kadish was never cleared for information higher than the "secret" level.