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Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice

Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice. By Ronald J. Olive; published by The Naval Institute Press, available from ASIS, item #1753, 703/519-6200 (phone), (Web); 320 pages; $28 (members), $31 (nonmembers).

One of the greatest national security breaches in U.S. history occurred more than two decades ago when Jonathan Pollard, a civilian Navy intelligence analyst, stole tens of thousands of classified documents for Israel.  In this book, former Naval Investigative Service (NIS) Special Agent Ronald J. Olive describes how he led the investigation into Pollard’s crimes, eventually securing the spy’s confession himself.

Olive has a confident voice and skillfully weaves the strands of this complex story into a rich tapestry. The book includes several photographs of the principals and facilities, as well as a unique series of time-dated photographs of Pollard’s activity, excerpted from an NIS evidence videotape.

In 1987, Pollard admitted to a single count of conspiracy to commit espionage and was sentenced to life in federal prison. One would assume that would be the end of this story, but in many ways, it was just the beginning.  After denying Pollard’s service for years, in 1998 Israel both acknowledged it and granted him citizenship. His case, and the possibility of clemency, was the topic of a Congressional Research Service report in 2001.

Amid that sensitive, political controversy, Olive’s stated goal is to “set the record straight.” It is important to understand the dimensions of that task. The case is beset by national security concerns, which warranted the book’s screening by the chief of Naval Operations before it could be published.

Did Olive achieve his goal? It is difficult to determine, because so much of this story remains classified. Where possible, Olive “names names” and identifies links in the chain of events, or  failures, that allowed Pollard to commit mass espionage. The book is very much a cautionary tale, detailing the basic security errors that allowed placement of this person in a position of significant trust.

The book will be of interest to many audiences, as a true tale of espionage and an intriguing step-counterstep account of the diplomatic dance between two allied governments responding to an incredible event. While assuredly not the final word on the Pollard case, Olive’s book has certainly provided a unique perspective on a historic intelligence failure.

Reviewer: Thomas E. Engells, CPP, CPM (Certified Public Manager), is the assistant chief of police, The University of Texas at Houston Police Department. He has served as a member of the board of editors, of the The Journal of International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts. He is a member of ASIS International.