NEW YORK – New charges that an Army veteran passed military secrets to the same Israeli handler as convicted spy Jonathan Pollard confirms the espionage ring reached further than initially thought, and that the Israelis lied about it, a former prosecutor said Wednesday.
"The similarities are quite eerie," said Joseph E. diGenova, who as U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia oversaw the 1980s-era Pentagon spy scandal that ensnared Pollard, an ex-Navy analyst serving a life sentence for revealing defense secrets to Israel.
A criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court "clearly indicates there were other Americans being asked at other military installations to do the same things the same way," diGenova said. "This was a much larger espionage operation ... than we understood or could have known at the time."
• Click here to see the criminal complaint.
Ben-Ami Kadish, an 84-year-old from New Jersey, was arrested Tuesday and charged with four conspiracy counts. Prosecutors said he confessed to FBI agents that in order to help Israel, he gave his Israeli contact 50 to 100 classified documents between 1979 and 1985, including information about America's nuclear weapons, fighter jets and missiles.
Kadish worked then as a mechanical engineer at the Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Dover, N.J.
Kadish, released Tuesday on $300,000 bail, could face a death sentence if convicted on the top conspiracy charge. He and his lawyer, Bruce Goldstein, declined to comment Wednesday.
Alon Pinkas, Israel's former New York consul, said the charges against Kadish might have been announced to prevent the release of Pollard, whose case remains a blot on otherwise close relations between the countries.
The link between Pollard and Kadish is a now-defunct Israeli intelligence agency known as the Scientific Relations Office, Israeli intelligence expert Yossi Melman said Wednesday. The office was run by Rafi Eitan, a former agent with Israel's Mossad spy agency who is now an Israeli Cabinet minister.
According to court documents, Kadish and Pollard shared the same handler — Yosef Yagur, who Melman said is now retired and living in Tel Aviv. His telephone number is unlisted.
During the period outlined in the complaint against Kadish, Yagur was working in the Israeli consulate in Manhattan.
"For years, Israel was involved in technological espionage in the U.S.," Melman said. "Kadish and Pollard were not the only ones."
Israel offered its first response Wednesday to the new arrest, a vague statement that did not deny the charges.
"The events in question date to the early 1980s," Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said. "To remove any doubt, since 1985 there has been much care taken to observe the directives of the prime ministers not to engage in any activities of this type in the U.S."
Citing court papers, diGenova said Yagur used the same methods with Kadish that he did with Pollard, finding a U.S. citizen with security clearance to take classified materials from the workplace and letting him copy them.
DiGenova said his own probe was stymied by the Israelis when at least four individuals, including Yagur, were flown out of the country despite assurances by Israel that they would remain in the United States during the investigation.
"The Israelis, of course, lied to us. They said there were no other spies and they had destroyed all the documents they got at the time," he said.
DiGenova, now in private practice in Washington, said he and other investigators in the 1980s were so convinced there were other Americans involved in the espionage that they nicknamed the phantom individuals "Mr. X." He noted that Yagur knew exactly what documents he was seeking from Pollard and Kadish.
"It was obvious they had other people supplying the information so they could target the finds," he said. "You want to protect your ultimate source. You don't want someone who deals with these documents every day being your source."
Charles S. Leeper, who was the lead prosecutor under diGenova in the Pollard case, called the Kadish case fascinating.
"I am not aware of any other case where the government has brought espionage charges more than 25 years after the conduct in question," he said.
Leeper and diGenova agreed that it did not matter that classified materials were provided to a U.S. ally. Investigators in the Pollard case suspected his information was traded by the Israelis to South Africa, which then provided it to the Soviet Union in return for helping Israel get Jews out of the then-Communist superpower, diGenova said.
"I would say espionage is a zero-tolerance offense," Leeper said. "It's irrelevant that the recipient of the offense is an ally rather than an enemy."