The arrest Tuesday of Ben-Ami Kadish, an 84-year-old retired New Jersey mechanical engineer, on charges of passing nuclear secrets to Israel in the 1980s raises several tantalizing and puzzling questions:
What could have led a federal grand jury sitting in Manhattan investigating espionage activities against the United States to issue a subpoena for Kadish, who lives in Monroe Township, N.J.? It is alleged that he shared with Israel classified documents from the Army facility in Dover, N.J., where he worked.
Who if anyone instructed his former Israeli handler to tell Kadish last month to lie to the FBI about spying activities that occurred a quarter of a century ago and why — especially after he had already allegedly confessed everything just a day earlier?
Is the arrest of Kadish tied to the Jonathan Pollard spy case, which raised the question of dual loyalty of American Jews closely connected to Israel?
And why now, after all these years?
The government alleged that the Israeli agent instructed Kadish which documents to retrieve.
There is speculation that the Manhattan grand jury may be seeking to learn the identity of an American administration official who told the agent which documents Kadish should obtain.
Could Kadish’s arrest possibly be connected to the protracted government investigation of two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who are soon to go on trial for allegedly obtaining secret government documents and passing them to others, presumably Israel?
These are among the troubling questions that remained unanswered this week — as well as any diplomatic fallout the spy case may create as President George W. Bush prepares to fly to Israel next month to help celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday.
Kadish was arrested on a complaint filed by an FBI agent, Lance Ashworth. The grand jury subpoena was never served on him and he has not been indicted. He is charged with four counts relating to espionage and lying to the FBI. If convicted, he faces life in prison or the death penalty. But, perhaps because of his age or the age of the most serious charges, he was freed on $300,000 bail after he shuffled into court for a brief appearance before Magistrate Judge Douglas Eaton.
“This whole thing is so unclear,” said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.
But Shoval stressed that since Jonathan Pollard’s arrest in November 1985, Israel has not engaged in “any spying operation of any sort in the United States. This is certain. This is a 28-year-old affair and the only real question is why it was made to appear at this point.”
Noting that the judge freed Kadish on bail without any objection from prosecutors, Shoval added: “This is not a major affair, even in their eyes.”
Shlomo Slonim, the James. G. McDonald professor emeritus of American History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he found the whole case not only troubling but on shaky legal grounds.
Kadish retired from government service in 1990 after 27 years at the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at the Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J. If, as the government alleges, Kadish spied on behalf of Israel between 1979 and 1985, the statute of limitations would preclude prosecution, Slonim said. And he questioned whether the case could now be revived simply because Kadish allegedly lied to an FBI agent.
Although the government in its court papers made a point of saying that Kadish’s Israeli handler was the same man to whom Pollard provided classified documents, Slonim said the two cases are “very different.”
Over a period of about 18 months, Pollard provided secret information to the Israeli agent — reportedly more than a million documents — that was described as top secret and extremely damaging to national security. A few months after his arrest, he was sentenced to life in prison by a judge who disregarded a plea deal that would have reduced the prison sentence.
Kadish, on the other hand, is accused of providing his Israeli handler with documents that he signed out of the Arsenal’s library.
“There’s no doubt the library was not open to the public … but how far did it damage
American interests?” said Slonim. “Why is this matter being revived after such a long time, and why at this particular time? … I don’t believe they will be able to make a major criminal case out of it merely because he lied.”
Arrest Tied To Pollard Pardon Effort?
There was much speculation in Israel that the Kadish arrest was designed to pull the rug out of any effort to convince Bush to grant Pollard a pardon before he leaves office. In the last several weeks there have been billboards, full-page ads and rallies drumming up support for such a move and seeking to compel Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to press for it.
“This arrest may have been an attempt to tell Pollard activists — the whole Pollard lobby — that the U.S. could do more damage and to lay off the Pollard case,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University.
Steinberg suggested that another reason for the arrest could have been the recently signed Israeli-U.S. agreement on nuclear safety cooperation. It calls for the U.S. to “open a lot of the American labs and research centers to formal cooperation with Israelis. There may be opposition to that in the American defense establishment.”
If the arrest is designed to foreclose a Pollard pardon, Steinberg said it appears to have succeeded.
But Slonim disagrees, saying it may actually “boomerang.”
“I think that Olmert can quite confidently state that under his administration Israel has not engaged in spying on the U.S. or violated American law and that the time has come to put an end to this sordid episode,” he said.
Kadish was directed to surrender his passport and not to travel beyond New Jersey and New York. The next scheduled court date is May 22.
Neither Kadish nor his lawyer would speak with reporters outside the courthouse. But Kadish’s friends and neighbors who did speak described him as an affable man who, as one woman said, “was the first to volunteer for anything.”
Court documents said Kadish told the FBI that he volunteered to provide the classified documents to his Israeli handler and received nothing in return except for an occasional meal.
“Kadish believed that providing classified documents … would help Israel,” according to the court papers.
He allowed the Israeli agent to copy the documents, the papers said, “because it had a direct correlation to Israel’s security.”
Neighbor ‘Shocked’ At Arrest
Although born in Connecticut, Kadish grew up in what was then Palestine and fought with the Haganah, the underground military that operated from 1920 until the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, according to a 2006 profile of Kadish and his wife, Doris, in the New Jersey Jewish News.
A neighbor of the Kadishes told The Jewish Week that she was “shocked” when a friend called to tell her the news.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, lives in The Ponds in Monroe Township, N.J., a gated adult community that the Kadishes have called home for the past 12 years.
“They are really a hell of a nice couple,” she told The Jewish Week on Tuesday. “Everybody here loves them. Nobody ever said anything bad about them.”
It is alleged that the library documents Kadish shared with Israel pertained to nuclear secrets, F-15 fighter jets and the Patriot air defense system. He had received a “secret” security clearance in 1963.
In all, court papers said Kadish removed 50 to 100 documents from the Arsenal by simply putting them in his briefcase and taking them home. It was in the basement of his home that an Israeli agent, identified in media accounts as Yossi Yagur, a science attaché at the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, photographed the documents and then had Kadish return them the next morning.
Court documents said Kadish’s brother had introduced him to Yagur in the 1970s when Yagur was an employee of Israeli Aerospace Industries. Kadish’s brother also worked there. Yagur was hired by the Israeli government in 1980. He fled the United States after Pollard’s arrest and has never returned, according to court documents.
Pollard’s wife, Esther, insisted in an interview with YNet that her husband “never worked” with Kadish. She complained that Kadish’s arrest is an attempt to link the two men and thereby delay her husband’s release.
But a longtime pro-Israel activist in Washington raised the question of whether Pollard, who has been pressed for decades to name other rumored American spies for Israel, could have provided information that led to Kadish’s arrest in a bid to win his own freedom.
Ties To AIPAC Case?
Another pro-Israel activist said he saw a link between this case and the continuing prosecution of two former AIPAC employees, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman.
“One has to ask, Why did this come to light after so many years have passed,” said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a champion for Pollard’s release.
“I just can’t help tying it into the AIPAC case,” he said. “Someone in the government, in the intelligence community, is trying to hang something on Israel. That doesn’t excuse what may have occurred, but the timing is very suspicious. And I think there’s no question it will have an impact on the Rosen and Weissman trial.”
The long-postponed trial is scheduled to start in a few weeks but may be delayed again.
Although Yagur left the country in 1985, federal authorities said Kadish kept in touch with him by phone and e-mail purely for social reasons. They said the two men met again in 2004 when Kadish visited Israel.
Federal authorities would not say what prompted them to look into Kadish’s activities in the 1980s but there were reports that the investigation began only a few months ago.
The complaint said that when Kadish was questioned by the FBI on March 20, he admitted everything. After the interview that evening, Yagur called Kadish at home and, according to a transcript of the recorded conversation, told him to say nothing further.
“Let them say whatever they want,” Yagur is alleged to have said in Hebrew. “You didn’t remember anything.”
The next day, March 21, the FBI visited Kadish at his home and he denied having the phone conversation with Yagur. That apparent lie led to this week’s arrest.