Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Price of Espionage

For those who are not aware, an Israeli spy was convicted in the United States this week. The spy had passed between 50-100 classified documents containing information about nuclear weapons, a modified version of an F-15 fighter jet and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system. This spy was charged with four counts of conspiracy, including giving classified documents to Israel. The spy plead guilty. He was sentenced to pay a fine of $50,000.

A man found guilty of spying was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.

Sure, former spy Ben-ami Kadish is now 85 years old. True, the act of espionage occurred some 20 years ago. But a fine of $50,000 is next to nothing when looking at the magnitude of the crime.

I wondered if perhaps the US government was giving an Israeli spy a break. After all, Russian spy Robert Hanssen was sentenced to a life of solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Upon further research, I stumbled upon John Pollard . Pollard was a spy who divulged tons of information to Israel, the nature of which has yet to be released by the US government. The Pollard case concluded in 1987, and Pollard received a life sentence, not dissimilar to Hanssen’s. We see, therefore, that being an Israeli spy isn’t the reason for the break.

A key difference I haven’t touched upon (aside from the age issue) is that while Pollard and Hassen got paid rather handsomely, Kadish accepted no cash in return, only small gifts and occasional dinners for him and his family. However, as thousands of impoverished convicts that reside in our prisons will tell you, money is not a requirement to go to jail. And, as former Enron execs could tell you, money can even help you get out of jail.

Sadly, a common theme between the two cases seems to be a sense of arrogance on the part of Israeli supporters. Kadish said he thought he was helping Israel without hurting the US. Surely if the US thought that the information Kadish passed wouldn’t harm the US in some way, Israel would have been given that information by the US, not a military engineer. Meanwhile, Pollard’s supporters say that what Pollard did was not treason, as Israel and the US are allies. However, from 1942-1945, the US and Soviet Union were allies, and had Soviet spies been caught in that era, I’m sure they would’ve been treated just as if not more ‘harshly’ than Pollard.

No, I’m not saying that 1940’s USSR and 1980’s Israel are completely similar, but there is something amiss. Even if the US and Israel were best of friends, a government employee does not have the authority to decide what information goes to Israel and what information does not. Espionage is espionage, and while I don’t think the death penalty is warranted in many cases, I’m going to go ahead a guarantee that both Hanssen and Pollard will still be in prison when they’re 85, assuming they live that long. Whether you commit the act for money, ideology, or a dinner and satisfaction you helped country X, the crime is the same: betraying the US. And maybe Kadish didn’t deserve a life sentence (as short as that would be), but at $50,000, even I can afford to commit espionage.

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