Were the Lewinsky tapes used to blackmail President Bill Clinton to gain an Israeli spy’s release?
By S.T. Patrick
In Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, author Daniel Halper released a bombshell that still resonates with many researchers of the Deep State today. In 1998, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to blackmail President Bill Clinton with tapes of Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky’s most salacious phone calls. What Netanyahu wanted was the release of spy Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard was a U.S. naval analyst who in 1987 was convicted of spying and passing top secret documents to Israeli intelligence. As part of a plea agreement for violating the Espionage Act, Pollard was given a life sentence. Pollard’s release had become a cause célèbre for conservative Israeli politicians such as those in Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Netanyahu has a vested interest in the success of Israeli intelligence. After graduating high school, he devoted five years to the highly secretive Sayeret Matkal, the special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
In 1998, Netanyahu was in Maryland attending the Clinton-hosted Wye River talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. According to Halper, at one point, Netanyahu pulled the president aside to tell him that the Israelis had overheard the potentially damaging phone calls with Lewinsky.
“According to information provided by a CIA source,” Halper wrote, “a stricken Clinton appeared to buckle. . . . Not wanting to directly threaten the powerful American president, a crucial Israeli ally, Clinton was told that the Israeli government had thrown the tapes away. But the very mention of them was enough to constitute a form of blackmail.”
Though Halper could not get U.S. intelligence officials to confirm for him the extent of the Israeli eavesdropping that was active in the 1990s, Insight magazine in 2000 reported that Israel had penetrated no fewer than four telephone lines into the White House. From a remote location in Washington, D.C. the Israelis were able to immediately relay transmissions from those lines to Israel. While it seems obvious that they would have been recorded and kept for such purposes as they were used at Wye River, Israel, of course, has called the claims “outrageous.
While most of Clinton Inc. stems from on-the-record conversations and “the Monica Files,” sets of documents gathered for potential use in possible future litigation between Clinton and Lewinsky, it could easily be charged that Halper, a former online editor with the conservative Weekly Standard, was yet another cog in the “vast rightwing conspiracy.” That is, if no less than The New York Times had not all but validated Halper’s story.
The Netanyahu-Clinton conversation regarding Pollard was confirmed in a November 1998 Times article by James Risen and Steve Erlanger. Clinton had gone to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet about the possible release. Tenet threatened to resign if Clinton acquiesced to Netanyahu’s request.
The Times reporters quoted White House spokesman David C. Leavy concerning why Clinton appeared to have a change of heart on an issue he had not seriously considered before and an issue that caused American law enforcement and intelligence officials to go “into nearly open rebellion.”
According to Leavy, at Wye River Clinton had been ‘‘impressed by the force of Mr. Netanyahu’s arguments’’ on Pollard.
One U.S. official told the Times that until Tenet spoke up forcefully, “[Pollard’s release] was clearly on the table.”
Pollard is a special case within spy craft. In his nearly 18 months of espionage in 1984 and 1985, he had purloined more top-secret documents than almost any other spy in American history—and this was for an Israeli government that publicly professes a shared kinship with their American counterparts.
Since 1998, almost every high official in defense and intelligence has commented on Pollard’s situation. A bevy of strange bedfellows has populated both sides of the argument over clemency. The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) even argued for a full pardon. Presidents from Reagan to Obama refused to release Pollard on clemency despite an overwhelming wave of political support from D.C. to do so.
Pollard was released on parole—a legal condition at the time Pollard was convicted for those who have served over 30 years of a life sentence—on Nov. 20, 2015. His parole restrictions have remained stringent, despite multiple attempts by attorneys at lessening or releasing them altogether. He has been ordered to stay in New York City for five years. After that, it is believed he will emigrate to Israel, a returning hero to a land and a people that were never really his own.
Halper knew what would happen to him when Clinton Inc. was released. He “was well aware that the former (and perhaps future) first family and its massive retinue of loyalty enforcers, professional defamers, and assorted gadflies would rue my intent to examine the real Clintons.” But unlike many who have exposed the Clinton family’s past and present transgressions, Halper today remains alive, an editor for the news website “Drudge Report.”
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available from the AFP Online Store.