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Twenty years ago today, a red Mustang carrying a man, a woman, a cat and suitcases, burst onto the access ramp leading to the underground parking lot in the Israeli embassy building in Washington. The driver took advantage of the time lapse between the entry of the previous car - that of then ambassador Elyakim Rubinstein - and the closing of the electric barrier; only a careful examination with a stopwatch later convinced the FBI that this was in fact an invasion rather than an invitation. Rubinstein, who at the time was accompanying minister Moshe Arens to meetings outside the embassy, did not know what was going on, and in any case, was not involved in the removal of the uninvited guest, who was graciously requested to leave his car and to return to the embassy on foot, like all visitors. That short drive in reverse, back to the road, was Jonathan Pollard's last as a free man.

In Jerusalem-Washington relations, that was the first moment of an affair that has not yet ended: the scandal of operating - for payment - an American Jew involved in U.S. naval intelligence, during a period of a year and a half, thus seriously endangering the support of Israel's most important ally. From that moment on, then prime minister Shimon Peres, his deputy and foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir, and his defense minister Yitzhak Rabin, took charge of a ramified scenario of lies and deception, in order to escape responsibility for the functioning of their subordinates and to minimize the damage in relations with the Reagan administration, the Congress and the security and intelligence communities. Personally, they succeeded in shedding responsibility - the Americans preferred not to get involved with the political leadership, and made do with the dismissal of officers and officials - but the resentment remained.

The country that used Pollard amateurishly and without political judgment - in the wake of his capture, the Americans suspect that he was not the first or only one - must ask itself to what degree it is immune from an opposite scenario: Is it possible that in the inner sanctum of the heart of the Israeli system there is a foreign Pollard at work, whose actions are causing the wall of secrecy to crumble, and enabling external elements to learn about our deepest secrets?

The affirmative answer is self-understood, because logic cannot allow us to dismiss the possibility, and because such things have happened already, and not just in the distant days of "the third man" and Israel Ber. But that is not sufficient. Too many people-in-the-know (Mordechai Vanunu, Nahum Manbar, Viktor Ostrovsky, Elhanan Tannenbaum) were discovered to be criminals too late, with unfortunate and costly consequences. Israel is so easily penetrated by people like them, that the real question is whether it is possible to fight the phenomenon without falling into another dangerous abyss, of spy-catching hysteria.

Israel should be concerned about the dangers of people in key positions committing themselves to criminal organizations (either a priori, because of the organization's financing of their election to a particular post, or via wielding influence over the grateful winners of elections), and of corruption that invites blackmail: If the person is corruptible, he can be blackmailed. For example, in the case of a senior minister, perhaps even a prime minister, who is saved from indictment by the refusal of a foreign country to permit an investigation that could provide evidence against him.

Under the sponsorship of the U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for the security of presidents, an in-depth study was published in the United States last year regarding the "threat from within" - i.e., an employee, present or past, who sabotages the activities of an organization by means of his access to information. Such an employee can pass all the filtering mechanisms used in enlistment, training and during the course of his service, can advance until he has a run-in with his superior, and can even embark on a campaign of sabotage when he is presumably above suspicion.

At the height of the Cold War, the two most sensitive networks of the Americans and the British, the nuclear and intelligence establishments, fell victim to internal spying based on ideological motives. In recent years, the two main motives have been money and revenge, occasionally both, since the desire for revenge is directed at the system that has shortchanged someone who was an integral part of it, and did not grant him the proper recognition, also reflected in proper compensation. John Le Carre, in his stories about spies and cold and heresy and betrayal in Berlin, did a wonderful job of exposing the truth.

The avenger is liable to cause a catastrophe. For example, the affair of Yehuda Gil, who invented contacts with a top Syrian agent, thereby endangering human life and the relations between countries: His reports caused tensions and almost led to a military confrontation. If someone as veteran and highly regarded as Gil was guilty, it is possible that he is not the last, even if it turns out next time that the danger is the opposite - i.e., not a fabricated contact that led to operations, but rather a real but illicit contact that caused a cancellation of operations.

Gil's story demonstrates that such cases are discussed between the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service, at the top echelons of the State Prosecutors Office, and finally in the courts as well, with minimal and even zero exposure to the public, one reason being the fear of condemnation of those responsible for the failures. But we cannot accept results like those in the Pollard affair: The political leadership, which oversees the services and is negligent in supervising them, must bear the ultimate responsibility for their failures.