The Polygraph and the Confession of Jonathan Pollard

Former Naval Investigative Service agent Ron Olive, to whom convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard provided a confession, writes about the circumstances leading up to the confession in an article titled, “Detecting a lie: Agent recalls role in catching a spy” that was published 18 November 2006 by the Arizona Republic:

I was the assistant special agent in charge of counterintelligence for the Naval Investigative Service on Nov. 19, 1985, when the Pollard case broke wide open.

The night before, we recovered several top-secret and secret documents from Pollard’s apartment. We had him on illegal possession of classified material, but no one thought he was a spy.

I asked him to come in for a polygraph at 10:30 the next morning. He called, telling me he didn’t sleep much and was too tired to come in.

It was critical he take the polygraph. I tried to make light of the investigation. Without threatening, I informed him that none of us had slept well the night before.

“It’s in your best interest to take this stupid polygraph test, Jay. Let’s get this over with once and for all,” I said, adding that once he had passed the test, he could go back to work with a clean slate.

That was a white lie. On account of the documents we’d found in his residence, he would never go back to work in the Anti Terrorist Alert Center or anywhere else in the government.

Then Pollard made a comment that set off alarm bells in my head:

“Ron, I don’t mind taking a polygraph if they only ask me about the Soviet Union or the Soviet bloc countries.”

For the first time, I had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. Gathering my thoughts, I said in a lighthearted voice, “Jay, you’re absolutely right. There’s no way you can’t pass this polygraph when they ask you about the Soviets and the bloc countries.”

“I’m really too tired to drive in,” Pollard said, digging in his heels.

It was time to get firm with him or lose him forever.

“Look, Jay, if you’re so tired, I don’t want you driving down here anyway. Stay right where you are. I’ll have agents from the office pick you up and drive you back home.”

Then I raised my voice: “This mess can’t be put off any longer.”

At last, he agreed to come in and take the polygraph.

When my two agents came through the door with Pollard, the analyst stopped in his tracks.

“Ron,” he said in an urgent voice, “I need to talk to you before I take this polygraph.”

“Sure, Jay,” I said, taken aback.

I escorted him into the office spaces at the far end of the hallway that had been set aside for polygraph testing. I had no clue what he wanted to talk to me about.

Trying to throw me off, Pollard began talking about arms sales to Afghanistan, but I stopped him in his tracks.

Then, for three hours, he confessed to selling highly classified national defense documents and explained how he went about stealing them – the beginning of the end for this spy.

The Pollard case illustrates the potential utility of the polygraph: it seems that fear of the lie detector facilitated Pollard’s confession. It should be noted, however, at the time of his confession, Pollard had already been caught on videotape stuffing his briefcase with classified documents, and as Ron Olive indicates, classified documents had been recovered from his residence. It is also worth noting that at the time of Pollard’s confession, Cuban double agent Ana Belen Montes, who passed the polygraph while spying against the United States, had recently penetrated the Department of Defense.

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