William F. Buckley

Three news bulletins catch the eye.

The first touches on Jonathan Pollard. We knew he was an American spy. When he was apprehended in 1985 it transpired that he had been sending American national secrets to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. It is nice that Israel was an ally of the United States, but that was not exonerative in U.S. vs. Pollard. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The news today is of his handler back then, Rafi Eitan of Mossad. What the hell -- it's all behind us now, Mr. Eitan is quoted as saying in an article in the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot. But historians should know that this guy Pollard was such a super spy, he fed Israel boatloads of absolutely accurate U.S. intelligence information. Information "of such high quality and accuracy, so good and so important to the country's security (that) my desire, my appetite to get more and more material overcame me." Eitan is saying that he was so elated by the results of Pollard's sedition that he rose above any qualms about stealing U.S. information.

It gets nicely complicated when the name of Aldrich Ames is brought in. Ames' customer wasn't Israel, but the Soviet Union. Ames worked from deep within the CIA and was also successful. When we finally caught on to Ames, he tried to blame Pollard for exposing the names of CIA agents. This didn't work, but the handler, Rafi Eitan, now says that he is certain Pollard would have been given a lighter sentence if Ames' collaborative treachery had been known at the time -- though some of us have a problem figuring that one out.

A second bulletin is from Rome. An Italian parliamentary commission has concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the attempted killing of the pope in 1981 was indeed the work of the Soviet Union.

What happened, on May 13, 1981, in broad daylight in St. Peter's Square, was a shot fired point blank at Pope John Paul II by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca. The would-be assassin was apprehended with the help of a nun in the tight circle around the pope, and John Paul was rushed to a hospital where he very nearly died. The gunman gave out story after story, and went to jail -- from which he was eventually released but then reimprisoned for having killed (this time successfully) someone else.

The whole world was seized by the event. Was this a KGB operation? The Cold War was at its coldest, and the most arresting development of the season had been first the elevation of the Polish Karol Wojtyla to the papacy, and then the support he gave to the Polish Solidarity movement, the striking challenge to Soviet claims on the loyalty of the working class.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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