Jonathan Jay Pollard book
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bullet  Pollard was caught because a conscientious coworker reported that he appeared to be taking classified documents from the office. "Grandiosity" is the name psychologists give to one of the character weaknesses often found in people who commit espionage.

Pollard: Grandiose Imagination 

This is a description of Pollard as a person, not a full account of the case. It illustrates character weaknesses that have been found in many American spies.

Jonathan Jay Pollard was a Naval Intelligence analyst arrested for espionage on behalf of Israel. He used his access to classified libraries and computer systems to collect a huge amount of information, especially on Soviet weapons systems and the military capabilities of Arab countries. Over a period of 18 months until he was arrested in November 1986, he passed over 1,000 highly classified documents, many of them quite thick. He was sentenced to life in prison. 1

This account focuses only on Pollard's motivation, the personal characteristics that made him susceptible to betrayal, and how he was caught.

Pollard's father was a prominent professor of microbiology who often took his family with him to scientific conferences. At least a dozen Nobel Prize winners attended young Pollard's fourth birthday party, which was celebrated in Sweden where his father was attending a scientific conference. Formative experiences during his youth were his avid reading, especially about Israel and military history, and his repeated exposure to and suffering from anti-Semitism. His family lost over 70 European relatives during the Holocaust.


Grandiosity is what psychologists call a character trait often found in individuals who commit espionage. Typical behaviors include immature fantasies of success, power or love, exaggerated expectations of recognition for ordinary job performance, hypersensitivity to imagined slights or poor performance evaluation, and excessive need for praise and admiration.

Extreme grandiosity can be a security concern, as disappointment and bitterness are inevitable when others fail to recognize one's self-perceived special talents. This can lead to resentment, retaliation, and misguided efforts to justify an inflated feeling of importance or power. A compelling emotional need for recognition, to feel important, or to have an influence on world events may lead to deliberate unauthorized disclosure of classified information. 

Grandiosity was a dominant element of Pollard's personality. From a very early age, he led a rich fantasy life that centered on his becoming a superhero for the country he idolized. He became obsessed with the threats facing Israel and a desire to serve that country. He resolved early to move to Israeli when he got older. After he came to appreciate the material comforts of life in the United States, he suffered for several years an agonizing conflict between his desire to remain in America and stay close to his family, and his longstanding goal/fantasy of serving Israel. His decision to volunteer as a spy for Israel resolved that conflict. His espionage was a means of living his fantasy.

At Stanford University Pollard was known as a teller of tall tales, but he was so well informed and articulate that he "made what might otherwise have been an outlandish series of claims quite convincing." Pollard boasted that he had dual citizenship and was a colonel in the Israeli Army. He and a few friends spent a great deal of time playing war and strategy games, and this became a vehicle for acting out his fantasies.

Pollard’s Stanford senior yearbook photo listed him as "Colonel" Pollard, and he reportedly convinced almost everyone that Israeli intelligence was paying his tuition. After his arrest, Pollard said this was all "fun and games," and "no one took it seriously." But most of his fellow students did not see it as a game.

While working for Naval Intelligence, Pollard again gained a reputation for making up stories about himself. Although he kept his pro-Israeli views to himself during this period, he did once claim to have worked for Israeli intelligence. This was never reported, as no one took it seriously. Pollard's tall tales about himself were more or less a joke in the office. He was unpopular among his colleagues, as they resented his bragging, his arrogance, and his know-it-all attitude.

At one point, Pollard received permission to establish a back-channel contact with South African intelligence through a South African friend he had known in graduate school. Through a combination of circumstances, Pollard's story about his relationship with the South Africans began to unravel. After telling Navy investigators fantastic tales about having lived in South Africa and his father having been CIA Station Chief there, Pollard's security clearance was pulled and he was told to obtain psychiatric help. After the doctor concluded that Pollard was not mentally ill, Pollard filed a formal grievance and got his clearance and his job back.

Pollard's need to feel important, and to have others validate that importance, led him to pass several classified political and economic analyses to three different friends whom he felt could use the information in their business. This was before he volunteered his services to Israel. Although he hoped to eventually get something in return, his principal motive was simply to impress his friends with his knowledge and the importance of his work.

Other Characteristics

In addition to grandiosity, there were minor indicators of antisocial tendencies and problems in interpersonal relationships. In college, Pollard had a penchant for playing dirty jokes on people. For example, he would wire room lights with fireworks so they would explode when turned on, and hide in people's closets and jump out at them when they walked into their rooms. Practical jokes can be a socially accepted form of aggressive, antisocial behavior.

Although an ardent Zionist, Pollard never became a member of any Jewish group in college. He was always a loner and never felt comfortable joining organizations.


It was Pollard's grandiosity that first attracted adverse attention from his supervisor, leading to his eventual compromise. The supervisor caught him lying about his dealings with another government agency. The only purpose of the lie was apparently to make Pollard appear to be a more important person than he was. The supervisor began to wonder why Pollard would make up stories like this.

About this same time, Pollard failed to complete several work assignments in a timely manner (because he was devoting so much time to searching out information to meet Israeli intelligence requirements.) The supervisor noticed that Pollard was requesting so many Top Secret documents concerning Soviet equipment being supplied to the Arab world that it was becoming a burden on the clerk who had to log them in. Pollard did not have any apparent need for this information, but when questioned he always had a logical explanation. The risk Pollard ran by requesting so many documents may also be explained by his grandiosity, as such persons often feel invulnerable, or too smart to be caught.

The administration office advised the supervisor that, despite two reminders, Pollard was four months late in submitting a personal history statement required for updating his security clearance investigation.

The supervisor perceived Pollard as an undesirable employee and resolved to get rid of him, but did not suspect a security problem until a coworker reported seeing Pollard take a package of Top Secret material out of the building about 4:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The package was appropriately wrapped and Pollard had a courier pass to carry such material to a neighboring building, which was not unusual. However, it did seem suspicious to do this late Friday afternoon, especially since Pollard got into a car with his wife. Investigation rapidly confirmed that Pollard was regularly removing large quantities of highly classified documents.

Related Topics: Behavior Patterns Associated with Espionage, How Spies Are Caught.

1. All information about Pollard is from Wolf Blitzer, Territory of Lies: The Rise, Fall, and Betrayal of Jonathan Jay Pollard. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.