NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An 85-year-old former U.S. Army employee pleaded guilty on Tuesday to acting as an unregistered agent of Israel and admitted he gave classified documents to the Jewish state in the 1980s.
Court documents show the defendant, Ben-Ami Kadish, reported to the same handler as Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied for Israel in the 1980s and triggered a scandal that rocked U.S.-Israeli relations.
Kadish’s plea indicates the Israeli spy network that obtained U.S. nuclear secrets through Pollard spread further than previously acknowledged.
It comes as the Bush administration considers a new request by Pollard for a commutation of his life sentence.
Prosecutors say Ben-Ami Kadish provided classified documents, including some relating to U.S. missile defense systems, to an Israeli agent, Yosef Yagur, who photographed the documents at Kadish’s residence.
Yagur was one of Pollard’s handlers, according to court documents.
From 1980 to 1985, Yagur asked Kadish to obtain classified documents, which Kadish retrieved from the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey, according to Kadish’s sworn statement.
Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, is serving life in prison term after pleading guilty to spying for Israel in 1986. His case has led Jews in the United States and Israel to plea for clemency and a new request by Pollard is under Bush administration review.
Israel gave Pollard citizenship in 1996 and acknowledged he was one of its spies in 1998.
Though the United States and Israel are close allies, the Pollard case revealed how the thirst for intelligence trumped that friendship.
Kadish, a Connecticut-born U.S. citizen, faces a maximum of five years in prison at his February 13 sentencing in federal court in Manhattan but it is possible he will not serve any time.
Sentencing guidelines call for a maximum of six months and prosecutors said they would not oppose a sentence without jail time, according to his plea agreement.
He had been free on bail since shortly after his arrest in April on four counts of conspiracy and espionage as a result of an investigation that began in 2005.
The Israeli embassy had no immediate comment.
Kadish used his security clearance to borrow 50 to 100 classified documents from the arsenal’s library, including some “concerning nuclear weaponry” and others relating to a modified version of an F-15 fighter jet that the United States had sold to an unidentified country, the complaint said.
A third pertained to the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system.
Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Vicki Allen