News / Middle East

    Israel Renews Call to Free Jailed US Spy Jonathan Pollard

    Israeli protesters hold posters demanding the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying on the United States, as they stand outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, June 19, 2011.
    Israeli protesters hold posters demanding the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 on charges of spying on the United States, as they stand outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, June 19, 2011.
    Cecily Hilleary
    President Obama’s planned visit to Israel later this month has triggered renewed calls for Washington to free jailed American spy Jonathan Pollard. A petition of his  release has already been signed by 100,000 Israelis, among them, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid Party. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has been debating the issue this week. For decades, the White House has refused to release Pollard.  But that hasn’t stopped his supporters from pleaing his case.

    Background

    Jonathan PollardJonathan Pollard
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    Jonathan Pollard
    Jonathan Pollard
    In 1985, the U.S. government accused Pollard of selling classified documents to Israel while he was employed as a U.S. Navy intelligence specialist.  Initially, Israel denied having anything to do with Pollard’s activities, but did grant him Israeli citizenship in 1996, and two years later formally admitted that he had worked as an official agent for the Jewish state. 

    Prosecutors arranged a plea-bargain, by which Pollard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage. In exchange, the government said it would recommend a “substantial” prison term, as opposed to life imprisonment.

    For love or money?

    For years, Pollard’s defenders have argued that he acted in order to protect Israel from its regional enemies

    Among those defenders is Lawrence Korb, a deputy secretary of defense at the time Pollard was arrested.  Korb is in Jerusalem this week for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Knesset leaders.
     
    Now a Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, Korb says Pollard’s punishment far exceeds the crime. 

    “He was not convicted of treason, and that, of course, is a key thing,” Korb said. “He pled guilty to furnishing classified information to an ally, which is different. Treason is if you furnish something to an enemy that can be used against you, and I think that’s a very important point.”

    Korb points to the original half-page victim impact statement to support his point. 
     
    “In fact the victim impact statement said the damage done to the United States was basically that it undermined our leverage with the Israelis in terms of things that we could get, as well as undermined our credibility with Arab nations,” Korb said. 

    In other words, according to Korb, friendly nations routinely exchange intelligence, but in this case, the U.S. received nothing back from Israel, and the information that Pollard gave Israel was much more highly classified than what the U.S. would have normally offered.  An embarrassment, says Korb, but hardly punishable by life in prison.

    Defense attorney Eliot Lauer and his partner Jacques Semmelman have represented Pollard since spring 2000.

    “What you have is a man that violated his oath,” Lauer said, “foolishly and impetuously gave a volume of information to an ally dealing with threats to the state of Israel, for which he deserved to be incarcerated.  But no one who has been sentenced and convicted of a similar offense has served even 25 percent of this sentence.”

    There is this unfair, incorrect notion spread by the nay-sayers that somehow Pollard gave high-tech military technology to Israel that might leak to Russia, that somehow he gave information that might have compromised agents or sources of information.
    Assessing harm done

    Because the case never went to trial, the extent of the damage caused by Pollard’s spying is unclear to all but a few.  Just before sentencing, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted a CIA damage assessment

    Available online but heavily redacted, the assessment says Pollard sold Israel “a large and varied body of classified material” posing “risks of several kinds to U.S. intelligence sources and methods, analytical capabilities and intelligence exchanges, and foreign policy interests, including the possibility of extended compromise of some of Pollard's material to third countries”--referring to speculation that some information may have ended up in KGB hands.

    Weinberger also submitted an supplemental four-page declaration in which he said he believed Pollard would continue divulging top secrets “without restraint,” if he had the chance. “It is difficult for me,” Weinberger wrote, “to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant. 
     
    One day later, a federal judge sentenced Pollard to life in jail. 
     
    Defense attorneys Eliot Lauer, right, and Jacques Semmelman, left, representing convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard speak to reporters outside the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, March 15, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Defense attorneys Eliot Lauer, right, and Jacques Semmelman, left, representing convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard speak to reporters outside the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, March 15, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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    Defense attorneys Eliot Lauer, right, and Jacques Semmelman, left, representing convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard speak to reporters outside the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, March 15, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
    Defense attorneys Eliot Lauer, right, and Jacques Semmelman, left, representing convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard speak to reporters outside the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, March 15, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
    Pollard’s attorney Lauer says the case was weak.  “All that Weinberger was saying…is that it could possibly be that there was greater harm than the harm described in the victim impact statement.  But it’s all in the context of ‘possible.’” 
     
    “It was 1985, the Year of the Spy,” says Lauer, referring to several high-profile spy cases in the U.S. that year.  He says the government gave Pollard an overly harsh sentence to set an example to others the government suspected were spying but had not yet caught.
     
    There wasn’t ever any doubt that he spied for Israel and caused some of the greatest damage to U.S. national security in the history of the country


    Punishment fits crime
     

    Joseph E. diGenova is a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and served as the chief prosecutor in case. As such, he had full access to the CIA report, as did defense attorneys and Pollard himself. He says Pollard got exactly what he deserved. 

    “There wasn’t ever any doubt that he spied for Israel and caused some of the greatest damage to U.S. national security in the history of the country,” diGenova said.  “He leaked information that was in what we call ‘top secret code word…which included technical information and memorandums and data which were able to identify human intelligence and signals intelligence, which is National Security Agency-type material.” 

    Just how much material Pollard provided Israel has never been revealed, but Pollard himself estimated it could take up a space six feet wide, six feet long and 10 feet high. 

    DiGenova also questions why Pollard, who has been eligible for parole for more than 20 years, seeks clemency instead. 

    “I don’t know what his goal is and I don’t know what the goal of his supporters is, but I do know as a matter of legal fact is that he has never sought parole, even though he is entitled to do so,” he said.

    Lauer told VOA, “Mr. Pollard has a far better chance [of getting released] in a court of world opinion, public opinion, and a fair-minded president and his staff.”

    White House spokesman Jay Carney recently told reporters that the White House has changed its position on keeping Pollard in jail. Israeli press reports Netanyahu will bring up the issue when Obama visits him in his home March 20.

    In the meeting with Knesset leaders this week, Korb said he advised Israel to “admit they were wrong, turn over all the material and promise not to do it again.”

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Robert from: USA
    March 25, 2013 3:51 PM
    Pollard violated his oath to the USA and its people. Just to wise everyone up, Isreal granted him Citizenship in 1996 after they finally admitted he was agent for them.

    I dont care about his health, he violated a TRUST to the people of the USA. Robert Hannsen, the FBI agent is serving a longer sentence in a Federal Supermax Prison for selling out to the Soviets, you dont hear him bitching..

    Those were OUR secrets, had they been relevent to Isreal, the CIA/NSA/POTUS would have given them as the Billions in aid were given.

    by: Danny from: USA
    March 20, 2013 10:00 AM
    Why did we accept a plea from him? He should have been executed. I am sick and tired of hearing from the Israelis that he should be released. Spying on an ally should never, EVER be tolerated. They should know, that if they do it, they will not be getting clemency. Meanwhile, we are hanging Israel out to dry. It's a messed up world.

    by: Yaakov from: Vancouver, Canada
    March 07, 2013 6:25 PM
    Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

    He is currently in poor health and should be released on humanitarian grounds.

    by: Ian from: USA
    March 07, 2013 12:52 PM
    So is he an American citizen or is he a citizen of Israel ? Loyalty should be to the US first , if he spied for any other country (including Israel) he is a traitor .
    he should be executed. Our country is a melting pot of many ethnics, religious etc..if everyone behave like him what would be the future of our country (obviously he had make a choice when he spied for Israel)


    by: Joseph
    March 07, 2013 12:30 PM
    It should be remembered that Johnathan Pollard did not compromise anyone in the service of the US Agencies, unlike Aldrich Ames, who was responsible for the virtual paralysis of his section. Would suggest you read up on Aldrich Ames, what he did, how long he continued in his job and what the final cost was and compare the actions and outcome to the USA.

    by: american from: NYC
    March 07, 2013 8:15 AM
    A spy for any country is a disgraced person who should be handed the death penalty nothing else......This so called israel is ready to sacrifice our american lives for its own selfish interests.....IF Obama release this person..He should be put in Jail after he leaves office.....The reason is endangering our national security and the lives of people who are working hard to protect this country

    by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
    March 07, 2013 12:43 AM
    I find it hard to understand as to why Mr. Pollard has not applied for parole, given that he could have done so 20 yrs ago. If he could have gotten parole after only serving 7 yrs of his sentence, then the entire "damage assessment" vrs the sentence he received does not make a great deal of sense. In any case, various media reports have indicated that Mr. Pollard has physical and mental health problems, some even claim that he is very ill.
    On humanitarian grounds, my opinion is that, he should be released; given that he could have asked for parole 20 yrs ago, if this article is correct, clearly his mental status has been very very questionable for some time, like 20 years or maybe even longer......

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