Jonathan Pollard: Why wasn't he freed earlier?
Dave Gordon - Friday, 20 November, 2015
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Jonathan Pollard, convicted in the US
for spying for Israel,
on parole today, after thirty years in prison.
Pollard was a U.S.
civilian naval intelligence analyst and was the only person in the
history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an
The maximum sentence today for any similar offence is 10
The crux of the highly controversial case centers around the question of
whether Pollard caused harm to the US,
and whether his punishment fit his crime.
David Zwiebel, in the June, 1997 edition of Middle East Quarterly, noted
that “since the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, during the
Korean War, no spy has received a harsher sentence, even during wartime.”
Furthermore, evidence has been presented to show that the information
Pollard provided to Israel
was supposed to have been shared anyway, according to a deal between the two
A Mole in the Intelligence Community
Former CIA agent John Loftus
described the whole debacle as “a terrible miscarriage of justice.” Loftus, a
former Justice Department Attorney with insider intelligence sources, says that
US authorities knew that someone in the intelligence community was passing
secrets to Soviets.
When Pollard was arrested, in 1985, the CIA
believed that they had found the double agent who had disclosed a list of every
American spy inside the Soviet Union during the early
1980s. Since no direct evidence linked Pollard to the Soviets, the theory was
that he had been trading information with a Soviet agent posing as an Israeli
intelligence official in Israel.
They also believed that Pollard’s disclosure of this information resulted in
the capture or execution of more than 40 American agents in the USSR,
leaving the US
more vulnerable for attack. “But this basis for [the government’s severe
treatment of Pollard] had been kept secret from Pollard and his defense counsel,”
In his article “The Truth About Jonathan Pollard” in Moment Magazine
(June 2003), Loftus sums up the mistake that was made: “Pollard was stealing
Soviet secrets for Israel,
not American secrets for the Soviets.”
Though Pollard was promised that in return for pleading guilty and foregoing
a formal trial, he would not receive a life sentence, the court and the
government reneged on this agreement.
Before his sentencing, a court memo authored by Secretary of Defense Caspar
Weinberger – which in it’s complete form was kept from Pollard’s team–
referred to the “enormous” harm that he had caused to national security.
Ostensibly because it was believed that Pollard’s information ended up in
Soviet hands, Weinberger implicitly accused Pollard of treason – a term defined
as acting in war or aiding America’s
enemies. Notably though, Pollard was never charged or convicted of treason.
Double Agent Double Take
The case became even more muddled when the Washington Times
reported a week after the sentencing that the United
States believed it had identified Pollard’s
Soviet spy in Israel,
Several months later, in December, 1987, US
intelligence sources, in their zeal to pin the blame on Pollard, leaked to
United Press International that Kalmanovich had infiltrated the Mossad, passing
Pollard’s secrets to the KGB.
In actuality, the CIA mole who was
passing secrets to the Soviets had no Israel connection and continued to
operate freely for over eight years after Pollard’s arrest – a fact which only
came to light in February, 1994, when master spy Aldrich Ames was arrested and
confessed to being a double agent for the Russians.
But Ames told the authorities he
was only responsible for revealing some of the names of American covert
The CIA leapt to the conclusion that
Pollard had to have been accountable for the rest, according to Loftus. In
truth, it was a second high-level US
official working in parallel with Ames
who was guilty of what Pollard was being blamed for.
Fifteen years after Pollard’s arrest, the FBI paid $7 million to a former
KGB officer (whose identity remains classified to this day) for the Soviet
intelligence file that identified FBI Special Agent, Robert Hanssen, as the
double agent. Hanssen was arrested in February 2001, and confessed. He was
sentenced to life in prison without parole.
With Hanssen and Ames convicted,
the Navy’s intelligence service began to compare the classified materials these
men could obtain, with what was accessible to Pollard. According to Loftus, the
revelation was stunning: “The list of our secret agents inside Russia
had been kept in a special safe in a special room with a special blue stripe
clearance needed for access.”
“Nothing with a blue stripe could leave the building without being scrutinized
by CIA security.” While Ames
and Hanssen both had clearance for transporting such classified documents,
Pollard did not.
“No one has had the guts to say, ‘Let Pollard out,’” Loftus says, adding
that Pollard actually took information about the identities of Arab agents and
terrorists, such as Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.
The US had
an agreement with Israel
to share this kind of information, under an executive order signed by President
Reagan, but it had not done so. Until Pollard acted on it, the US
had not shared with Israel
data on Iraqi and Syrian chemical weapons, the Pakistani atomic bomb project
and Libyan air defense systems.
Ironically, according to Zweibel, Israel
today receives real-time data throughout the day from US intelligence satellites.
Advocates for Release
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Leeper characterized the damage to the US
from Pollard’s activities as “minimal.” In a Washington Post article
printed on April 23, 1994,
government sources were quoted as saying that “no one died as a result.”
In October, 2010, Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense
during Pollard’s arrest, wrote a letter to President Obama, requesting
Pollard’s release. The incarceration, he claimed, was due to Secretary
Weinberger’s “visceral dislike of Israel,”
and he blamed Weinberger for Pollard’s harsh prison term.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in a New York Times article that appeared on August 15, 1999, expressed his dismay
with Pollard’s long sentencing. In late 2007, I asked him where he stood on the
“His treatment was disproportionate,” he said. “That is, he was serving a lot
more time than others who were convicted, and who did other similar things or
things of equal gravity.”
According to Pollard’s official website, five Prime Ministers of Israel and
three Presidents of Israel have requested his release.
In 1992, Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams called the case “a
fundamental miscarriage of justice” and wrote that if it wasn’t for the 2-1
ruling against Pollard, he would have recommended the case be thrown out.
In 2007, I asked Arizona Senator and presidential candidate John
McCain whether he might consider pardoning Pollard if elected.
He replied, “No. He was a traitor. And I understand the Jewish community and
the Israeli community. But he broke our laws. I am familiar with the Pollard
case intimately. I have been asked to review it time after time after time.”
When asked to reevaluate his position in the light of the recent case of
Ronald Monteperto, the US intelligence official who spied for China for two
years and was jailed for a mere 90 days, Senator McCain was nonplussed.
“Well, because someone didn’t get the right punishment, I’m not going to
pardon [Pollard]. Listen, I understand. I’ve had conversations with Benjamin
Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon on this.”
The issue went to the White House in the 1990s. President Bill Clinton wrote
to Bert Raphael – retained by Pollard as a Canadian counsel – saying he would
investigate the Pollard matter.
But Clinton refused to issue a
pardon, and according to White House documents, he cited “the damage done to
our national security” as the basis for his refusal. Pollard, for his part, has
admitted in writing to Clinton that
he acted wrongly.
Toward the end of his presidency, Clinton
received sharp criticism for pardoning 14 Puerto Rican FALN terrorists charged
with bank robbery, various acts of terrorism, and deaths of US police officers.
Pollard, it was argued by many, did far less damage, but was languishing in
For seven years, Pollard was kept in a cell three stories beneath the ground
in Marion, Illinois,
and never let out for fresh air, according to his wife Esther, on their
website. Until recently, he was held at Butner Prison in North
His defense team says that petitioning for parole was impossible without the
Weinberger classified information.
Prevented from proving evidence showing the mitigating extent of his
actions, betrayed by a broken plea agreement, and sentenced for crimes
perpetrated by others, Pollard was finally set free on Friday, Nov. 20.