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Jonathan Pollard

(1954 - )


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Jonathan Pollard is a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel. He is currently incarcerated in the United States.

- Arrest & Reaction
- The Trial
- Legal Appeals

Arrest & Reaction

In November 1985, the FBI arrested Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, on charges of selling classified material to Israel. Pollard was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. His wife, Anne, got five years in jail for assisting her husband.

Immediately upon Pollard's arrest, Israel apologized and explained that the operation was unauthorized. "It is Israel's policy to refrain from any intelligence activity related to the United States," an official government statement declared, "in view of the close and special relationship of friendship" between two countries. Prime Minister Shimon Peres stated: "Spying on the United States stands in total contradiction to our policy."1

The United States and Israel worked together to investigate the Pollard affair. The Israeli inquiry revealed that Pollard was not working for Israeli military intelligence or the Mossad. He was directed by a small, independent scientific intelligence unit. Pollard initiated the contact with the Israelis.

A subcommittee of the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on Intelligence and Security Services concluded: "Beyond all doubt...the operational echelons (namely: the Scientific Liaison Unit headed by Rafael Eitan) decided to recruit and handle Pollard without any check or consultation with the political echelon or receiving its direct or indirect approval." The Knesset committee took the government to task for not properly supervising the scientific unit.

As promised to the U.S. government, the spy unit that directed Pollard was disbanded, his handlers punished and the stolen documents returned.2 The last point was crucial to the U.S. Department of Justice's case against Pollard.

Pollard denied spying “against” the United States. He said he provided only information he believed was vital to Israeli security and was being withheld by the Pentagon. This included data on Soviet arms shipments to Syria, Iraqi and Syrian chemical weapons, the Pakistani atomic bomb project and Libyan air defense systems.3 Because the information he took is classified, we can't verify if this is true.

In 2006, Rafael Eitan said, “It is likely that we could have gotten the same information without him.” He also said, however, that Pollard provided “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.” He added taht the information might have made a difference had Israel been involved in another war. Eitan also maintained that Pollard never exposed any American agents and that another spy, Aldrich Ames, tried to blame Pollard to divert suspicion from his activities.3a

The agent in charge of counterintelligence for the Naval Investigative Service who caught Pollard has said that he was involved in illegal activities to help countries besides Israel. Ron Olive wrote that Pollard confessed that before he spied for Israel, he passed classified information to South Africa, his civilian financial advisers and a member of the Australian Royal Navy. He also admitted passing documents to Pakistan “in the hopes it would take him on as a spy.” Olive quotes Pollard during a debriefing after he pleaded guilty saying, “If I could see it, and touch it, you can assume I got it....My only limitation was what I couldn't carry.” Olive said Pollard stole 360 cubic feet of classified secrets and confessed to stealing classifed information two to three times a day, three to four days a week.3b

The Trial

The United States Attorney arranged a plea-bargain with Pollard: he would plead guilty to the one count of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States. There would be no trial, and no risk of classified information being disclosed in court. In return, the government said it would not seek the maximum sentence. The trial judge warned Pollard, however, that he could still receive a life sentence.4 Pollard nevertheless pled guilty on June 4, 1986.

Before sentencing, and in violation of the plea agreement, Pollard and his wife Anne gave defiant media interviews in which they defended their spying, and attempted to rally American Jews to their cause. In a 60 Minutes interview, Anne said, “I feel my husband and I did what we were expected to do, and what our moral obligation was as Jews, what our moral obligation was as human beings, and I have no regrets about that.”

Also prior to sentencing, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted a 46-page classified memorandum to the judge outlining the damage to U.S. national security done by Pollard. Contrary to some accounts, Wolf Blitzer reported that Pollard and his attorneys were permitted to read it and draft a response.5 Weinberger called for severe punishment and the memo is widely cited as a major reason that the judge ultimately sentenced Pollard to life in prison for espionage.

It has often been reported that Pollard’s life sentence was the most severe prison term ever given for spying for an ally, but agent Olive says this is untrue and notes that “espionage statutes do not differentiate between adversaries and allies.” He also makes the more questionable claim that “no one in the history of the United States who spiedfor an ally or adversary came close to causing the colosal damage Pollard did to our national security.”5a Alan Dershowitz argued that Pollard’s sentence was far greater than the average term imposed for spying for the Soviet Union and other enemies of the United States.6 Sill, many convicted spies have been given life sentences, including Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker.

Though initially shunned by Israel, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that Pollard had worked for Israeli intelligence and granted him citizenship. Netanyahu requested clemency for Pollard during Middle East peace talks at the Wye Plantation in Maryland in 1998.

Pollard's supporters in the United States also routinely request that he be pardoned. President Clinton reportedly considered a pardon, but defense and intelligence agency officials have vigorously opposed the idea. At the end of Clinton's term, the issue was again raised and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, along with a majority of senators argued against a pardon. "Mr. Pollard is a convicted spy who put our national security at risk and endangered the lives of our intelligence officers," Shelby said. “There not terms strong enough to express my belief that Mr. Pollard should serve every minute of his sentence....”7

James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, has confirmed this was “a serious espionage case,” but said it was not true that the information given to Pollard was leaked to other countries. He said the main issue was the U.S. fear that Israel’s intelligence services might be penetrated by enemies who then could access the material Pollard passed on. Woolsey also contradicted claims that Pollard only passed information that was relevant to Israel's security. “As for the quality of the information, in my opinion, at the time [1993] the material was broad-ranging and included information that did not relate solely to Israel's immediate security needs. Part of it, if it had found its way into the hands of a hostile country, would have presented a danger to the U.S. ability to collect intelligence.”8

Legal Appeals

In July 2005, a U.S. federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s claim that he had inadequate counsel in his original trial and denied his request to downgrade his life sentence.

The three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also denied Pollard’s attorneys access to classified information they hoped would help in their attempt to win presidential clemency for their client. Pollard’s attorneys want to see 40 pages of a declaration written in 1987 by the then-Secretary of State Casper Weinberger, which outlines his assessment of Pollard’s damage to U.S. interests. That declaration is believed to be key to Pollard’s long sentence, but the court ruled that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims for access to documents for clemency purposes.

The rulings, which affirm decisions by a U.S. District Court in 2003, leave Pollard with little recourse but the Supreme Court to change his fate.

Pollard, who is being held at Butner Prison in North Carolina, is eligible for parole, but his attorneys said he has not sought a parole hearing because it would be hard to argue for parole without the classified information.9

Pollard also petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to be recognized as a Prisoner of Zion in the hope that such status would win support for him to improve his prison conditions and stimulate a campaign for his release. The Court rejected his petition on January 16, 2006, however, because a Prisoner of Zion is defined as someone who was imprisoned “because of his Zionist activity in a country where such activity was illegal.” Supreme Court President Aharon Barak said typical Zionist activity would include teaching Hebrew and encouraging aliyah, but “it cannot be said that an act of espionage on behalf of Israel constitutes Zionist activity ‘in a country where Zionist activity is prohibited,’he wrote. “The act of spying, including spying for Israel, is prohibited in the U.S. as it is in all countries.”10

In February 2006, Pollard asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that denied his attorneys access to classified information used in his trial. Pollard’s attorneys insist the documents are needed to make Pollard’s case for clemency. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled last year that the federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims for access to documents for clemency, which the court said is the “president’s sole discretion.”

On March 20, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Pollard’s appeal.


Sources:
1Wolf Blitzer, Territory of Lies, (NY: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 201.
2
New York Times, (December 2 and 21, 1985).
3
Blitzer, pp. 166-171.
3a
Steven Erlanger, “Israeli Found Spy’s Data Irresistible,” New York Times, (March 3, 2006); “Eitan to ‘Post’: Pollard was a mistake,” Jerusalem Post, (September 15, 2006).
3b
Ron Olive, “I busted Pollard,” Jerusalem Post, (November 20, 2006).
4Blitzer, pp. 219-220.
5Blitzer, pp. 224.
5aRon Olive, “I busted Pollard,” Jerusalem Post, (November 20, 2006).
6Alan Dershowitz, Chutzpah (MA: Little Brown, & Co., 1991), pp. 289-312.
7Washington Post, (December 23, 2000).
8Caroline Glick, “Woolsey: ‘Time to consider commutation for Pollard,’” Israelinsider.com, May 2, 2005).
9Matthew E. Berger, “After court denies his appeal, Pollard left with few legal options,” JTA, (July 24, 2005).
10Dan Izenberg, “HCJ rules Pollard not prisoner of Zion,” Jerusalem Post, (January 16, 2006).

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