(1954 - )
Jonathan Pollard is a former analyst at the Naval Intelligence Center for Counter Terrorism in Maryland who was convicted of spying for Israel. After serving 30 years of a life sentence, he was released from a U.S. prison in North Carolina on November 20, 2015, at the age of 61.
- 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 pleaded guilty in 1987 to one count of providing defense information to a foreign government and was subsequently sentenced to
life imprisonment. His wife, Anne, was sentenced to five years in jail for
assisting her husband but was released in 1989 after serving three and a half years. She then emigrated to Israel.
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
"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 reportedly attended a summer camp in Israel when he was 16 and asked to become a spy. He later claimed to be a colonel in the IDF and said the Mossad “cultivated” him to be a spy. Neither assertion was true. He volunteered to help Israel in 1984 when he met an Israeli military officer in New York and was subsequently paid a total of $50,000 and given a diamond ring that he gave to the woman who became his first wife.2a
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. He is also believed to have given Israel satellite photos of the PLO headquarters in Tunis, which Israel used to prepare airstrikes.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
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 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 in 1995.
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  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
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
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
On March 20, 2006,
the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Pollard’s
Pollard's lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, penned a letter to President Barack Obama dated October 30, 2014, that was released to the public for the first time on February 24, 2015. Lauer and Semmelman argue in the letter that the review of Pollard's sentence during his parole hearing in January 2014, held no semblance to the principals of equality, justice, and fairness that were promised to Pollard by President Obama himself during an interview on Israeli television in March 2014. According to Pollard's lawyers, during the hearing the prosecution made false accusations that Pollard's crime was “the greatest compromise of US security to date,” a claim based on fully discredited statements made over 20 years prior. The prosecution invoked “secret” evidence in the form of the Weinberger Declaration, a document that was 28 years old at the time of the hearing, and had been mostly discredited as unreliable as time passed. The document was made public in 2014 by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). The Weinberger Declaration turned out to be a document based on future hypothetical situations, and the declassification demonstrated that any harm caused by Pollard's activities was in the form of short term disruptions in US foreign relations with Arab countries and did not in fact harm US national security in the long term. Pollard's lawyers point out that Caspar Weinberger, President Regan's Secretary of Defense and the man whom the Weinberger Declaration is named after, stated in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was “a very minor matter, but made very important”. A 1987 CIA document declassified in 2012 was also referenced in the letter, which stated that Pollard's disclosures to Israel were strictly about their neighboring countries and “excluded US military activities, plans, capabilities, or equipment.” To read the full letter written by Pollard's lawyers to President Obama, click here.
On Wednesday November 19, 2014, a U.S. Justice Department Parole Board denied a request to have Pollard released. In repsonse to this rejection, eight former US officials wrote a letter to President Barack Obama stating that the parole process for Pollard has been “deeply flawed.” The letter also asserts that the idea that Pollard's espionage was "the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date" is a false statement. The letter was signed by a "who's who" of former senior US officials including former Director of the CIA James Woolsey, former US National Security Advisor Robert MacFarlane, and Former Chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini and David Durenburger.11
On November 20, 2015, after 30 years behind bars, Pollard was released from prison. Pollard's parole restrictions require him to remain in the United States for the next five years, the first three in the residential area of New York, wear a GPS-equipped ankle bracelet, limit his use of the Internet, and prohibit him from giving media interviews. He must also report to a probation officer for at least a year. The parole board has the discretion to lift these restrictions at any time.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that Pollard be permitted to go to Israel to serve his five-year parole. Reports indicate that, for now, Pollard will have to stay in the United States where he obtained a job in the finance department of an investment firm. His wife, Esther, who he married 20 years earlier while he was in prison, left Israel to join him.12
Pollard lost a bid in August 2016 to overturn restrictive probation requirements placed on him following his release. Manhattan U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest denied a request by Pollard and his lawyers to challenge a U.S. Parole commission ruling that Pollard wear a GPS tracking device at all times, and submit all of his work to computer monitoring.
1Wolf Blitzer, Territory
of Lies, (NY: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 201.
York Times, (December 2 and 21, 1985).
2aCarol Morello and Ruth Eglash, "Spy for Israel Freed from U.S. prison after 30 years," Washington Post, (November 21, 2015).
3Blitzer, pp. 166-171; Carol Morello and Ruth Eglash, "Spy for Israel Freed from U.S. prison after 30 years," Washington Post, (November 21, 2015).
3aSteven 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).
3bRon 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).
11Former senior U.S. officials slam 'unjust denial of parole' for Jonathan Pollard JNS, (November 20 2014).
12Rudoren, Judy/Baker, Peter. Jonathan Pollard Is Freed After 30 Years in Prison, but Not to Israel New York Times, (November 20, 2015); Carol Morello and Ruth Eglash, "Spy for Israel Freed from U.S. prison after 30 years," Washington Post, (November 21, 2015)