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Understanding Pollard: He is not the victim his supporters portray

Written By | Jul 29, 2015

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2015 – Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. intelligence analyst who spied for Israel and was sentenced to life in prison, could be released as early as November, when he becomes eligible for mandatory parole, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department said that, although Pollard was ordered to serve life in prison after being convicted of selling U.S. secrets to the Israeli government, the terms of his sentence require that he be released after 30 years, a date that will arrive this fall, unless the government can prove that he violated rules in prison or is likely to commit additional crimes.

Pollard is in poor health and there is  a compelling case for his release on humanitarian grounds. However, his long-time supporters and advocates are wrong in claiming that he was in any sense treated unfairly.

Consider the long, seemingly incomprehensible, campaign on behalf of Pollard, who pled guilty to spying on behalf of Israel.

Going back to 1989, members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis called upon the entire Reform Jewish movement to express support for Pollard. In a resolution passed unanimously by the executive board of the CCAR, a worldwide organization of Reform rabbis, the organization proposed that major Jewish and Christian organizations “encourage the U.S. Government to re-evaluate the Pollard case…” Rabbi Mark Golub, a member of the CCAR, declared, “All the images about Pollard by the press turned out to be a terrible slander.”

On April 25, 1989, a group of 15 rabbis and others participated in a Passover “freedom Seder” in front of the maximum security federal prison in Marion, Ill., in support of Pollard. The Seder, led by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y., began with a brief ceremony on the front steps of the historic Old Courthouse in St. Louis, where the landmark Dred Scott case was argued in 1846.

Rabbi Weiss referred to Pollard as a “Jewish political prisoner.”

Shortly after the convictions of Pollard and his wife, a Justice for the Pollards Committee was organized. It portrayed Pollard as a victim of a vindictive and anti-Semitic Justice Department.

“We have before us a new Dreyfus affair,” said a newsletter put out by the committee. Discussing this outrageous analogy, Robert Friedman, writing in the Village Voice, noted that, “Unlike Dreyfus, who was framed by the French army, Pollard is an avowed spy.”

Ever since Pollard’s incarceration, there has been a concerted campaign for his release by his American supporters and by the Israeli government. To understand the real issues involved in this case, it  is instructive to review the actual evidence.

In May 1987, Pollard, an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was found guilty of espionage, having sold some 360 cubic feet of classified documents to Israel. So damaging to U.S. security was Pollard’s role as a spy that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told Israeli ambassador Meir Rosenne that Pollard should have been executed.

Joseph di Genova, the prosecutor who handled the Pollard case, says that the damage he did to American security is “beyond calculation.”

Di Genova noted that “the severity of the sentence is the best evidence of the gravity of the damage done to the national security by Mr. Pollard’s operation.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Leeper declared: “The defendant has admitted that he sold to Israel a volume of classified documents 10 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet.” He said that Pollard provided Israel with thousands of pages, including secret information on the location of American ships and training exercises.

In an affidavit, Secretary Weinberger said, “It is difficult for me…to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S. and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

Pollard reported that one of his Israeli “”handlers” sought details of the National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping in Israel as well as names of Israelis spying for the U.S. Pollard said that Israel’s 1985 raid on the Tunisia headquarters of the PLO was aided by materials he passed along.

The U.S. government said that the damage resulting from Pollard’s spying exceeded that caused by Ronald W. Pelton, a former NSA employee, who was convicted in 1986 of selling classified electronic surveillance secrets to the Soviet Union.

Prosecutors said, “Pelton compromised specific intelligence-gathering methods in a specific area, and damaged the U.S. position relative to the Soviet Union…Pollard compromised a breadth and volume of classified information as great as in any reported espionage case and adversely affected U.S. interests vis a vis numerous countries, including, potentially, the Soviet Union.”

They also disclosed that Pollard, who was paid more than $50,000 by the Israelis expected to earn “ten times that amount” for continued spying. But he was arrested on Nov. 21, 1985, on his way to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., to request asylum.

Those who argue that Pollard’s sentence was excessive have not made a persuasive case, and their motives for suggesting that Pollard is, somehow, a “political prisoner” or a victim of “anti-Semitism” is unclear, since such charges are without any basis in fact.

Ronald Pelton, for example, was sentenced to three life terms plus 10 years for selling secrets to the Soviet Union about electronic eavesdropping that he learned in 14 years as a NSA technician. A memorandum prepared by two U.S. government prosecutors, Charles Leeper and David Geneson, said, “Pelton disclosed no classified documents to the Soviet Union. Rather, following his retirement he met with Soviet agents on approximately nine occasions over a five-year period during which he orally relayed classified information he could recall.”

Some U.S. intelligence analysts believe that documents stolen by Pollard were handed over to Moscow by Soviet moles within the Israeli intelligence service. Neil Livingstone of Georgetown University argued, “There’s no question that Mossad [Israel’s intelligence agency] is penetrated. A lot of what Pollard stole wasn’t related to Israeli security. Israel is a great trader in intelligence. To get an advantage someplace, they get something someone else wants and they create an indebtedness.”

Many in the U.S. intelligence community feel strongly that Pollard should not be released prematurely. In 1998, George Tenet, then director of the CIA, apparently suppressed a deal with Israel on Pollard by threatening to resign if the spy went free. In an article in the Washington Post in 1998, former directors of naval intelligence William Studeman, Sumner Shapiro, John L. Butts and Thomas Brooks argued that as Pollard’s case never went trial, because of his plea deal, it never became public that Pollard “offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel.”

The article also said that the “sheer volume” of documents passed on by Pollard was almost unrivaled.

Israel has been campaigning for Pollard’s release for many years, as have many of its most vocal American supporters. This campaign has not been simply for his release on humanitarian grounds, but persists in falsely charging that this admitted spy is either a “political prisoner” or the victim of religious prejudice, charges with no foundation whatever.

While some Jewish organizations have embraced Pollard, for reasons they have yet to properly explain, most American Jews have recoiled from his actions. Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, in his book “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israel Divide,” recalls, “0ne senior member of the  NSC told me over breakfast, ‘As an American Jew, I believe Jonathan Pollard should get out of prison….’ He paused and said, ‘in a coffin.'”

Pollard was disavowed by the Israelis upon his 1985 arrest, but was later embraced, then granted citizenship in 1995 and, by 2013 had become the focal point of a protest movement. An online petition demanding clemency drew 175,000 signatures. If Pollard is released in November, it might be a serious mistake to permit him to go to Israel, where he seems to be something of a hero for spying on the U.S.

It might be best to require him to remain in the U.S. under supervision.  What legal standing does Israel’s granting citizenship to an American it paid to spy on his own country really have?

Jonathan Pollard is not a victim of political persecution or of anti-Semitism but of the Zionist philosophy he learned as a boy, which told him that Israel was his real “homeland” and that he was in “exile” in America. Most young Americans who hear this refrain recognize how little it has to do with truth or with the reality of their lives. Jonathan Pollard evidently believed it all and acted on it.

He has paid a heavy price, but not an unreasonable one. He may merit release after all of this time, but it should be made certain that he can do us no further harm.

And the motives of those who have  so eagerly embraced him are certainly a legitimate subject for future examination.


Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.