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Jonathan Pollard: He’s No Victim

Allan Brownfeld
July 29, 2015

by Allan C. Brownfeld

pollardJONATHAN POLLARD the U.S. intelligence analyst who spied for Israel and was sentenced to life in prison, is scheduled for release on November 21st, according to the Justice Department. 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 thirty years, a date that is about to arrive, 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. But we must make clear that his long time supporters and advocates have been wrong in claiming that he was in any sense treated unfairly. Consider the long campaign on behalf of Pollard, who pled guilty as charged for spying on behalf of Israel.

Going back to 1989, for example, 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, the umbrella organization of Reform rabbis in the U.S., the organization proposed that major Jewish and Christian organizations "encourage the U.S. Government to re-evaluate the Pollard case..." Rabbi Mark Golub, a spokesman for 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 fifteen rabbis and others participated in a Passover "freedom seder" in front of the maximum security federal prison in Marion, Illinois in support of Pollard. Led by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York, the seder 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 that:

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 November 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" are unclear, since such charges are without any basis in fact. Ronald Pelton, for example, was sentenced to three life terms plus ten years for selling secrets to the Soviet Union about electronic eavesdropping that he learned in fourteen 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. Security consultant and corporate executive Neil Livingstone argued:

There's no question that Mossad's 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 op-ed 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 to 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 op-ed 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 charging that this admitted spy is either a "political prisoner" or the victim of religious prejudice. 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 that "One senior member of the National Security Council 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 granted Israeli 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 for his parole terms to include remaining 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 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.

Update 29 July 2015: This article has been edited to correct typograhical errors, as well as to clarify the identification of Neil Livingstone and that the comments of the four former directors of naval intelligence were made as part of an op-ed, not an article.

Allan C. Brownfeld is publications editor for the American Council for Judaism, founded in 1942, and a nationally syndicated columnist. A version of this article was originally published at Community Digital News.