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The Conservative Curmudgeon
July 19, 2012

The Strange Campaign to Secure the Release
of Convicted Spy, Jonathan Pollard

by Allan C. Brownfeld

Capturing Jonathan Pollard

ALEXANDRIA, VA —The efforts of the Israeli government and a number of leading American Jewish organizations to gain the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard are growing. Even some prominent former U.S. government officials have joined this campaign, among them former CIA Director C. James Woolsey and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Early in July, Israeli President Shimon Peres promised to continue to work for Pollard's release in a meeting with the spy’s wife, Esther, in Jerusalem. When he was in Washington, D.C., in June, Peres asked President Obama to commute Pollard's sentence.

Among those who have recently called for Pollard's release are the Union for Reform Judaism, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman.

Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for stealing more than a million pages of highly classified documents for the Israelis. U.S. Attorney Joseph deGenova told reporters outside the courthouse, "It is likely he'll never see the light of day again." The Israeli government, after years of denial, finally admitted in 1998 that Pollard "acted as an official Israeli agent."

In his book, Capturing Jonathan Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice (Naval Institute Press), Ronald J. Olive, who served for many years as a naval intelligence investigator, reports, "It is alleged that Israel doubles the salary yearly for Israeli spies caught and imprisoned on foreign soil. If Pollard's spy salary of $2,500 a month plus the promised $30,000 annual bonus were doubled (the figures come from Pollard) he would earn approximately $3.6 million over 30 years. In my knowledge, no other spy in history, in jail or released from it, has been so handsomely rewarded."

From his prison cell, an unrepentant Pollard still claims to have been double-crossed by U.S. prosecutors, who had promised not to seek a life sentence. Mr. Olive explains that the government did not recommend the term. It was meted out by U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr., after reading a still-secret memo from U. S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger detailing the grave damage Pollard did to national security. It has been alleged that the material Pollard provided led to the murder of U.S. intelligence agents in the Soviet Union and elsewhere — agents who were named in the documents he turned over to the Israelis.

As part of Pollard's plea agreement, he swore not to disclose any classified material he obtained while working for the U. S. Navy. Further, he swore not to "provide information for purposes of publication or dissemination" unless it was reviewed by the director of naval intelligence.

Intelligence specialist Joseph Goulden points out, "To the astonishment of prosecutors and investigators, three weeks before his sentencing, Wolf Blitzer, a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, wrote a long article stemming from a jail-cell interview with Pollard. It also ran in The Washington Post under the headline 'Pollard: Not a Bumbler, but Israel's Master Spy’. Pollard told Mr. Blitzer what he provided the Israelis: reconnaissance satellite photography of PLO headquarters in Tunisia, specific capabilities of Libya's air defenses, and far more."

"In general," wrote Blitzer, who now works for CNN, "Pollard gave Israel the pick of U.S. intelligence about Arab and Islamic conventional and unconventional military activity, from Morocco to Pakistan and every country in between. This included both 'friendly' and 'unfriendly' Arab countries."

Joseph Goulden reports, "The U.S. Attorney's Office considered voiding the plea agreement and putting Pollard on trial but decided not to bother, given that the life sentence was at hand. When Pollard comes up for parole, hopefully some government lawyer will dust off the already violated plea agreement and cite it as a reason to keep him beyond bars."

Discussing the campaign in behalf of Pollard's release, Martin Peretz, a longtime friend of Israel who edited The New Republic from 1974 until 2011, writes in The Wall Street Journal (June 25, 2012), "There is no end in sight for the campaign to persuade President Obama to let convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard go free.... the agitation, a phobic mixture of fantasies of Pollard's innocence and imaginings of anti-Semitic motives on the part of an indeterminate officialdom, has been relentless."

Peretz notes, "All kinds of comparisons are being made. One is to the great democrat Natan Sharansky, who was kept in the Siberian gulag for 13 years and released because there was no evidence at all of his espionage against the Soviet Union.... A different analogy that comes to mind is the ongoing zeal among nutty left-wingers for the release of Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal, imprisoned in Philadelphia for 30 years after having murdered a policeman in a revolutionary act. This effort never stops."

In the case of Pollard, writes Peretz, "There is no doubt about his guilt, no illusion of his innocence. And he did not spy for Zion out of idealistic motives. This is a retrospective improvisation. In fact, before he decided to deliver reams of sensitive intelligence and defense documents to Israel's security apparatus, he was negotiating with Pakistan — yes, Islamic and Judeophobic Pakistan — to do similar chores for it. (Pakistan is not the only regime with which he was dickering as a prospective agent). Still, there are folks in the American Jewish community and in Israel who cannot let go of their image of Pollard as a man of virtue and bravery. Hence the stubborn unrest... on his behalf."

Israeli President Peres was in Washington, D.C., in June to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Israeli literary figures Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman wrote, "We feel we cannot reconcile your receiving it when the U.S. is still holding Pollard in prison.... Receiving the medal would make a mockery of Israel."

Martin Peretz concludes, "What makes a mockery of Israel is pretending that Pollard is a man of virtue, a martyr, when he wasn't even a gull."

Before his death in 2006, the man who hired Pollard in 1979 as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy was sharply critical of those who lobbied in Pollard's behalf. Rear Admiral Sumner Shapiro, director of naval intelligence from 1978 to 1982, was offended as a Jew by the role Jewish groups played in calling for Pollard's release: "Whether it was Pollard's initiative or the Israelis', the idea that an American Jew would spy for anyone bothers the hell out of me.... to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me."

The time may come when, for humanitarian reasons, Jonathan Pollard may be released from prison. But to clamor for his release because, somehow, he is a man of virtue, a martyr, or the victim of prejudice holds the motives of those promoting the cause open to serious question.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2012 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2012 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation