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The Strange Case of Jonathan Pollard

Written by Yedidya Atlas

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Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote President Barack Obama a letter last week asking him to commute the prison sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, now in his 27th year of incarceration. This followed the request by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who first read his letter from the podium of the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, on January 4, 2011 prior to its delivery to The White House.

The case of Jonathan Pollard is a strange one: from his unusually harsh sentence and conditions of incarceration to rumors and falsehoods leaked on a regular basis to the media to muddy the waters when letters were written to this and previous presidents by those who support his release.

Since Pollard’s arrest in 1985 and 1987 sentencing to life imprisonment, much has been written, but actual pertinent details such as the actual charge (yes, singular) and damage assessment to US security has rarely been coldly analyzed by those who oppose his release.

Among those prominent Americans who have voiced their support for Pollard’s release are former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz (who served as Secretary of State at the time of Pollard’s activities), former CIA director R. James Woolsey (a hardliner on American security affairs who has read the entire Pollard file and while he initially opposed Pollard’s release 15 years ago, has gone on record for more than 5 years that Pollard should be released, describing his punishment at this point to be “clearly excessive.”), Robert "Bud" McFarlane (President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor), and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Lawrence J. Korb (who served under Caspar Weinberger during the time of Pollard’s arrest) and became a longtime supporter of Pollard’s release following his in-depth research into the case.

Others include former Senator David Durenberger (R-MI) (who served as Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard's conviction), former congressman and presidential adviser Lee Hamilton, former senator and presidential adviser Alan Simpson, Harvard law professor and Obama mentor Charles Ogletree, former US Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, and former Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), member then later Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (who wrote President Obama twice calling upon him to commute Pollard’s sentence to time already served.

Senator DeConcini said he wrote Obama a second time, to follow up on a recent congressional letter, signed by 39 congressmen, supporting Pollard’s release.

“I was on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee when Pollard was arrested, and subsequently became its chairman,” the former Senator wrote. “I am well aware of the classified information concerning the damage he caused. Pollard was charged with one count of giving classified information to an ally, Israel. He was never charged with nor to my knowledge did he ever give any information to a third country.”

Former Secretary of Defense Korb, himself a former US Naval intelligence officer, stated flatly in a January 12, 2011 article in Foreign Policy: “Information has come to light since Pollard's arrest that shows that the intelligence he passed to Israel never made its way to the United States’enemies, such as the Soviet Union.” While Korb did not stipulate said information, it should be noted that none other than CIA agent/Soviet spy Aldrich Ames was given the task of assessing the damage done by Pollard. Among other items, Ames listed his own betrayal of American agents operating behind the Iron Curtain as Pollard’s despite the fact that Pollard had no access to such information. When Ames was finally caught and exposed seven years later, his lying about Pollard, which should have been obvious from the start, was confirmed.

To understand what exactly Jonathan Pollard was charged with and what he was not charged with and why he was sentenced the way he was, it behooves us to review the words of Dr. Angelo M. Codevilla in the August 6, 1998 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Today, a professor of international relations at Boston University, he was a senior staffer of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee between 1977 and 1985. Specifically, Dr. Codevilla acted as an advisor to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee during the Pollard arrest and conviction.

Professor Codevilla wrote: “Former naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard confessed to passing classified documents to Israel without authorization between 1981 and 1985. For this, he was rightly sent to prison for espionage. People who spy for allied countries and who spare the U.S. government the revelations of a trial usually get sentences averaging four years. What extraordinary things, then, must Pollard have done to draw a life sentence?”

“Despite the rumors and lies that have abounded in regards to the vast damage Pollard caused to American worldwide security interests, the truth is far more mundane: “While Pollard's espionage subverted US policy in the Middle East, it barely hurt Washington's intelligence operations,” declared Codevilla. “Pollard gave the Israelis analysts’ reports and satellite photographs - bread-and-butter intelligence products. He is not accused of giving away operating manuals or descriptions of the functioning of the satellites or of any other collection systems.”

Moreover, “No U.S. communication-intercept system was taken out of service or had its budget affected because of the Pollard case. Nor was any U.S. agent forced ‘out of the cold,’” categorically affirms Dr. Codevilla.

“The U.S. had given - and was continuing to give - Israel photos taken by the very same satellites from which came the secrets Pollard passed,” he writes. “There were no technical differences between the pictures Pollard was passing illegally and the ones the U.S. government was passing legally.”

“The difference between the pictures the U.S. government was giving to Israel and the ones that it was withholding lay not in sources or methods, but in the subject,” Codevilla explains. “Some senior officials of the US government had decided that Israel should not have certain information about Iraq and other Arab countries because the officials did not like what Israel was doing with it. By passing precisely that information, Pollard damaged US foreign policy [and not US security].”

The “foreign policy” that he refers to was the demonstratively stupid and deliberately blind support for Saddam Hussein. The very same US officials, who slammed Israel for taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981 despite the evidence of Saddam’s evil intentions, decided to punish Israel and held back information promised in writing by the security treaty signed by the US and Israel not long before. It was primarily the held back information that Israel needed for its security planning that Pollard passed on.

Did Jonathan Pollard violate American law by what he did irrespective of Israel’s needs for said material? Of course he did. No one is challenging that fact and the fact that under American law he deserved to go to prison. The issue is for how long and in what circumstances. Prison sentences are supposed to be proportional to the harm done. This was clearly not the case for Jonathan Pollard.

As Professor Codevilla explained in a January 11, 1999 interview in The Washington Weekly: “Jonathan Pollard committed espionage. He violated the law and was rightly sentenced to prison. However,” he noted, “the average sentence meted out to someone who spies for an ally, not an enemy, and who confesses to the crime – thereby sparing the United States the embarrassment of a trial – is approximately seven years, with an average time served of about four years. Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.”

Furthermore, Pollard’s conditions of imprisonment were and are far harsher than those meted out to even heavy duty American spies for the Soviet Union Aldrich Ames and John Walker – two high level American intelligence officials who did the greatest possible harm to the security of the United States. Yet their treatment was better than Pollard’s, a low level $40,000. a year GS-12 analyst with no access to vital intelligence secrets, who had passed on information to a friendly power. So why was and is Pollard so poorly treated?

It goes back to the original plea bargain deal made between the US Justice Department and Mr. Pollard’s attorney. While plea bargains are only “recommendations” to the sentencing judge, it is highly irregular for the judge to mete out a far greater sentence. But in this case, there was a pliable judge who received a secret memorandum from then US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger which was the basis for the unprecedented harsh sentence handed down.

In the preface to the still-secret memorandum filed with the court by then US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger it states: “it is difficult to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by [Pollard].”

As Prof. Codevilla explained in said interview: “The indictment that he [Pollard] agreed to plead guilty to did not charge him with any breach of sources or methods. It did not charge him with giving away a room full of anything. After the plea bargain had been consummated and before sentencing, there was an ex parte submission to the Judge by Caspar Weinberger. This memorandum was entirely outside the indictment. Its contents have never been made public,” points out Codevilla. “Nor have they been shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee or the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board or the Intelligence Oversight Board. But this memo,” Codevilla says, “contained the lie that Pollard caused the deaths of countless U.S. agents. It also reportedly said the Israelis sold part of the information to the Soviet Union. All of these things are not only untrue, they were known by Weinberger not to be true.”

According to Korb, in a March 12, 2012 article in The Jerusalem Post, Weinberger, his former boss at Defense, was “most likely motivated by his visceral dislike for Israel and its impact on US policy.” This was also the conclusion of “Bud” McFarlane who, in his February 9, 2012 letter to President Obama, wrote: that Weinberger's affidavits were “inspired in large part by his deeply held animus towards the state of Israel” and were manifested in [Weinberger's] “recurrent episodes of strong criticisms and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made.”

In other words, for whatever reason, the US Secretary of Defense deliberately lied in writing to influence the judge to disregard the plea bargain and mete out a by far disproportional sentence for the crime.

Jonathan Pollard unquestionably did the crime, but he certainly has done the time more than several times over and enough people including prominent American officials who served at the highest level agree: it is high time for Pollard to be free. There’s no security risk involved, only long overdue justice.

 

 

 

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