Who Is Jonathan Pollard?

With his release now set for November 21, read the facts about the American who spied for Israel and received a life sentence.

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Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview, Friday, May 15, 1998, in a conference room at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C.
Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview, Friday, May 15, 1998, in a conference room at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C.Credit: AP

Who is Jonathan Pollard?

Jonathan Jay Pollard was born on August 7, 1954 in Galveston, Texas to Jewish parents.

Pollard first visited Israel as a student in 1970, as part of a science program with the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

On September 19, 1979 he was hired as an intelligence analyst with the Navy Field Operational Intelligence Office's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center.

He was recruited by Israel in 1984, after meeting Israel Air Force veteran Aviam Sella, telling him the U.S. was withholding information from Israel and volunteered himself as a spy.

Why is Jonathan Pollard in jail?

Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 after the conclusion of an investigation into suspicion he was spying for Israel. He was convicted in 1987 to a life sentence for one count of espionage.

Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally and the only American citizen convicted of such a crime to be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Because his crime occurred prior to November 1, 1987, he is eligible for parole after 30 years in prison. His release is now set for November 21, 2015.

Israel granted Pollard Israeli citizenship at his lawyer's request in 1995, and only admitted publicly to his spying in 1998.

Why does Israel want Pollard free?

Pollard is considered by many in Israel and the American Jewish community to be a national hero.

Supporters of his release argue that his sentencing was disproportionately harsh. They also echo Pollard's claims that he was acting out of loyalty to Israel, not mal-intent against the U.S., and that the documents he handed over to Israel were about Arab countries and the Soviet Union, not U.S. intelligence methods.

Every single Israeli prime minister has lobbied for his release since admitting he spied in 1998.

Why is the U.S. reluctant to free Pollard?

U.S. officials claim the damage done by Pollard's spying is far worse than people realize.

In an interview with Foreign Policy, retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence, said Pollard's actions have been "exceeded only by Edward Snowden," the NSA whistleblower.

When Israel lobbied for Pollard's release during the Clinton presidency in 1998, then CIA chief George Tenet threatened to resign.

In 1999 Seymour Hersh wrote an article for the New Yorker that argued Pollard's information may have ended up with Soviet Union and according to reporting in the Washington Post based on interviews with former naval intelligence officers, the sheer volume of documents leaked by Pollard warrants his continued imprisonment.

Why is Pollard relevant now?

Pollard's sentence is scheduled to be completed in November. The U.S. parole board ruled on July 28 to release Pollard on November 21, exactly 30 years after his arrest. There have been rumors that the Obama administration would release Pollard early in order to smooth relations with the Israelis following the recent agreement reached with Iran. Following the announcement of Pollard's parole, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denied these rumors.

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