As Israeli and U.S. officials have indicated in recent days that the U.S. may agree to free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of a larger move to salvage peace talks, the former director of U.S. naval intelligence has stressed the severity of Pollard's actions, saying they have only been topped by Edward Snowden.
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Pollard, who worked for the Navy as a civilian intelligence analyst, was convicted by a U.S. court of spying for Israel in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison.
On November 21, 1985, Pollard and his then-wife Anne were arrested in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. They were escaping from FBI agents who had raided the couple's home at the conclusion of the covert investigation into their activities. They headed to the Israeli embassy as directed by their handlers in order to evade arrest but when they arrived, they were not allowed in.
Pollard has long maintained that he only gave information to Israel so it could protect itself from hostile countries in the Middle East, but U.S. officials don't see it that way.
In an interview with Foreign Policy on Monday, retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence, said Pollard's actions have been "exceeded only by Edward Snowden," the NSA whistleblower. It is indicative of just how severe the U.S. sees this case, especially in light of the fact that the U.S. and Israel are close allies and Israel is the largest.
According to the FP report, U.S. intelligence officials claim Pollard gave away highly-prized secrets unrelated to Israeli security or Arab countries, among them "technical details of sophisticated U.S. spy satellites; analyses of Soviet missiles systems; and information about eavesdropping equipment used by the NSA to intercept foreign governments' communications, including all ten volumes of a highly-classified manual known as 'the Bible' that spelled out how the U.S. intercepted Soviet communications."
Israel only admitted for the first time in 1998 that Pollard was a spy for Israel and while his release has been floated as a bargaining chip in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, efforts to free Pollard date back over two decades.
Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin worked toward Pollard's release during President Bill Clinton's first term and in in 1995, then-Minister of Interior Haim Ramon granted Pollard Israeli citizenship.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for his release in 2000 during the talks leading up to the Wye River Accords. President Clinton, then in his second term in office, considered the release but decided against it after CIA Director George Tenet threatened his resignation. Netanyahu also made an appeal to the Obama administration last year.
Many in Israel and the organized American Jewish community consider Pollard a national hero and have consistently lobbied for his release. In January, Anti-Defamation League Chairman Abraham Foxman even went so far as to say that the U.S. treatment of Pollard verges on anti-Semitism and threatens the entire American-Jewish community.
With the U.S. desperate to salvage talks, whose nine-month deadline ends April 29, an Obama administration official confirmed on Monday that they are considering Pollard's release, after having denied such rumors.
According to the Daily Beast, the idea was floated by Secretary of State John Kerry months ago, but is now being discussed as an incentive for extending talks and extracting greater concessions from Israel.
"The White House is more skeptical a final deal can be struck while the State Department, led by Kerry, holds out more hope that more time will help achieve real progress," the Daily Beast reported.