‘Cautious Optimism’ Ahead of Decision on Jonathan Pollard’s Future

Pollard’s five-year parole ends on Friday and the Jewish-American spy will be a free man if restrictions aren’t renewed. Even if they are renewed, President Trump could still pardon him during his last weeks in office

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Jonathan Pollard leaving U.S. district court in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 20, 2015.
Jonathan Pollard leaving U.S. district court in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 20, 2015. Credit: REUTERS
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

On Friday, the restrictions imposed on Jonathan Pollard upon his release from prison five years ago will expire. If they’re not renewed by U.S. authorities, the Jewish-American spy will become a completely free man.

As part of a plea deal in 1987, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. He was released under restrictive conditions in November 2015, including being confined to certain areas of New York City, wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at all times, constant surveillance of his computers and being totally barred from speaking with journalists.

“To the best of our understanding, the restrictions are ending,” U.S. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said when asked if Pollard would be permitted to leave the United States. However, he suggested that the inquiry be directed to the department’s parole commissioner, Patricia Cushwa. Repeated calls to her office went unanswered.

“I’d characterize the situation as one of cautious optimism,” said Alan Dershowitz, among the attorneys who have been involved in Pollard’s case since his conviction. Pollard’s longtime attorney, Eliot Lauer, did not respond to an inquiry from Haaretz.

According to U.S. law, Pollard need not do anything at this stage. The burden of action lies with the Justice Department and the Parole Commission. As far as Haaretz could ascertain, neither has so far made any request to extend some or all of the restrictions.

However, sources with experience in such matters say this could still happen in the final 24 hours before the restrictions expire – though they believe it rather unlikely. And even if the administration ultimately decides to renew the restrictions, President Donald Trump still has the authority to pardon Pollard during his remaining weeks in office.

In 1984, Pollard and his then-fiancée, Anne Henderson, volunteered to spy for Israel while Pollard was working as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center. Col. Aviem Sela, an air force pilot who was spending a sabbatical at Columbia University, was the person who connected Pollard with Rafi Eitan, head of the Lakam Scientific Liaison Bureau – a secret intelligence unit within the Defense Ministry that collected technical and scientific, often nuclear-related, intel.

Eitan and Lakam’s people in New York and Washington ran Pollard for over a year. Jonathan and Anne married that same year. In return for the information they supplied, the Israeli government sent them monthly payments and promised them another $200,000 in the future. It also issued Pollard an Israeli passport that was kept in a safe. Pollard systematically passed classified documents on a number of topics related to the development of chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, satellite photos from Tunisia (used by Israel in the 1985 bombing of PLO headquarters there), information on Arab armies, and more.

Although Pollard was being managed by Lakam, the Mossad and Israeli army’s Military Intelligence, along with prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, and defense ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Arens, realized from the material that was reaching their desks that Israel was running a spy in the United States.

In 1985, when Pollard opened a computer in the office in order to cull more classified documents, his supervisors and security officers became suspicious and he was placed under surveillance. When Pollard and his wife realized they had been exposed, they fled to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. However, on Eitan’s orders, they was told to leave the embassy. The couple was then apprehended by the FBI.

Jonathan Pollard in 1985 sitting in the back of a government vehicle after appearing in a U. S. District Court shortly after his arrest for spying Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for violations of the Espionage Act, while Anne Henderson Pollard was sentenced to five years for abetting his actions. During the investigation, it came to light that the Pollards had also offered their services to South Africa and Pakistan.

Jonathan and Anne divorced in the early 1990s and Pollard married Esther Zeitz soon after. In Israel and throughout the Jewish world, committees were established to fight for Pollard’s release, but every effort by Israeli premiers, ministers and lawmakers ran into stiff opposition from the U.S. intelligence community. In 2000, as President Bill Clinton’s term in office was drawing to a close, he said he was ready to pardon Pollard, but then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign and the pardon was shelved.

During his long years in prison, Pollard expressed disappointment with the conduct of Israeli governments toward him, but always voiced his support for Israel and his desire to live there. If he is freed on Friday, it is possible he will soon make aliyah.

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