Jonathan Pollard, Jewish American Spy, Is a Free Man After Parole Ends

Convicted for spying for Israel when he served as an intelligence analyst in U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center, Pollard served 30 years in prison and five on strict parole

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
Jonathan Pollard after his arrest in Washington in November 1985.
Jonathan Pollard after his arrest in Washington in November 1985.Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK – After 30 years in prison and five years on strict parole conditions, former Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard became a free man on Friday. 

This was initially reported by Jacob Kornbluh of the Jewish Insider. According to Pollard's attorney, "The U.S. Parole Commission has issued a certificate terminating parole and lifting all parole restrictions on our pro bono client Jonathan J. Pollard."

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"Specifically, Mr. Pollard is no longer subject to a curfew, is no longer prohibited from working for a company that does not have U.S. government monitoring software on its computer systems, is no longer required to wear a wrist monitor that tracks his whereabouts, and is free to travel anywhere, including Israel, for temporary or permanent residence, as he wishes," said the statement.

"We are grateful and delighted that our client is finally free of any restrictions, and is now a free man in all respects," the statement said. "We look forward to seeing our client in Israel."

Pollard, who was convicted in 1987 for spying for Israel when he served as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Justice noted that "as of November 20, Jonathan Pollard has served five years in the community on parole."

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

Adding that his parole will be terminated "unless...such supervision should not be terminated because there is a likelihood that the parolee will engage in conduct violating any criminal law. After a review of Mr. Pollard’s case, the U.S. Parole Commission has found that there is no evidence to conclude that he is likely to violate the law."

In November 2015, he was released from Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, where he served his sentence and moved to New York City. His parole conditions included being confined to certain areas of N.Y.C., wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at all times, a 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. curfew, and constant surveillance of his computers. Pollard, who lives with his wife Esther, was also barred from speaking to journalists. 

Friday marked exactly five years since the parole conditions took effect. Although Pollard’s lawyers were hopeful that the U.S. Justice Department and the Parole Commission would not renew the restrictions, the possibility still loomed. But in their absence of action in the last hours, the restrictions expired. 

The relief will allow Pollard and his wife to finally immigrate to Israel, which he had wanted to do after his release from prison. On Saturday night, several Israeli political figures, including Benjamin Netanyahu, welcomed the news. The prime minister issued a statement saying he had been "committed to his release for many years and worked tirelessly for his return" and that he "expects Jonathan Pollard to arrive in Israel soon."

Over the past five years, Pollard’s longtime lawyer Eliot Lauer had made attempts to appeal the restrictive parole rules in a U.S. District Court, which ultimately failed. He had argued the restrictions were arbitrary and prevented Pollard from working. Lauer also argued that Pollard no longer had relevant classified information he could share and was not a flight risk.

In December 2015, Former District Judge for the Southern District of New York Katherine B. Forrest had asked the parole commission to produce evidence to justify some of the imposed conditions. But after U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent the court a letter stating that documents Pollard had compromised remain classified at the levels of “top secret” and “secret,” Judge Forrest ruled against relaxing Pollard’s parole conditions.  

During Pollard’s years in prison, Israeli governments had also made several unsuccessful pushes asking U.S. administrations to pardon the spy. 

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, then-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. 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. 

In 1985, when Pollard used his office computer 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 were told to leave. The couple was then apprehended by the FBI.

Anne Henderson Pollard was sentenced to five years for abetting his actions. Jonathan and Anne divorced in the early 1990s and Pollard married Esther Zeitz soon after, in prison.

The Butner Federal Correctional Complex, where he spent 30 years, was once ranked number ninth on Forbes Magazine's list of America's 10 "cushiest" prisons.

In an interview to ABC news in 2009, American Federal Sentencing attorney Alan Ellis, who wrote a book called the “Federal Prison Guidebook,” said that being sentenced to serve time at Butner, located a 40-minute car ride from Raleigh, is like "hitting the inmate lottery" and called the facility "one of the crown jewels of the federal prison system." Butner FCC houses many white collar convicts. 

Pollard has reportedly shared a friendship with another famous felon: convicted Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.

In 2002, Edwin Black was the only journalist to ever visit Pollard in prison. During that interview Pollard told Black: “My only interest when and if I get out is to lead as productive a life as possible. I’d like to leave this behind me.”

Yossi Melman contributed to this report.

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