Tall Tale

Alan M. Dershowitz - The Jerusalem Post - January 3, 1994

Jonathan Pollard has now served longer in prison than any American in history convicted of spying for an ally.

Indeed, he has served longer than most Americans convicted of spying for enemies. This is especially surprising in light of the plea bargain that the government struck with Pollard. In exchange for pleading guilty and cooperating with the government, Pollard was promised that the government would not seek life imprisonment.

But the judge nonetheless imposed a life sentence and the very prosecutors who made the promise are now breaking it by insisting that President Clinton not reduce the life sentence. Under current guidelines, Pollard may not be eligible for parole until 2015.

In light of all this, it is not surprising that the US president is reported to be considering some form of reduction to bring Pollard's sentence more in line with those who have pleaded guilty to spying for allies and more in line with the government's promise. But now, in a calculated way to keep Pollard in prison, Pentagon officials have made public a letter from outgoing Secretary of Defense Les Aspin to Clinton alleging that Pollard had slipped classified information into 14 letters he sent from prison. The implication is that this information might endanger US security.

If there were any truth to this tall tale, it would show unparalleled stupidity on the part of the American intelligence officials who monitored all of Pollard's letters.

If they had spotted any dangerous classified material in the first letter, they clearly would have stopped it from being sent. To wait until all 14 letters had been sent, would have constituted government complicity in the publication of dangerous classified information.

AS ONE of Pollard's legal advisers, I have read many of his letters in which he defends himself against charges that he seriously endangered American national security. If any of his letters inadvertently included information which was technically classified, then it was information that had either already been made public or was of no real importance.

The best proof of this is that Joseph deGenova, the prosecutor in the Pollard case, has publicly called for all the classified information in that case to be made public.

Several years ago, the government claimed that 13 of Pollard's letters contained classified information. On November 23, 1992, the director of naval intelligence confirmed that the material in those letters had been declassified "because they no longer possess the potential to damage national security." Aspin must be aware of this statement, yet in his letter to the president, he conveyed the false impression that the contents of Pollard's letters currently have the potential to damage US national security.

What we are seeing here is yet another abuse of the classification system by the Pentagon to serve political rather than national security interests. The entire classification system reeks of arbitrariness.

Insiders leak classified information with impunity. I was recently told by a former intelligence official that he had been shown classified information in the Pollard case to give him ammunition to oppose Pollard's release. In another leak, intelligence officials assert that information provided by Pollard to Israel may have inadvertently found its way to the Soviet Union. Yet prosecutor deGenova asserted during a public debate that he had no information to confirm this.

In a democracy it is unfair for the government to argue against the rights of a citizen by relying on classified information without giving that citizen the right to defend against its charges. Accordingly, the only appropriate course for the government to follow now is that suggested by prosecutor deGenova: all the material on which the government is relying in its efforts to keep Pollard in jail should now be declassified so that the public can determine for itself the actual extent of damage done by Pollard.

A full, fair and open review of the facts will show that the information provided by Pollard to Israel was largely tactical and regional. It related primarily to Iraq's plans for chemical and gas warfare and to Syrian-inspired terrorism directed against civilians.

Jonathan Pollard has more than paid his debt to society for engaging in an act of civil disobedience calculated to save innocent lives.