Bid To Free Convicted Spy May Draw Israel To Court

July 24, 1997 - Stephen Franklin - The Chicago Tribune

Israel's High Court sent attorney Larry Dub a brief message this week and it stirred a small smile on behalf of his client, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

It was a rare moment.

Since his arrest in 1985 outside Israel's Embassy in Washington, which led to a life sentence in prison for espionage, Pollard has had precious little to smile about.

But the High Court gave Israel's prime minister 10 days to answer Pollard's petition demanding the government reveal its support for him as a spy.

"The court has decided to force the government to come to the table," declared Dub, whose client handed Israeli officials hundreds of classified U.S. documents, reportedly about Arab countries, while working in the 1980s as a U.S. Navy Intelligence analyst.

Bringing the Israeli government to court is one of several new ploys to free Pollard, who, according to news reports, has become increasingly convinced that he was deceived and abandoned by his Israeli mentors.

Until now, his clemency bids have failed. Financial support from Israel has dried up. Some supporters have moved on. Pollard has distanced himself from his family in a dispute about the decade-long effort to free him.

Pollard's call for Israel to admit openly its backing for his undercover work has been met by flat rejections from government officials.

But Dub and Pollard's wife, Esther, a Canadian who rallied to Pollard's cause after his arrest and married him three years ago, are convinced things are in the works that may reverse his fate.

Their hopes hinge heavily on the court case.

In the petition, they are asking the Israeli government, among other things, to reveal who ran the spy operation, how much it has paid for Pollard's legal defense, how much it put into a Swiss bank account under his name and how much he was paid to work as a spy for Israel.

"It is in everyone's interest to bring him home before the case comes to court," said Esther Pollard. "It could be devastating for Israel. They know it, and we know it. Damaging Israel was never our goal, but we've been put in a position where we can't put up with quiet diplomacy."

Yet the Pollards and their attorney are indeed counting on quiet diplomacy to bring about a spy swap between the U.S., Russia and Israel.

"The situation is such that it is conducive to a deal," explained Dub. Talks among influential people in all three countries have taken place during the past three months, he said.

And this is a good time for a swap, he added, since the Russians are holding two U.S. spies, the Israelis have at least seven Russian spies, and there is an Israeli spy--Pollard--in a U.S. prison in North Carolina. Pollard, 43, received Israeli citizenship 18 months ago in a gesture of solidarity from the government.

Today, Israeli officials look on Pollard's life sentence and his petition with dismay, saying it is unfair that he should have been given such a harsh sentence.

Traditionally, American courts have handed down sentences of far less severity to those convicted of spying for "friendlies" than to those who spied for "hostiles." In recent years, people convicted of spying for Britain, Egypt and the Philippines, for example, have received sentences of no more than 6 years--and were paroled halfway through their terms.

Of those convicted of spying for the former Soviet Union, about a dozen received terms of 15 to 30 years, while nine are serving life sentences.

It is unfair, Pollard's advocates say, that he received the same life sentence as that handed down to Aldrich Ames, the KGB's supermole inside the CIA whose information over a 10-year period was directly responsible for the execution of nine clandestine U.S. agents operating inside the USSR.

In fact, some of Pollard's supporters argue that his lengthy sentence resulted from a secret memo from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The memo may have alleged a link between Pollard and some of those nine deaths--deaths that investigators now know resulted from Ames' treason, which was not revealed until 1994. Weinberger refuses to comment on his memo, which remains classified.

In Israel, government officials strongly reject any claims that Pollard's espionage had high-level government approval. They insist, as before, that he worked for a rogue operation.

"I can't blame anyone in his situation for being bitter and seeking to put the guilt where it doesn't necessarily belong," said David Bar-Illan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials also echo previous statements that the government is doing all it can to work for Pollard's release.

When Pollard's wife staged a 19-day hunger strike in downtown Jerusalem last year, for example, Netanyahu issued a statement, saying in part, "Tell Jonathan not to despair."

Amnon Dror, an elderly Israeli in Tel Aviv, who led the campaign for Pollard's release until a few years ago, doesn't put much faith in a prisoner swap.

"Since he was in prison, we have been trying to exchange spies in vain," Dror explained. "If such a thing would have been possible, it would have been done as we did in the past, quietly."

As for the campaign to free Pollard, Dror said he and others "knocked on every door in Washington."

From Israelis, and the Israeli government as well, he said the effort raised about $3 million. He would not say, however, how much exactly came from the government. Nor would government officials.

"Our problem was never money," Dror explained. "If you told me, 'Give me a million and Jonathan is out,' I would have the money in a short time."

Dror quit the campaign several years ago when Pollard and his new wife began claiming that the effort to free him really was an attempt to silence him, and keep him behind bars.

Esther Pollard, a special education teacher in Toronto, now runs what she describes as a shoe-string effort to release her husband.

Several years ago Pollard divorced his first wife, Anne, who served a brief prison term for her role in the spying.

Since taking Pollard's case three years ago, Dub said he has worked as a volunteer. But he has also submitted bills for several hundred thousand dollars worth of services to the Israeli government. The bills have not been paid.

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