Pollard Revisited

The Jewish Press [NY] - October 18, 2006

We have long thought the Draconian punishment meted out to Jonathan Pollard for spying for Israel was explainable only in terms of the special and intense animus toward the Jewish state on the part of all too many State Department Arabists and foreign-policy functionaries.

In the past this page has several times noted that Mr. Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to have received a life sentence, or anything even approaching it, for spying on behalf of an American ally. We have also noted that the circumstances of his sentencing suggested a special agenda. That is, a negotiated sentence had been unilaterally disavowed by the government and the sentencing judge, in consigning Pollard to life imprisonment, relied upon a secret memorandum written by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, whose antipathy toward Israel was not exactly a state secret and who reportedly was enraged that Pollard had provided information to Israel on Arab military preparedness - information Mr. Weinberger opposed sharing with the Israelis.

Now comes an October 9 editorial from The Jerusalem Post noting that Ronald Montaperto, a former Pentagon analyst, was sentenced last month by a U.S. judge to a mere three months in prison for passing "highly classified" information to China. According to U.S. officials, Mr. Montaperto's actions severely hampered U.S. efforts to track China's covert arms sales to nations sponsoring terrorism such as Iran, Syria and Pakistan.

Of course, no two cases are exactly the same, but there are several noteworthy points to be made. The sentencing judge in the Pollard case relied on the aforementioned secret Weinberger memorandum. In the Montaperto case the sentencing judge, while acknowledging the "very serious charge," said he'd been persuaded to reduce the sentence thanks to letters of support from current and former intelligence and military officials. This despite the fact that the prosecutor told the court that Mr. Montaperto met at least 60 times with two Chinese military intelligence officers and provided them with top secret information.

There is another disturbing dimension to this case. Mr. Pollard's attorneys have from Day One been denied access to classified information that played a role in his case. To be sure, there are procedural rules that were successfully invoked by the government lawyers in denying such access. But why this rulebook approach to Mr. Pollard on the one hand and "support" from the American intelligence and military communities for Mr. Montaperto on the other? After all, well over 100,000 U.S. servicemen were killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars, both of which were, in significant part, Chinese productions. And the U.S. has spent untold billions of dollars to defend itself against the Chinese threat.

Further, there continues to be talk that classified information stolen by Mr. Pollard indirectly found its way to the Soviet Union and, as a result, a number of intelligence sources were executed. But over the years it has become increasingly clear that it was Aldrich Ames, a convicted CIA double agent, who passed the material in question to the Soviets. Even Caspar Weinberger, in a moment of candor, finally conceded that the Pollard case had been "relatively minor."

Jonathan Pollard is now completing his 21st year in a U.S. prison. The material he turned over to Israel has never been officially released. But, as was pointed out in the Jerusalem Post editorial, it is generally believed to have included data on Soviet arms shipments to Syria as well as Iraqi and Syrian weapons programs. We certainly do not quarrel with the government's right to withhold such information from Israel. But think about it - the theft of information about Arab military capacities vis--vis Israel as a predicate for a life sentence.

In the final analysis, a life is a life and Caspar Weinberger's pique should not be allowed to effectively end Jonathan Pollard's.