How long is life?

Rachel Ginsberg - Mishpacha Magazine Interview Side Bar Article - March 14, 2007

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After twenty-two years, why is Jonathan Pollard still in languishing in prison?

As a civilian naval intelligence analyst in the 1980s, Pollard discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being withheld by the US. This information included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities being developed for use against Israel. Under a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel, America was obligated to pass this information to the Jewish state, but Israel was being "punished" for the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

In a 1999 interview, Angelo Codevilla, a senior staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, related: "I was in the committee hearing room when Bobby Ray Inman [deputy director of the CIA] came in and told us how outraged he was that Israel had destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor. He told us that the US was engaged in a 'sophisticated and very successful effort' to turn Saddam Hussein into a pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The Israelis, in their blundering ways, as he put it, had misunderstood Saddam Hussein. They had figured this nuclear reactor posed a danger of Saddam building nuclear weapons. Our CIA knew better than that, and was outraged. As a result, Inman was unilaterally cutting off the flow of US intelligence to the Israelis."

Pollard was never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or military plans, nor was he accused or convicted of treason. He was indicted on one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.

So why did Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger say that no one caused greater harm to national security than Pollard, and later said he wished Pollard had been shot? [Prior to his death, Weinberger admitted that the Pollard case had been a "relatively minor matter" but that it had been blown out of all proportion to serve another agenda.]

Some analysts speculate that Weinberger's personal financial interests in Iraq as chairman of the Bechtel group might have led him to blame Pollard for the Soviet spy fiasco, in which the entire American spy network in the Soviet Union was decimated when someone named names, and more than forty intelligence operatives were captured or killed. Weinberger and other American officials blamed Pollard for directly or indirectly passing on the information that led to this debacle, but such a catastrophe could never be made public. No one could be allowed to know that American intelligence went blind behind the Iron Curtain.

The crime for which Pollard was indicted carried a maximum sentence of ten years and median jail time of two to four years. Furthermore, Pollard was never tried, but instead entered a plea bargain with the agreement of the US and Israel. But minutes before the sentencing, Weinberger passed a secret memo to the judge, and Pollard was shocked to discover that he had been sentenced to life.

Only in 1994 did the truth about the spy fiasco begin to emerge. It was Aldrich Ames, a high-ranking CIA bureau chief and Russian mole, who sold out American agents to the Russians for cash. Then, in 2001, it was discovered that senior FBI Special Agent Robert Hansen betrayed the rest of the agents that Ames left out. Ironically, Ames actually participated in writing the damage assessment for Pollard which was submitted to the sentencing judge. Ames shifted the blame for his own activities onto Pollard.

Ames and Hansen are behind bars. Saddam Hussein was hanged. Weinberger is dead.

Why hasn't Pollard had a retrial, or been granted presidential clemency or a pardon? Why hasn't Israel, who granted Pollard citizenship in 1998, officially requested his release?

Pollard supporters say it's no longer about Pollard the man, it's about Pollard the concept. "Jonathan has been and continues to be a convenient tool for calling into question the reliability of Israel as an ally and the loyalty of American Jews," says Esther Pollard. "His prolonged incarceration is also used by pro-Arabists in government to reassure the oil-rich Arab allies. They point to Jonathan and say, 'See, we aren't as close to the Israelis as you think. We don't trust them. They spy on us. And when we catch one, look what we do to him."

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