Aspin's Allegation About Pollard Affects Clemency Campaign

The Washington Post - December 29, 1993

(Posted to the Web July 29, 2001)

By Barton Gellman, Washington Post Staff Writer

A campaign for clemency by convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American who admitted passing intelligence secrets to Israel, has taken a sudden turn with a charge by Defense Secretary Les Aspin that Pollard tried 14 times to disclose classified information from prison.

Aspin's allegations came in a confidential letter to President Clinton, who must soon decide on a Justice Department recommendation of clemency for the convicted spy. Aspin's Dec. 23 letter said it was intended to block such a proposal. Pollard's allies in the American Jewish community said the letter's disclosure in yesterday's New York Times delivered a grave blow to the former Navy analyst's chances for a reduced sentence.

But Theodore D. Olson, Pollard's lawyer, said Aspin's letter and its "leak to the press" were the classic bureaucratic reaction of a government department whose "position is about to lose" in interagency debate. He said that in the four years since Aspin asserts Pollard began slipping secrets into letters from his cell, no one ever accused Pollard of a security breach or even questioned him about one.

Unable as late as yesterday afternoon to learn any details of the allegations, Olson accused the Pentagon of a "McCarthyesque" refusal to substantiate damaging new charges.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin last fall appealed to Clinton personally to reduce Pollard's life sentence. Most American Jewish organizations, though skittish about the symbolism of an Israeli spy, have backed the petition openly or behind the scenes. But military and intelligence officials, current and former, are bitterly opposed.

Within the administration, Deputy Attorney General Philip B. Heymann has led a faction supporting reduction of Pollard's life sentence, though Heymann does not favor releasing him at once. Some State Department officials are said to believe clemency could help brace Rabin's government in its struggle with nationalists opposed to conceding occupied territory to Palestinians.

Against the proposal are national security adviser Anthony Lake and CIA Director R. James Woolsey, along with Aspin.

Aspin gave three reasons against clemency in his five-paragraph letter to Clinton. He argued first that U.S. secrets cannot be released to any government that any individual deems an ally. With the changes after the Cold War, he wrote, "a nation considered friendly today may have divergent interests tomorrow. "

Second, Aspin wrote, clemency should be denied because of "the severity of the damage caused by Pollard's betrayal.

But Aspin's most dramatic argument was the new allegation of continuing security breaches, with the implication of grave consequences if Pollard leaves prison.

By juxtaposing his assessment that Pollard would 'emigrate to Israel" if released with an assertion that Pollard has continued to release classified information" from prison, Aspin left the impression of ongoing espionage attempts.

Defense Department officials, however, acknowledged that Pollard knew all his mail was reviewed by U.S. naval intelligence and could have no hope of transmitting new secrets that way.

The issue is not that he was still trying to be a spy," said one senior defense official. "The issue is that he either doesn't understand or doesn't care that he's releasing classified information, and that shows that there's still a difficulty with him. "

Opponents of leniency in the Defense Department,

who willingly shared Aspin's letter with The Washington Post,

*[See J4JP Note #1 below] declined to elaborate in any way on the outgoing Defense Secretary's assertion that Pollard "has included classified information in 14 of his letters, most recently in 1989, including information classified at the Top Secret Codeword level. "

The officials would not say to whom Pollard's letters were addressed, whether any were censored, or what kinds of secrets they allegedly contained.

Asked for assurances that Aspin was not referring to letters from Pollard to his lawyer, who was authorized to receive classified information in pursuit of Pollard's legal rights, one official said he could rule out nothing.

*[See J4JP Note #2 Below]

"These are sort of McCarthyesque charges where they said he's done something wrong and they've not given him an ability to defend himself, " Olson said. "He has never been charged with violating the terms of his sentence with respect to classified information or anything else. "

But Olson left open the possibility that Pollard inadvertently breached security in letters attempting to mitigate his admitted offense. Olson said his client "depends on the naval intelligence people who read his mail to do the job they're assigned to do. "

"He may not have been terribly careful in defending his own conduct, or talking about his own conduct, but he certainly wouldn't have intended to communicate (classified) information this way because he would have known that it was going through the censor," Olson said. "it would have been both impossible for him to accomplish anything sinister, and stupid to try. "

*J4JP Notes

  1. Unlike the Washington Post, Olson never did get a copy of the Aspin letter. Numerous requests, both oral and written, to the Department of Defense and to the White House for a copy of the letter and related materials were ignored. Yet the same letter which was denied to Jonathan Pollard's attorney was shared freely with the media!

  2. Every prisoner in America - including Jonathan Pollard - has a contitutional right to confidential legal mail. Although there is an open admission above that the DOD does not respect Jonathan Pollard's right to legal mail, not one of the Jewish Defense Organizations protested this blatant admission that Pollard's legal mail is apparently being monitored.

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