The Spy Who's Locked Into the Cold

Sara Levinsky Rigler - - December 9, 2002

It's time to release Jonathan Pollard.

In 1995, an American Naval officer named Michael Schwartz (a non-Jew) was arrested and, after confessing, indicted for spying for Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Schwartz's only punishment was discharge from the Navy with the loss of his rank and pension. He never spent a day in prison.

In 1986, Dr. Abdel Kader Helmy was arrested and indicted for passing American ballistic missile secrets and parts to Egypt, which then passed them on to Iraq. Helmy's treachery led directly to Iraq's development of the Condor missile. At the insistence of both the State and the Defense Departments, Helmy was indicted not for espionage, but for "smuggling" restricted technology. Helmy was sentenced to four years in prison, and was released after two years.

In 1987, Clayton Lonetree was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, an enemy of the U.S. Among other things, Lonetree passed the floor plans of the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Vienna to the Soviets, jeopardizing the lives of all the Americans employed there. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and, after several sentence reductions, was released after 9 years.

In 1985, Jonathan Pollard (a Jew) was arrested for passing classified intelligence information to Israel. He was never tried. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea bargain, which spared both governments a potentially embarrassing trial. In violation of the plea agreement, Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he never be paroled.[1]

On November 21, 2002, Pollard entered the 18th year of his life sentence, with no end in sight.

Since his arrest, Jonathan Pollard has publicly and repeatedly expressed his remorse. He regrets having broken the law, and is sorry he did not find a legal means to act upon his concerns for Israel.

Pollard's first attorney, Richard Hibey, a non-Jewish lawyer of Lebanese extraction, failed to file a Notice of Appeal, a simple and straightforward task that any attorney would have routinely done. This unheard of failure has forever deprived Pollard of his right to appeal the life sentence he received without benefit of trial.

Contrary to widespread misconceptions, Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. Pollard was never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans, nor was he accused of nor convicted of treason. Jonathan Pollard was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, with no intent to harm the United States. [2]

The median sentence for this offence is two to four years. Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

Appellate Court Justice Steven Williams has called the Pollard case "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."


Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980s, he discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld by the United States. This information included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities -- all being developed for use against Israel. According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, the United States was legally obligated to pass such information on to Israel.

Pollard, an American Zionist, at first pursued legal channels to have this information passed on to Israel. When he asked his superiors why evidence of Iraq's development of nerve and biological gases was not being shared with Israel, he was told, "Jews are too sensitive to gas."

When all American authorities up to the Pentagon refused to relay this intelligence information to Israel, Pollard took it upon himself to do so. The receipt of this information led Israel to revamp its entire civil defense program to include gas masks, sealed rooms, and biological and chemical antidotes.

Pollard's disclosures to Israel were potentially a great embarrassment to the American administration. If made public, they would have proved that not only were the Americans withholding vital security information from Israel, in violation of their agreement, but even more damning, that the United States was covertly aiding and arming Iraq, in hopes that it would overthrow the regime in Iran. This secret aid continued up until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.[3]

The reason, in fact, that the United States had stopped sharing intelligence information about Iraq with Israel was because Israel had used such information to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. Angelo Codevilla, who was a Senior Staff Member for the Senate Intelligence Committee from 1978-1985, related in a 1999 interview:

"Bobby Ray Inman, at the time Deputy Director of the CIA, was very angry, and cut off a good chunk of that information flow... I was in the U.S. Intelligence Committee hearing room when Bobby Ray Inman 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 that the Israelis had done this. As a result, Inman was unilaterally cutting off the flow of US intelligence to the Israelis."[4]


A year before Jonathan Pollard was arrested, the spy story that would ultimately doom him started to play itself out in the upper echelons of the CIA. In 1984, Aldrich Ames, who was Chief of Counter Intelligence for the Soviet-East European division of the CIA, was recruited by the Soviet Union to work as a mole. Ames later admitted (in the New York Times and in a televised interview on Sixty Minutes) that he transmitted to the Soviet Union the names of virtually every American and foreign operative in the Soviet Union known to him. A draft of a 400-page classified report, prepared years later under the direction of the CIA's inspector-general Frederick Hitz, would reveal that Ames exposed -- and caused the deaths of -- 34 secret American and allied agents, and identified 55 clandestine American and allied operations to the Soviet Union, thus causing the deaths of many others. [5]

This led to the virtual collapse of the American espionage network in the Soviet Union, a collapse that lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This collapse was a bitter humiliation to the CIA heads in Washington.

Of course, the CIA suspected a mole. To deflect suspicion from himself, Ames searched frantically for a scapegoat. On November 22, 1985, Jonathan Pollard was arrested and charged with spying for Israel. The CIA put Aldrich Ames in charge of investigating Pollard for a damage assessment. Ames began fabricating a secret file that cast blame on Israel for selling to the KGB the data it had received from Pollard. Then Ames leaked to the press allegations that the information Pollard fed Israel included the secret codes for American agents working in the Soviet Union, thus endangering their lives.

Ames also, of course, handed his "findings" about Jonathan Pollard over to the Departments of Defense and Justice, which accepted their veracity without question. Caspar Weinberger was Secretary of Defense at the time. Weinberger was the former vice-president and legal counsel to the Bechtel Group, which conducts a multi-billion dollar business with Arab states.

Just prior to Pollard's sentencing, Weinberger delivered a classified memorandum to the sentencing judge, falsely accusing Pollard of treason [defined as spying for an enemy nation during a time of war] and other serious crimes for which he had never been legally accused nor indicted nor given the opportunity to refute. Pollard and his attorney were allowed to briefly see this document. Since then, neither Pollard nor any of his attorneys, despite their top secret security clearance, have ever been allowed to access the Weinberger memorandum, nor to challenge it in a court of law.

Weinberger declared publicly that if it were up to him, Pollard would have been hanged.

The sentence of life imprisonment that Pollard received was not for the crime he committed and was charged with -- spying for an American ally, but rather for a crime he did not commit and was never legally charged with -- treason. As Jerome J. Shestack, former President of the American Bar Association, wrote about Pollard: "He was not convicted of treason, although his sentence assumes he was. Thus it appears that he is being punished for a crime he did not commit and disproportionately punished for the one he did commit."

The America media bought Ames's story, and, citing "intelligence sources," (Can the reader guess who?) widely circulated allegations that Jonathan Pollard had endangered the lives of many American agents.

For example, Time's "Inside Washington" column on December 6, 1993, reported: "Time has learned that one document Pollard is believed to have slipped to the Israelis - thought to have landed in Soviet hands - was a huge national security agency compendium of frequencies used by foreign military and intelligence services... Officials fear that data in this book was so specific that its discovery may have cost informants their lives."

Even four years after Ames's confession and conviction, the American media was still pillorying Jonathan Pollard. A CBS news show with Dan Rather as anchor on December 8, 1998, claimed to reveal "new information" leaked to CBS by "official sources" alleging that Jonathan Pollard betrayed US Codes and HUMINT Sources.

Even before Ames was arrested for committing the crimes that the media blamed Pollard for, and certainly thereafter, intelligence experts seriously interested in the truth should have smelled a rat. First of all, most of the data Pollard passed to Israel concerned Soviet weaponry sold to Arab states. Why would the Soviet Union buy from Israel data about their own weapons systems? As a 1994 article put it:

As Jerry Agee, Pollard's superior in Naval Intelligence told [journalist] Wolf Blitzer, Agee and another colleague were suspicious of the number of classified documents Pollard was taking home with him. Eventually they concluded that the information was almost certainly going to Israel. They reasoned that in light of the fact that the materials dealt with Soviet weapons systems and Arab military capabilities, it was not something the Soviets would be interested in.

As Agee put it to Blitzer: "It didn't take a fool to find out that the Soviets were not buying back all their own information." [6]

Secondly, Ames's web of allegations against Pollard assumed that Pollard, a GS-12 security analyst, had access to such top-secret CIA data as the "huge national security agency compendium of frequencies" and the codes of American spies working in the Soviet Union. All intelligence experts knew that Pollard was too low level an analyst to have had any access to such data. As Codevilla pointed out: "Jonathan Pollard could not have provided codes, because he did not have any access to codes. GS-12 analysts don't." [7]

Former Justice Department attorney John Loftus explained: "In order to hide his own espionage for the Russians, Ames successfully pointed the finger of suspicion at Pollard for the spate of serious leaks that crippled U.S. networks inside the Soviet Union." [8]

Loftus went on to say: "Several investigations from CIA and NIS [Naval Investigative Service] have made sheepish admission that Pollard was the victim of hysterical over-reaction." Loftus quoted Naval Intelligence sources as admitting that "90 percent of the things we accused [Pollard] of stealing, he didn't even have access to." [9]

Codevilla, now a Professor of International Relations at Boston University, has asserted: "Judges in the Anglo-Saxon tradition are supposed to write opinions explaining their judgments. Judges are supposed to evaluate the evidence and contrasting arguments provided to them at trials. Judges are not supposed simply to listen to some powerful person whispering in their ear. In the case of this judge, he allowed himself to be used by Weinberger, who lied to him and supplied a false memorandum. I find this behavior by Weinberger to be contemptible, and the judge's behavior to be beneath American standards." [10]

The question which defies all logic and analysis is: Why, eight years after Aldrich Ames was convicted, is Jonathan Pollard still languishing in prison?


Jonathan Pollard turned 48 last August. He has spent one-third of his life in prison. He spent the first seven years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, in a dungeon three stories below the ground. (A punishment, by the way, which was not inflicted on Aldrich Ames.) In seven years, Jonathan Pollard never saw the light of day, nor a tree, nor the sky. He has never once been granted a furlough -- even to attend his mother's funeral.

The harsh conditions of his solitary confinement permanently undermined Jonathan's health. For years he has woken up every morning with a blood-soaked pillow, in excruciating pain. It took seven years for the Justice Department to approve Jonathan's request for a CAT scan to diagnose the source of his malady. The CAT scan revealed that his sinus cavities are filled with growths. Since then, Jonathan has not received approval for a biopsy to determine whether the growths are malignant or benign, nor has he received any treatment except over-the-counter drugs which mask his symptoms without remedying his condition.

In 1993, Jonathan was moved out of solitary to "open population" at FCI Butner in North Carolina, where he remains to this day. His first work assignment there was cutting cloth in the prison factory, which manufactures uniforms for the Navy. Using a ten-kilo band saw, Jonathan suffered 14 blade-related accidents in a two-year period, and experienced extreme respiratory distress due to inhaling fabric particles.

He was subsequently assigned to grinding and tinting lenses in the prison eyeglass factory. The fumes and chemicals of the tinting process further exacerbated Jonathan's respiratory ailments and caused Jonathan violent headaches, nausea, and vertigo. Jonathan's current job is to clean toilets.

In prison, Jonathan is highly visible as an observant Jew. He wears a kipa and tzitzit, but is not allowed to observe Shabbat or Jewish holy days. He is not given kosher food, and subsists on meager helpings of fruits and vegetables, supplemented by kosher products that he manages to buy in the prison commissary. He had to fight for years to be allowed matzah on Pesach. He is not permitted to speak Hebrew nor study Hebrew texts, although Muslim prisoners are permitted to study Arabic texts.


So far we've been discussing the documentable facts of Jonathan Pollard's case. None of it, however, conveys the true horror of what Jonathan has been subjected to in the American penal system. Jonathan's experiences in prison, witnessed only by him and his guards, cannot by definition be verified by independent sources. What follows are Jonathan's own descriptions as conveyed to his rabbis and to his wife, Esther.

Whenever Jonathan was moved from prison to prison, his hands and feet were shackled and were linked by a chain to a tight iron band around his neck. Moving his hands downward or outward would have caused his neck to snap. Once, during a 12-hour trip in the prison van, Jonathan was permitted to relieve himself only once. The van stopped at a public rest stop on the highway.

As Jonathan was marched to the restroom, he felt acutely embarrassed to be publicly seen in manacles wearing a kipa. The people at the rest stop could not identify him personally, but easily identified him as a Jew. In the rest room, the federal marshal guarding him cocked his shotgun and put it to Jonathan's head. It was impossible for Jonathan to unzip his fly without breaking his neck, so he asked the federal marshal to do it.

The federal marshal replied, "No, Jew, do it yourself."

Jonathan understood that the guard wanted him to wet his pants and humiliate himself still further. He felt that the spectacle of a kipa-wearing Jew in manacles with wet pants marching past the public would be a disgrace to the Jewish people. So he lay down on the restroom floor, curled himself into a ball, and finally managed to unzip his pants.

When Jonathan was transferred to USP Lewisberg, he arrived on a cold December afternoon. He was thrown into a dungeon cell in the basement. His clothes and his glasses were taken away. He was left naked, with no bedding, no blanket, no bed at all -- just a hard metal slab to sleep on. The cell was empty except for an open toilet that could not be flushed from the inside. He was not permitted any books, paper, pens, television, radio, or newspaper -- no diversions whatsoever. He was kept like this for one month.

Periodically the guards would take Jonathan out of his dungeon cell "to shower." They chained him to the shower stall, and, in the dead of winter, turned on the cold water full blast. They left him like that for an hour.

Jonathan spent a year and a half in a prison facility for the criminally insane in Springfield, Missouri, although the physicians there admitted he was not a mental patient. There, too, he was stripped of his clothes and eyeglasses and held in conditions so appalling that to this day he breaks out in a cold sweat when he talks about it.

Once a month, Jonathan was hauled out of his cell at Springfield, a blanket was thrown over him to cover his nakedness, and he was taken to meet with CIA investigators. He was shown a list of prominent American Jews, and told that simply naming any one of them as his co-conspirator would be his ticket out of Springfield. Jonathan refused.

Jonathan's health has seriously deteriorated. He suffers from numerous ailments, including chronic arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, gall bladder attacks, blinding headaches, and recurrent vertigo. His friends and his wife Esther, who is suffering from breast cancer, worry that if he is not released soon, he could die in prison.


Some mitzvot of the Torah are ubiquitous, such as keeping Shabbat and eating kosher food. Other mitzvot cannot be performed at all in our days, such as the mitzvot related to the Temple. Some few mitzvot can be fulfilled only when special circumstances conspire. The mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim -- redeeming Jews unfairly held captive -- falls into the last category.

Maimonides wrote: "Pidyon Shevuyim takes precedence over feeding and clothing the destitute; there is no greater mitzvah than Pidyon Shevuyim, for the captive is counted among the hungry and the unclothed, and his very life is endangered. He who turns a blind eye from his redemption transgresses four separate negative commandments, and neglects at least four positive commandments. There is no mitzvah as exalted as Pidyon Shevuyim."

A friend posed a question to me today: "Many influential and well-connected journalists and legal experts over the years have called for the release of Jonathan Pollard, but he's still rotting in jail. What makes you think you're any better than they, and that you'll succeed where they failed?"

I replied: "I'm not better than those writers, but my readers are better than theirs. My readers are more committed to truth and justice, and more willing to expend time and energy to implement their ideals. My readers care more about fulfilling the mitzvah that Maimonides dubbed the most exalted of them all."

To work for the release of Jonathan Pollard, go to the website Justice for Jonathan Pollard,", apprise yourself of the facts, then click on "How You Can Help."

For Further Reading:

The Dreyfus - Pollard Parallel

The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard: an Interview with Angelo Codevilla


1. "Justice and Jonathan Pollard," by Alan Dershowitz et al, The Washington Post, Jan. 2, 1999, page A19.
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2. Ibid.
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3. See "How the US Armed Iraq," by Murray Waas and Craig Unger, The New Yorker Magazine, Nov. 2, 1992.
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4."The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," An Interview with Angelo Codevilla, by Whesley Phelan, The Washington Weekly, Jan. 11, 1999
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5. "The Ames Disclosure," The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 28, 1994Return to Text

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7. "The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," by Whesley Phelan
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8. "Whose Crimes? Pollard's or Ames's?" by Hershel Shanks, Editor, Moment Magazine, Dec. 1995
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10. "The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," by Whesley Phelan
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Author Biography

Sara Yoheved Rigler is a graduate of Brandeis University. Her spiritual journey took her to India and through fifteen years of teaching Vedanta philosophy and meditation. Since 1987, she has been practicing Torah Judaism. A writer, she resides in the Old City of Jerusalem with her husband and children. Her articles have appeared in: Jewish Women Speak about Jewish Matters, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, and Heaven on Earth.

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