The PJ Tatler

U.S. May Release Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard

A succession of American presidents have adamantly refused to release Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American spy for Israel who did tremendous damage to the American intelligence community during the late phase of the Cold War and has been in prison since 1987. Now the Obama administration is considering releasing him:

The Obama administration is preparing to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison, according to U.S. officials, some of whom hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

Such a decision would end a decades long fight over Mr. Pollard, who was arrested on charges of spying for Israel in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison. The case has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel, which has argued that a life sentence for spying on behalf of a close U.S. partner is too harsh. Israel has for years sought Mr. Pollard’s early release, only to be rejected by the U.S. Now, some U.S. officials are pushing for Mr. Pollard’s release in a matter of weeks. Others expect it could take months, possibly until his parole consideration date in November.

A parole hearing for Mr. Pollard was held in early July. Mr. Pollard’s lawyer, Eliot Lauer, said he hasn’t heard from the parole commission “and I would expect that either I or my client would be the ones who would be notified.’’ That hearing would have been the moment for the U.S. to object to Mr. Pollard’s pending release. Mr. Lauer wouldn’t say if the government raised objections.

Some U.S. officials strongly denied Friday there was any link between the Iran deal and Mr. Pollard’s prospective release, saying that any decision would be made by the U.S. Parole Commission. A White House spokesman referred questions to the Justice Department, where a spokesman declined to comment on a matter which may be before the Parole Commission. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declined to comment.

Vox, of all places, has a useful primer on Pollard here:

It’s important to be clear here: There is zero doubt that Pollard stole secret US intelligence and passed it on to Israeli officials. His motivation, however, is a little less clear — which is part of why Pollard has become something of a cause célèbre among Israelis.

If the administration actually does release him, there’s a decent chance it’s about the Iran deal. The administration could be trying to mend frayed ties with Israel in the deal’s wake. It also could be trying to woo pro-Israel lawmakers not to kill the Iran deal.

Prior to the current administration, this would have caused a (very quiet) justifiable furor in the IC –Pollard’s crimes were far more serious, and consequential, than merely “spying for an ally.” But now, with most U.S. “secrets” safely in the hands of the Chinese and other enemies, one might well quote Hillary! Clinton and ask what difference, at this point, does it make?

American officials are concerned that the Chinese government could use the stolen records of millions of federal workers and contractors to piece together the identities of intelligence officers secretly posted in China over the years. The potential exposure of the intelligence officers could prevent a large cadre of American spies from ever being posted abroad again, current and former intelligence officials said. It would be a significant setback for intelligence agencies already concerned that a recent data breach at the Office of Personnel Management is a major windfall for Chinese espionage efforts.

As has often been noted of Barack Obama: if he were working for the other side, what, exactly, would he be doing differently?