Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard received a life sentence because he violated a plea agreement he had signed, by giving an unauthorized interview to The Jerusalem Post, according to the newly declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment of the Pollard case, published Friday by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced Pollard to life in prison in March 1987 despite a plea agreement in which Pollard agreed to cooperate with the investigation against him, in return for a promise that he would not receive such a sentence.
The CIA document surmised that Robinson delivered the sentence because of the plea bargain violation, along with his perception of the severity of the espionage offense.
“Pollard’s willingness to grant an interview to journalist Wolf Blitzer for The Jerusalem Post without obtaining advance approval of the resulting text from the Justice Department violated the terms of his plea bargain,” the document said.
“In the Blitzer interview, which was held on November 20, 1986, at Petersberg Federal Penitentiary, Pollard provided extensive information on his motives and objectives in conducting espionage for Israel. He also provided Blitzer a general account with important examples of intelligence he passed to the Israelis, and emphasized that the Israeli government must have been aware of and approved of his activities.”
The interview was first published over several months in the Post and was then reprinted in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Pollard’s then-wife Anne also angered the judge, according to the document, by giving an unauthorized interview to CBS’s news magazine 60 Minutes on March 1, 1987, three days before Pollard was sentenced.
The CIA speculated in the damage assessment that by giving the interviews, the Pollards were trying to mobilize support among American Jews and the Israeli government, but that strategy backfired.
Pollard’s current wife Esther responded that neither Robinson nor the government had barred her husband from talking to the press. She said that if he wanted to meet with a reporter, all he had to do was obtain written permission from the Bureau of Prisons and restrict his comments to guidelines established for such interviews, which she said he did with Blitzer.
“The government did something highly suspicious by forgetting to send anyone to monitor these interviews,” Esther Pollard said. “Later, at sentencing, the prosecutor successfully inflamed the judge against Jonathan by falsely claiming that not only had the interviews been secretly arranged behind their backs, but that Jonathan had also disclosed highly classified material to Blitzer that compromised the intelligence community’s sources and methods.”
Esther Pollard pointed out that several years later, Blitzer said it appeared to him that the approval for the interview was “part of a calculated scheme” by the prosecutors designed to justify their planned violation of the plea agreement. She said government prosecutor Joseph diGenova later confirmed this by telling The Village Voice that he had hoped the interview would be the “rope” with which Pollard would hang himself.
Pollard's attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, responded that
the government's claim that Pollard gave an unauthorized interview is
"The government approved Mr. Pollard's application, and
two interviews took place inside the prison with government approval,"
the lawyers said. "Under the plea agreement, any interviews had to be
approved by the Director of Naval Intelligence. Mr. Pollard had been led
to believe that his written requests for authorization had received all
necessary approvals within the government. Indeed, it would not have
been possible for Mr. Blitzer to enter the prison at all, much less
equipped with tape recorder and camera, without government approval."
Lawrence Korb, former US assistant secretary of defense at the time of Pollard’s arrest, said that the release of the CIA damage assessment which indicated that Pollard sought information on Israel’s Arab adversaries and not the US was a “fortuitous development” that “underscores the case for Pollard’s immediate release.” He urged Israeli officials to use this development to press for Pollard’s release without delay.
“We knew all along that the information that Pollard passed concerned Arab countries, and not the US, but the release of this official document confirming the facts makes it much easier to bring a speedy end to this tragedy,” Korb said. “After 28 years it is time for Pollard to be released and to go home now."