EXCLUSIVE: FBI head at time of Pollard's arrest unopposed to his release

William Webster tells Post that he would not oppose Obama commuting Israeli agent's life sentence to time served.

November 21, 2013 20:06
2 minute read.
Jonathan Pollard red, white and blue

Jonathan Pollard red, white and blue. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Former Federal Bureau of Investigation head William Webster, who headed the bureau during Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard’s arrest, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview this week that he would no longer oppose US President Barack Obama commuting his life sentence to time served.

“My job was to find spies,” he said. “At that point we did what we needed to do with the prosecution, the judge sentenced him, and he’s been incarcerated for a long time.”

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Pollard marked the 28th anniversary of his arrest on Thursday. Webster said he participated in Pollard’s apprehension and prosecution and explained why he had not endorsed previous efforts to bring about Pollard’s release, which obtained the support of former CIA head James Woolsey, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, and former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger.

“I declined to become involved because I felt I had done my job,” he said. “In those early days, [the effort] was too much of a reach, and it was unsuccessful. As time went along, the efforts on his behalf ceased to be a defense of him. Rather, they became a recognition that he committed a serious crime and was punished. The consideration became whether he had served a sufficient length of time. [He started seeking] not a pardon but a commutation of his sentence.”

Webster, a former federal judge, is the only man in history to head both the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency. Although he turns 90 in March, Webster still chairs Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.

When asked what he would tell Obama if he asked him whether to commute Pollard’s sentence, Webster said: “I recognize the length of time he has served for his offense, and if you are asking me if I would do anything to oppose it if the president was interested in commutation the answer is no, I would not.”

When asked why, he said: “My reason is that there are circumstances where compassion is in order. That can be tested against sentences that have been meted out to others with as serious offenses. All those are matters of judgment that can be made on their own individual facts, but there is nothing there that would lead me to oppose the exercise of commutation.”

National Council of Young Israel president Farley Weiss, a veteran activist for Pollard’s release, said bringing about the commutation of his sentence was a matter of consensus for the American Jewish community and a bipartisan issue in Washington.

“It is very clear that those in the highest positions in government who know what Pollard did at the time and dealt with the ramifications of his actions favor his release,” Weiss said. “Webster has a history unlike any other person as being the head of the FBI and CIA besides being a judge. His voice carries extraordinary weight in favor of Pollard’s release."

“The president’s continued failure to release Pollard is hurting his standing with the American Jewish community and the people of Israel. With the stroke of a pen, this can change.”

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