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Ronald Montaperto, a former Pentagon analyst, was sentenced in the US last month to just three months in prison for passing on highly classified information to China.
According to US officials, the National Security Agency's electronic eavesdropping operation against China was silenced during the period in which Montaperto admitted to feeding the data to the Chinese in 1988. His action, they said, severely hampered US efforts to track China's covert arms sales to nations sponsoring terrorism such as Iran, Syria and Pakistan.
Notwithstanding his espionage activities for China, the indictment against Montaperto was downgraded to "mishandling classified information." Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said that despite the "very serious charge," he had been persuaded to reduce the sentence based on letters of support from current and former intelligence and military officials.
Montaperto, 67, pleaded guilty to unlawful retention of classified documents he obtained while working at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He worked at the Pentagon from 1981 until his dismissal in 2003.
"I never meant to hurt my country in any way," Montaperto told the Alexandria District Court. But Neil Hammerstrom, the assistant US attorney, told the court that Montaperto met at least 60 times with two Chinese military intelligence officers and provided them with top secret information.
With the Montaperto case in mind, one cannot help but think of Jonathan Pollard, who was given a life sentence after being convicted on one count of delivering national defense information to a foreign government, and is now completing his 21st year in a US prison.
Pollard, a civilian Navy intelligence analyst, passed on vital security information to Israel and was never indicted for intent to harm the US. (Exactly what he handed over has never been officially revealed. It reportedly included data on Soviet arms shipments to Syria as well as Iraqi and Syrian weapons programs.)
His harsh sentence - he is the only person in US history to have received a life sentence for spying for an American ally - came after an 11th-hour memorandum in 1987 to the sentencing judge by then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. In the 46-page memorandum, Weinberger outlined the alleged harm to US national security done by Pollard, and urged severe punishment. But he later conceded the case had been "comparatively minor."
Former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross indicated in his book The Missing Peace that Pollard's sentence had been disproportionate, and in principle supported his unconditional release. Ross said, however, that he had advised president Bill Clinton at the Wye summit in 1998 not to free Pollard because of his potential leverage value if and when the Israelis and Palestinians neared a permanent status accord.
In March, the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Pollard asking that it overturn a federal court ruling denying his attorneys access to classified information used in his trial. Pollard's attorneys argued that the documents were needed to make his case for clemency.
In today's Jerusalem Post, Pollard's wife, Esther, comes out strongly against the idea of putting him under house arrest, as advocated by attorney Eric Sherby in an October 6 Post op-ed, calling it "absurd." (See Page 15.) Justice4JP, the Pollard lobby, noted the lack of response from Israel and the American Jewish community to the Montaperto case.
"The silence from the government of Israel and the American Jewish leadership is deafening, as once again, the US twists itself inside out to let another spy for China off the hook while Pollard continues to rot in prison," it said in a statement.
Pollard, 52, who was granted citizenship in 1996 and later officially recognized as an Israeli agent, is the longest-serving Israeli captive - in the hands of Israel's strongest ally. Israel is currently relying on US support in securing the release of the three soldiers abducted by its enemies, Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, earlier this year. Yet the US does not appear to be acting judiciously in the case of an Israeli it itself is holding.
Pollard enters the 22nd year of his sentence next month. What better way to mark the dispatch of a new envoy to Washington, former Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor, and the conclusion of outgoing Ambassador Danny Ayalon's term, than to expedite Jonathan Pollard's release.