Victim of a unique and visceral hatred

The American government has yet to provide evidence of damage caused to the US by Jonathan Pollard's actions - and no spy has been punished as harshly.

pollard passport 248.88 (photo credit: Brian Hendler)
pollard passport 248.88
(photo credit: Brian Hendler)
At a conference last week at Bar-Ilan University, US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones referred to the purported treason committed by Jonathan Pollard and argued that the United States treated Pollard with mercy by not executing him. While Jones has since expressed regret for those false and incendiary comments, they typify the US government's dishonorable conduct in the Pollard affair over a course of more than 20 years. Jones's odious comments bring to mind those of then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. He told Israel's US ambassador at the time of Pollard's arrest that "Pollard should have been shot," and called on the sentencing judge to impose a punishment that would reflect "the magnitude of the treason committed." Treason is defined in the US Constitution as waging war against, or assisting those at war with, the United States. Thus, in accusing Pollard of treason Weinberger lied to the court. And in urging the court to impose a punishment befitting a crime Pollard never committed, Weinberger played a key role in bringing about what Judge Stephen Williams of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals described as the "fundamental miscarriage of justice" in the Pollard case. Ambassador Jones's statements perpetuate Weinberger's lies and the gross injustice they caused. WHATEVER Jones would like us to believe Pollard did, the fact is that he was never charged with harming or intending to harm the United States. In every other case of espionage pursued by the US government, the public has always been given at least some specific examples - not mere unsubstantiated claims - of actual damage, which resulted from the espionage. For example, there have been few espionage cases as sensitive and as embarrassing to the intelligence community as the Aldrich Ames fiasco. And yet, immediately following Ames's arrest, it could be disclosed that Ames was responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen US operatives in the Soviet Union. Soon after we could be told their code names. By contrast, more than 21 years after Pollard's arrest, the US government has yet to put forth any evidence of actual damage caused to the United States as a result of Pollard's actions that could even begin to justify a punishment even remotely close to a life sentence. THE BONA FIDES of those still opposed to Pollard's release, even after 21 years, raise serious concerns. It is highly questionable whether they are driven simply, if at all, by disdain for espionage against the United States. Spies as a class do not endear themselves to federal prosecutors and judges, the intelligence community or the American public. And yet, of the tens of Americans caught spying for friendly or neutral countries both before and after Pollard's arrest, none received a sentence even remotely close to life, with the average sentence being in the two-to-four-year range. Most recently, Ronald Montaperto, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who admitted passing secret and top secret intelligence to the Chinese during a 12-year period, was sentenced last September to three months in prison. In fact, Pollard's sentence is comparable only to the punishments meted out to the most notorious spies for the former Soviet Union. Of the more than 100 Americans caught spying for US adversaries during the past 50 years, only about 10% were sentenced to life. For example, CIA agent David Barnett, who sold the Soviets the names of 30 American agents, was given an 18-year sentence and paroled after 10 years. Michael Walker, for many years a key figure in the Walker family Soviet spy ring, was sentenced to 25 years and released after serving 15. William Kampiles, a CIA officer who sold the Soviets the operating manual to the KH-11 satellite, America's eye in the sky, received a 40-year sentence and was released after 18 years. Abdul Kedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American, transmitted classified materials to Egypt that were used in a joint weapons program with Iraq to vastly increase the range of ballistic missiles, including Iraq's Scud missiles, which were later fired on US troops during Desert Storm. Helmy received a prison term of less than four years. John Paul Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban terrorists fighting the United States, received a 21-year sentence. Thus, exposing US agents, compromising America's most sophisticated electronic intelligence capabilities, advancing the development of enemy weapons systems and even fighting alongside enemy combatants are all forgivable offenses. But transmitting data about Arab states to America's closest ally in the Middle East is not. AND SO it is that a question to the US ambassador to Israel about Jonathan Pollard can evoke such unbridled hostility and contempt. Sadly, Jones's instinctive response reflects an obsessive and visceral hatred for Pollard still held by some in the US government that has not been seen in any other case of espionage against the United States - neither in the many cases of spies for US adversaries who caused massive and demonstrable harm to American interests, nor in the cases of spies for supposed US allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who were receiving massive American foreign aid or military protection at the time they were spying on the United States. The only explanation for this unforgiving stance is that there are those in the intelligence community who cannot abide America's close alliance with Israel and the large number of those in government who value that relationship. Whatever angry message those still opposed to Pollard's release may want to send to Israel (putting aside the fact that America has spied on Israel before and after Pollard's arrest) has already been more than amply delivered. And whatever harsh warning is being directed at supporters of Israel in the US government is being carried to a reprehensible extreme. Indeed, given that Pollard constitutes 100% of all Americans who spied for Israel, but far less than 1% of all Americans convicted of espionage in the past 50 years, the very notion that such a warning is required, let alone in any way appropriate, is nefarious and shameful. As former CIA director James Woolsey recently argued, the 21 years that Pollard has already spent in prison is a "long enough sentence." He should, at long last, be freed. Morris Pollard, father of Jonathan Pollard, is professor emeritus of biological sciences at Notre Dame University. David Kirshenbaum is an attorney in Israel and New York.