WASHINGTON – Former U.S. intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, whose spying for Israel created a serious breach in relations between the two allies, will be paroled in November after serving 30 years of a life sentence, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The release will remove a long-standing irritant in U.S.-Israeli relations. In Israel, Pollard is widely regarded as a hero whose sentence was unduly harsh. In the U.S., numerous defense and intelligence officials still bristle at Pollard’s crimes, and have actively fought Israel’s attempts over the years to win clemency for him.
The release, set for Nov. 21, comes at a time of renewed tensions between the Israeli government and Obama administration over an international agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other American officials stressed that foreign policy considerations were not a factor in Pollard’s release. Israeli officials have likewise said the release will not soften their opposition to the Iranian agreement.
A parole board unanimously decided to release Pollard after a hearing July 7, according to a statement by Pollard’s attorneys.
The Justice Department said it did not oppose Pollard’s release, describing it as a “mandatory parole.” Under the law in place at the time of his sentence, Pollard would become eligible for parole after serving 30 years. Parole would be granted as long as Pollard had not violated prison rules and was not considered likely to commit another crime.
Pollard, 60, a civilian naval intelligence analyst, was arrested in 1985, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 1987 for selling Israel what prosecutors said were massive amounts of technical information about U.S. spy satellites and other collection systems, including photographs, maps and classified manuals.
“It was a gigantic amount of information, and stuff of the highest top-secret code-word classification,” Joseph diGenova, the Washington lawyer who prosecuted Pollard, said in an interview Tuesday.
DiGenova said that U.S. intelligence authorities suspect that some of the material obtained from Pollard was bartered to the Soviet Union in return for the release of Soviet Jews to Israel, and that U.S. intelligence “assets” in the Soviet Union were compromised and possibly killed as a result.
DiGenova said the Justice Department should have opposed Pollard’s release “as a deterrent to other government employees who would ever contemplate selling national security information to a foreign power, friend or foe.”
Pollard insisted that his motivation was to help Israel, an ally of the U.S., and that the U.S. was withholding from Israel critical intelligence on Palestinian terror training camps. Prosecutors noted that Pollard demanded money from Israel from the beginning, was paid $50,000 and stood to get much more if his activities had continued.
Upon release, Pollard is expected to live in New York, where his lawyers said they have arranged a job for him.
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