Monday, August 03, 2015

It's Long Past Time!

Jonathan Pollard
Former CIA Director James Woolsey expresses my views on this subject succinctly. “It’s long  past time!” He is talking about the release of Jonathan Pollard.

For the 2 or 3 people on earth that don’t know who that is, Jonathan was convicted of spying for Israel. As a Naval Intelligence analyst, he stole massive amounts of classified material and passed it along to his Israeli handlers. Although Israel was considered a friendly country that would never use classified material to in any way harm the United States, the feeling was that once the information is released, it is compromised and could easily fall into the hands of our enemies.

After Jonathan was caught he decided to fully cooperate with the authorities as part of a plea bargain that would reduce his sentence. That plead deal should have been honored.

But at his sentencing hearing, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger argued that despite any deal - the damage Pollard did to this country was so severe that he did not deserve a reduced sentence. The court listened to him and sentenced Pollard to life in a federal prison.

Many of us at the time, myself included, felt that this was not only excessively harsh but that it was completely unfair and even unethical for the government to renege on a deal it made with him. Especially since his crime was done on behalf of a friendly country. The sentence was harsh as one given to a traitor that passed secrets to an enemy nation. 

James Woolsey
But the argument in favor of that harsh sentence was always that the damage Pollard did by passing massive amounts of classified documents to Israel did untold damage to the US; endangered the lives of our assets spying in unfriendly foreign countries; and that his release would demoralize members of the intelligence community. Agents that were subsequently killed were blames on Pollard. (Although it was later learned that it was not Pollard that was responsible  for it – but other agents like Aldrich Ames, who spied for the former Soviet Union.) Meanwhile Pollard’s claim that his love of Israel moved him to do this was disputed by the fact that he took money for his acts.

Every single President from both parties refused to release or reduce Pollard’s sentence. The explanation was always about the damage to our country and the demoralization it would cause to our agents.  

Of course spies much worse than Pollard are released all the time serving very little of their sentences. That’s because they are usually traded for American spies in foreign countries caught spying for the US. Pollard did not have that luxury. Israel was not in possession of any American spies that they could trade for Pollard. So, Pollard stayed put in Prison, mostly in isolation.

I always had mixed feeling on the subject. On the one hand I felt an injustice was being done here, the sentence being way too severe for the crime relative to those who were convicted of spying for our enemies… where our agents did indeed die after their identities were revealed.

Caspar Weinberger
On the other hand, there was the fact that so many American Presidents that did not have an anti-Semitic bone in their bodies felt that his prison term was justified and refused to pardon or parole him. From Reagan, to Bush 41, to Clinton, to Bush 43, to Obama, not a single Presdeint saw this as an injustice. I surmised that I must be missing something. By not knowing exactly what the classified information Pollard stole was, we simply did not know enough to see just how much damage he did.

So I questioned whether those who so strongly advocated for his release were really doing the right thing by agitating for Pollard’s release. With all that opposition in the intelligence community; and one President being told by one CIA Director that if Pollard was released he would resign, I thought there was a lot more to his crime than any layman knew about.

But now, since former CIA director Woolsey is privy to that information, I tend to believe him when he says Pollards release is long overdue. And indeed an injustice was done. Woolsey was recently quoted as saying that he doesn’t know of a single American agent that was harmed by what Pollard did.  He said that Pollard should have been released a long time ago. 

Now, after serving 30 years in prison he is eligible for parole. As I understand it, federal guidelines provide an almost mandatory parole when a prisoner has served more than 2/3 of his sentence. In the case of a prisoner serving more than a 45 year sentence or more - he is supposed to be released  after 30 years unless there was serious misbehavior while in prison or it is believed that he will commit more crimes once he his released. Pollard has served 30 years. He will be released in November with no objection from the President.

A lot of people are saying that Obama is throwing Israel a bone to appease them over the Iran Nuclear deal. The Obama administration denies any connection. But It doesn’t matter to me. I’m glad he’s getting out. According to Woolsey the accusations against Pollard by Weinberg were grossly exaggerated. So in the end, an injustice was done.

Many people say that we were wasting our political capital lobbying to free Pollard. It was a lost cause anyway – and the belief was that the government had legitimate reasons for keeping  him in prison. But it appears those reasons did not exist. At least not according to Woolsey. I’m sorry he had to endure such a long prison term. I regret not being more proactive in advocating for his release. Even if it meant spending political capital on a lost cause. Because doing the right thing is never a lost cause.