The push to release imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard is once again gaining momentum, thanks to Lawrence Korb and others.
Arrested on Nov. 21, 1985, it was back in March of 1987 that Pollard, a former civilian U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst, was convicted on one count of passing classified information to the State of Israel. To his supporters, many of whom felt he had little choice but to do what he did, this made him a Jewish hero. To others, he was simply a traitor. When it came to opinions on Pollard, there was rarely a gray area.
For me, however, what had always been especially troubling was that Pollard was the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence in prison for committing “friendly espionage” for an American ally Pollard has so far been locked away for 25 years, but this past October there were new rumblings regarding the case due mainly to the efforts of an old ally, Korb — a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Korb, had, in the past, been somewhat critical of the man he once worked under, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinbeger. In a letter to Pollard’s father, Dr. Morris Pollard, Korb said of his former boss: “I know that Weinberger had an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy.” It was Weinberger whose memorandum to the judge in the Pollard case set the wheels in motion that proceeded to run Pollard over.
Now, 25 years after his arrest, Pollard’s name is again back in the news, the result of an opinion piece Korb wrote that appeared in the Oct. 28 Los Angeles Times. In his op-ed, Korb, today a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank, attempted to set the record straight about the Pollard case, with the intent of persuading President Obama to grant Pollard clemency. Korb acknowledged that, yes, Pollard originally deserved to go to prison, but stressed that the punishment should have fit the crime. “In this case,” Korb wrote, “it does not.”
Korb then went on to lay out the facts in the case, arguing that Pollard had originally agreed to plea bargain to one count of passing classified information to an American ally, and that the U.S. attorney had agreed, in return, not to seek a life sentence. Korb also mentioned the Weinberger memo; that James Woolsey, the CIA director from 1993 to 1995, believed Pollard served long enough and should be released; and that, in a 2004 interview, Weinberger himself acknowledged that “in retrospect, the Pollard matter was comparatively minor.”
The fact that the op-ed was penned by a former assistant secretary of defense, who worked under Weinberger and served in the Defense Department at the time Pollard was caught spying, surely gave even more gravitas to the arguments Pollard’s supporters had been making throughout his long incarceration.
Korb’s op-ed seemed to take root. In early December, Israel’s Knesset speaker, Ruby Rivlin, sent a letter from the Knesset to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder urging them to finally release Pollard. As Israeli journalist Hillel Fendel reported, the letter was signed by the leaders of every political party in Israel, including Labor and Likud — the only exception being Israel’s Arab parties — representing 109 of the 120 members of the Knesset.
The letter stressed, first and foremost, that “the State of Israel has taken full responsibility for Pollard’s actions, and has apologized for them.” Besides being an apology, however, the letter was surprisingly blunt.
“We feel that we must make you aware that many citizens of Israel sense that [Pollard] is being discriminated against, in comparison with other spies caught in the U.S.,” the letter stated. “This casts a shadow over the strong friendship between our two countries …”
The letter continued: “There is no question that 25 years is more than enough in meting out justice to [Pollard] and the time has come to release him immediately. Please respond to this request affirmatively.”
With the perception, whether based in fact or not, that Obama hasn’t been overly supportive of Israel, the Knesset letter would perhaps weigh heavily on a beleaguered president beset by falling public opinion polls.
The question is: Will Obama, unlike his predecessors — Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush — dare venture out on such a slippery slope.
(Elliot Goldenberg, the author of “The Hunting Horse: The Truth Behind the Jonathan Pollard Spy Case” and “The Spy Who Knew Too Much is a former senior staff writer at the Jewish Federation of Broward County, Florida.)