Tue. 10:59 pm: Pollard to be freed; US analyst spied for Israel
WASHINGTON – Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy intelligence analyst whose conviction of spying for Israel stoked fierce international passions, has been granted parole and will be released from prison in November after nearly 30 years.
The decision to free Pollard from his life sentence, announced today by his lawyers and then confirmed by the Justice Department, caps an extraordinary espionage case that spurred decades of legal and diplomatic wrangling. Critics have condemned the American as a traitor who betrayed his country for money and disclosed damaging secrets, while supporters have argued that he was punished excessively given that he spied for a U.S. ally.
Pollard is due to be released on Nov. 21, three decades after he was arrested while trying to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Though American Jews have wrestled with how much leniency he should get, Israelis have long campaigned for his freedom. The government there has recognized him as an Israeli agent and granted him citizenship, even as recent American presidents have resisted efforts to free him early.
“We are looking forward to his release,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement today.
White House officials strongly denied that the release was in any way tied to the nuclear deal recently reached with Iran, or that it was intended as a concession to Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry, who testified before Congress on the nuclear deal today, told reporters Pollard’s parole was “not at all” connected. And Israeli officials have said that while they would welcome the release, it would not ease their opposition to the Iran agreement.
The U.S. had previously dangled the prospect of his release, including during Israel-Palestinian talks last year, when the Obama administration considered the possibility of freeing Pollard early as part of a package of incentives to keep Israel at the negotiating table. As it turned out, the peace effort collapsed and nothing came of the proposal.
The Justice Department, for its part, noted that federal sentencing rules in place at the time of Pollard’s prosecution entitled him to parole after serving 30 years of his life sentence.