I haven’t written about Jonathan Pollard in a while. I’m prompted to do so again by two things: a recent news report that Pollard was taken to the hospital after collapsing in his cell (he is now back in jail), and the release today of formerly classified documents about his case.
Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst, was arrested for passing classified information to Israel in 1985 and sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment, when the government reneged on a plea deal. The judge in the case ruled after receiving confidential information about the damage that Pollard’s spying allegedly caused from former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Weinberger’s memo to the court has now been declassified, but unfortunately the content that persuaded the judge to send Pollard to prison for life has been redacted, so we still don’t know exactly what Pollard is supposed to have done that justified his hugely disproportionate sentence. You can read more about the case here.
Some commentators think that Pollard was accused of being the source of information which led to the deaths of American agents at the hands of the Soviet KGB, when in fact this was provided by traitors Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. But this can’t be determined from what’s left of Weinberger’s memo.
One interesting item that appears in the declassified documents are details about some of what Pollard provided:
The documents provided information on PLO headquarters in Tunisia; specific capabilities of Tunisian and Libyan air defense systems; Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare productions capabilities (including detailed satellite imagery); Soviet arms shipments to Syria and other Arab states; naval forces, port facilities, and lines of communication of various Middle Eastern and North African countries; the MiG-29 fighter; and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Also included was a U.S. assessment of Israeli military capabilities.
The government has not provided any additional information that makes the reasons for keeping Pollard in prison clear. While he certainly is guilty of transmitting classified information to an ally, his is the only case of this kind that has resulted in a life sentence. I can’t believe, if the government actually has information to justify the sentence, that it could not be provided in a manner that would be convincing without revealing damaging secrets.
There are at least two other possible reasons for not releasing Pollard that come to mind: either
- he knows something which still, after 27 years, would embarrass the CIA or some other government entity or official; or,
- the administration believes that it is absolutely necessary to send a message that Jewish disloyalty will be treated with maximum harshness.
I’m going with number 2.