Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, will be released on parole on Nov. 21 after 30 years in prison, a federal parole board ruled on Tuesday.
Pollard’s release would remove a longstanding irritant in U.S.-Israel relations at a time of increased friction between the two close allies over President Barack Obama’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
Pollard, who has remained jailed for decades despite efforts by successive Israeli governments to secure his early release from a life sentence, will be required to remain in the United States for five years under the terms of his parole, his attorneys said.
The U.S. Department of Justice helped smooth the way for the freeing of Pollard, who was already eligible for mandatory parole in November, by declining to raise objections that could have delayed his release, Pollard’s attorneys said.
Secretary of State John Kerry also denied that the unanimous decision by the U.S. Parole Commission was in any way linked to the Iran nuclear agreement, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposes.
Pollard’s lawyers, who announced the parole ruling, also said it was “not connected to recent developments in the Middle East.”
But word of the decision was greeted enthusiastically in Israel. “After 30 years too many, the moment we have yearned for has come,” said Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. “I congratulate Jonathan and his family on his impending release.”
Pollard, 60, an American-born intelligence expert was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and sentenced to a life term. He had been accused of provided Israeli contacts with suitcases full of highly classified documents. He is now being held in federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
The scope of Pollard’s crimes, which his supporters insisted was exaggerated, compares with recent computer-era breaches, in which vast amounts of data have been betrayed.
Those breaches include the publication of huge quantities of U.S. secrets by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, revelations of U.S. secret surveillance by Edward Snowden and this year’s twin hacks at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which exposed potentially compromising information on more than 20 million Americans.
“GRUMBLING” IN INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY?
The Obama administration considered early release in the spring of 2014 as a sweetener to encourage Israel in an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort, but the idea caused an uproar in the U.S. intelligence community and was quickly dropped.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who had opposed early release, said “there may be a little grumbling here and there in the intelligence community” now that Pollard is set for release.
“I’m not enthused by it. But he served 30 years … I certainly wouldn’t raise my voice in objection,” said Hayden, adding that Pollard had served his full sentence and his release now “doesn’t suggest leniency.”
The Justice Department confirmed the parole ruling.
“The Department of Justice has always maintained that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence, as mandated by statute, ending Nov. 21, 2015,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said.
“We look forward to seeing our client on the outside in less than four months,” said Pollard’s lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, in a joint statement.
Even though Pollard will be barred from leaving the United States for a five-year period, his lawyers said Obama could waive that parole requirement and allow him to go to Israel immediately after his release.
Israel, in a gesture of solidarity, granted Pollard citizenship in 1995 while he was imprisoned.
Pollard’s supporters had said he was being punished too harshly since Israel is a U.S. ally and much of the classified information he passed on caused no damage to the United States and was intelligence that Israel previously had access to.
His supporters have also said he should be released because of his poor health, with his attorney saying he suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.—Reuters