NEW YORK – With little fanfare and no news media coverage, a dramatic, potentially game-changing development in the Jonathan Pollard spy case quietly occurred three months ago.
Jonathan Pollard is currently serving his 30th year of an unprecedented life sentence in a U.S. prison for espionage on behalf of an ally, Israel.
After years of failed efforts petitioning the government and the court system to gain access to the classified material used to sentence their client, Pollards’ security-cleared attorneys finally won an appeal for declassification last fall.
As a result of the appeal, key sections of a 28-year-old classified document that was the central justification for Pollard’s unprecedentedly harsh sentence were declassified and released Nov. 13, 2014.
The 49-page document in question is a memorandum that was submitted to the sentencing judge in 1987 by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger.
The document was obtained and reviewed by WND.
Pollard, who worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested in 1985 and indicted in 1987 on one count of passing classified information to an ally, Israel. He gave up his right to a trial and entered into a plea agreement, which was intended to spare both Israel and the U.S. the embarrassment and damage that a lengthy trial might incur. Despite the government’s acknowledgment that Pollard fulfilled all the terms of his plea agreement, the government reneged. He was sentenced to life despite the plea deal.
Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for the offense is two to four years.
His sentence is generally acknowledged to have been driven by Weinberger’s memorandum, a document that was never disclosed to the public nor to any of Pollard’s security-cleared attorneys from the time that he was sentenced in 1987.
According to U.S. government representations of the memo for nearly three decades, the document was alleged to demonstrate that Pollard was the spy responsible for the greatest harm to U.S. national security up to the time of his sentencing. The government has persisted in this characterization of the document despite a number of other documents which have been brought to public attention and which appear to contradict the government’s claims. The material includes the victim impact statement and a recently declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment of the case. And now, the new declassifications of the Weinberger document itself.
Since his formal sentencing in 1987, the U.S. government has repeatedly cited the secret Weinberger document as its main basis to oppose either parole or presidential pardon for Pollard.
Last July, at Pollard’s first parole hearing after 29 years in prison, the government again cited the Weinberger declaration, claiming it contained sufficient evidence to warrant a denial of parole. Neither Pollard’s security-cleared attorneys nor the parole commission itself were allowed to view the document.
At the parole hearing, the government relied upon the document to claim Pollard’s case represented “the greatest compromise of U.S. national security to that date” – a charge which the parole board accepted without viewing the document. Numerous former U.S. officials who viewed the document have since stated categorically that representation is false.
Pollard’s spy activities listed
About 20 percent of the memo is still classified, while many of the section heads of the still secretive sections can now be seen in the declassified version.
According to the document, as reviewed by WND, the crux of Pollard’s spy activities described in the declassified sections affected the U.S. relationships with Middle Eastern countries.
It states that Pollard provided Israel with information on Soviet weaponry and radar systems, information of vital import to the Jewish state’s security since at the time almost all of the technology used by Israel’s enemies was Soviet-made.
The document notes Pollard “provided information on Soviet built air-to-air missile systems and Middle East air orders of battle,” even while allowing “[s]ince Israel depends for its national security on control of Middle East air space, much of this information was considered vital, and, as Col. Sella [of the Israeli Air Force] remarked, was not previously possessed by Israel.”
The memo states Pollard provided information concerning the fighting capabilities of Israel’s Mideast adversaries, with many of the specific examples still classified.
In one newly declassified section, the document reveals Pollard provided Israel with information on the Tunisian air force. This data resulted in enabling an Israeli airstrike on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunisia by helping the Israelis avoid confrontation with Tunisian air defenses.
The Tunisian case provides a glimmer into what Weinberger viewed as harmful to U.S. national security. Weinberger wrote in the memo the strike harmed U.S. regional interests because of the resultant damage and loss of life – 62 Palestinians and 27 Tunisians were killed in raid. Weinberger called those deaths a “detriment” to the U.S.
He further complained the Israeli airstrike may damage relations with Tunisia, which the Defense Secretary said he viewed as an “honest broker” for U.S. He said Tunisia was helpful when it volunteered, with U.S. assistance, to provide sanctuary to Yasser Arafat’s PLO – which at the time was regarded by Israel as an enemy terrorist organization – when Arafat’s group was exiled from Lebanon in 1982.
Weinberger further claimed Pollard caused “harm” to the U.S. intelligence community by sharing with Israel intelligence that the U.S. did not believe was in its interests to provide to the Jewish state.
States the document: “Defendant not only provided classified information to Israel, which Israel was not authorized to receive, but in doing so, he furnished original source documents, which had not been ‘sanitized,’ thus substantially compounding the harm.”
Weinberger is implying Israel was not supposed to receive full intelligence on some issues and Pollard undermined that policy. Weinberger himself signed the 1983 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding that established strategic military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on regional threats.
Attorneys petition Obama
In an oped published at WND today, Pollard’s pro bono attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, stated, “The recent disclosures … show that the government has been dishonestly hiding behind the mask of ‘classified information’ to materially mischaracterize the nature and extent of the harm caused by Mr. Pollard.”
Lauer and Semmelman contend, “The newly disclosed material shows that any harm that may have been caused by Mr. Pollard was in the form of short-term disruption in foreign relations between the United States and certain Arab countries. That is not at all the same thing as harm to U.S. national security.”
In light of the new disclosures and the strong support from American officials who have long questioned Pollard’s “grossly disproportionate” life sentence, the attorneys urge President Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence immediately.
Obama “has the solemn duty to uphold the law of the land by finally putting a stop to this ongoing travesty. There are no more excuses. The president should exercise his constitutional power and grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard,” they state in the WND oped.
Weinberger contradicts own memo, Senior U.S. officials demand ‘justice’
Weinberger’s memorandum has been the U.S. government’s main basis for Pollard’s continued incarceration. Yet stunningly, even Weinberger, before his death in 2006, recanted. Weinberger stated in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was “a very minor matter, but made very important. … It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
Weinberger was one of the central figures accused in the Iran-Contra affair of trading arms to Iran for hostages. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice but was pardoned before trial by President George H. W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice president during the scandal.
Since Pollard’s sentencing, a number of former Reagan Administration officials who worked with Weinberger have charged that he was biased against Israel and this affected his handling of the Pollard case.
Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane served as U.S. national security adviser and worked closely with Secretary Weinberger.
In a letter dated Feb. 9, 2012, McFarlane wrote, “The affidavit filed by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was surely inspired in large part by his deeply held animus toward the state of Israel. His extreme bias against Israel was manifested in recurrent episodes of strong criticism and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made.”
McFarlane went on to say the “imprisonment of Mr. Pollard for more than 26 years is more than excessive,” and “a great injustice.”
Dr. Lawrence J. Korb served as assistant secretary of Defense under Weinberger and worked closely with him from 1981 to 1985 (a period that includes Mr. Pollard’s arrest). In a declaration filed Dec. 20, 2013, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Korb stated that “the severity of Mr. Pollard’s sentence appears to be the result of Mr. Weinberger’s almost visceral dislike of the impact that Israel has on U.S. foreign policy.”
Korb went on to state, “I fully support Mr. Pollard’s application for release on parole.”
In a letter dated July 5, 2012, R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, wrote of Pollard that he supports his release and that it is time to “free him.” Woolsey has repeatedly contended in his public statements on the case that “anti-Semitism” is a factor in the on-going incarceration of Pollard, and he has repeatedly urged the administration in the pages of the Walls Street Journal and other newspapers to “Forget that Pollard is a Jew … pretend he’s a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American and free him!”
The day after the new Weinberger declassifications were released last fall, eight senior U.S. officials, fully versed in the classified material of the case wrote a strongly worded letter to Obama decrying the parole commission’s denial of parole to Pollard.
The officials include Woolsey, MacFarlane, Korb, former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and other former heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In their Nov. 14, 2014, letter they slam the alleged “lie” that was used to deny Pollard parole.
The officials write, “The allegation that Pollard’s espionage ‘was the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date’ is false; and not supported by any evidence in the public record or the classified file. Yet it was this fiction that the Parole Commission cited to deny parole.”
The officials continue by noting that the government relied on a “stale, largely discredited, 28-year-old classified memorandum written by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger” in making its decision.
“Mr. Weinberger himself discounted his original damage assessment of the Pollard case in a 2002 interview … [and] the unreliability of the 1987 Weinberger document was known to and ignored by the Parole Commission,” the officials wrote.
Perhaps the most damning part of their letter to Obama, who when visiting Israel in March of 2013 and stated there he would ensure Pollard received a fair parole hearing, was the close of their appeal to the president: “Denying a man his freedom based on a claim of damage that is patently false while ignoring exculpatory documentary evidence and hiding behind a veil of secret evidence is neither fair nor just, and it simply is not the American way. …
“We therefore strongly urge you, Mr. President, to tolerate no further delay in rectifying an injustice that has gone on for far too long. We urge you to act expeditiously to commute Mr. Pollard’s life sentence to the [more than] 29 years which he has already served.”