Jonathan Pollard was an American defense analyst with top secret clearance who spied for Israel over a short period during the 1980s. He was arrested, pled guilty, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He has been in prison for over 22 years.
There have been several books written about the Pollard case. I just read Wolf Blitzer’s 1989 book, Territory of Lies, which I am sure is neither the best nor the most comprehensive. Nevertheless, it tells the story. And it is not a pretty one.
Pollard, who is quite bright and blessed with a powerful memory, was always something of a social misfit. He was clearly, but not necessarily improperly, pro-Israel. He seemed to have a problem telling the truth all of the time. He apparently had a history of taking drugs, at least to some extent. He is not the person you would want to hire for confidential duties.
He decided that the United States was not sharing enough with Israel and that the provision of additional intelligence information to Israel would not only help that country, but help the United States as well, so he acted, coming in contact with representatives of one of Israel’s foreign intelligence agencies, and offering as a walk-in to provide documents. The Israelis, after debating whether to trust him, worked out an agreement, insisting that Pollard be paid for his services, because the payments would compromise him and make it more likely that he would not change his mind.
Pollard was not trained as a spy, and it showed, as he made many mistakes, including telling his wife everything, not being careful with all of the documents he procured, expecting that Israeli would lie for him, protect him and get him out of the country if he were discovered. None of this happened.
He and his wife, Anne, were tried together, although they had pled to different crimes. The government did not request life imprisonment under its plea agreement, but the Secretary of Defense, Cap Weinberger, submitted a lengthy affidavit, much of which was confidential, that may have requested the lengthy sentence. Sentencing was up to the judge, who was persuaded perhaps by the Weinberger memo and by the inappropriate and unfortunate interview that Pollard gave on the eve of the trail to 60 Minutes. The sentence was life imprisonment for Pollard, and five years imprisonment for Anne Pollard. She served somewhat over two years before being transferred to a halfway house, and the Pollards divorced after her release.
The effect of the spying? Israel got intelligence that it otherwise would not have had, including information that permitted it bomb PLO headquarters in Tunis. Did this help Israel, or the U.S.? Is that even a relevant question? I think not.
The sentence? Too harsh? Should I care?