WASHINGTON – Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel in one of the most notorious espionage cases of the end of the Cold War, completed his parole on Friday, the ministry said. Justice, freeing him to go to Israel as he said intends to do.
The Justice Department’s decision to let his parole restrictions expire could be one of the Trump administration’s last gifts to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Pollard’s case has long been an irritant in relations between the two countries, and the two sides have sometimes used him as a diplomatic bargaining chip.
A former US Navy intelligence analyst, Mr. Pollard handed over a series of classified documents to Israel from 1984 onwards. Some of the documents ended up in the Soviet Union, including information that could help identify and evade military techniques. US espionage and to identify informants for the United States. He was arrested in 1985, convicted and served 30 years in prison before being released in 2015.
U.S. national security officials had long opposed any easing of Mr. Pollard’s sentence, pointing to the damage Mr. Pollard had done to U.S. intelligence gathering. But intelligence officials’ objections are largely hushed up, with some acknowledging that Mr Pollard has both served his sentence and fulfilled his parole obligations.
The United States Parole Board, the arm of the Department of Justice that oversees the releases of federal prisoners, decided Friday not to extend the travel restrictions it placed on Mr. Pollard when he was released from federal prison five years ago.
“After a review of Mr. Pollard’s case, the United States Parole Board found that there was no evidence to conclude that he was likely to break the law,” said Nicole Navas Oxman, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice. “So, in accordance with the law, the board ordered that as of today, his parole supervision ceases and that he is no longer subject to parole conditions.
Mr Pollard, now 66, obtained Israeli citizenship in 1995 and said he would move there if allowed. It was not clear when Mr Pollard, who is in poor health, would leave for Israel, but he wants to live his life and be buried there, said Alan M. Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School who pleaded for on behalf of Mr. Pollard.
“He would love to go to Israel; it was his dream, his wish, his hope, ”said Mr. Dershowitz. “It would be good for Israel, it would be good for America, it would be good for the rule of law, so hopefully that will happen.”
In Israel, Mr. Pollard is still regarded as a hero, who has sacrificed a lot for the security of the country. But even though time has blunted the outrage, the US government continues to view him as a traitor who has done enormous damage.
Yet intelligence officials in the United States and Israel are eager to forget Mr. Pollard and the contentious era he represented when countries’ intelligence relations were as marked by espionage and suspicion as they were by war. cooperation.
Today, cooperation and intelligence sharing between Israel and US spy agencies is intense. Last year, countries worked closely on the assassinations of Major General Qassim Suleimani, the mastermind of Iranian security, and Abu Muhammad al-Masri, a senior Qaeda official living in Tehran.
Arrested in 1985, Mr. Pollard eventually pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors who agreed to seek a one-year sentence. But the judge, based on a once classified damage assessment prepared by Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, sentenced him to life in prison. Mr Pollard eventually served three decades behind bars, the longest time in prison for an American who illegally donated equipment to an allied government.
Mr. Pollard was released from jail in November 2015, leaving a North Carolina federal penitentiary to live in New York City. The conditions of his parole, unsuccessfully challenged by his lawyer and the Israeli government, did not allow him to travel outside the United States for five years without permission.
Attorney General William P. Barr could have chosen to ask the United States Parole Board to extend the restrictions to Mr. Pollard, a request that most likely would have been granted. But no request has been made, according to the Justice Department. The commission announced on Friday that it had decided not to extend the parole restrictions.
Over the years, Israeli leaders have demanded his release, but met stiff resistance from US intelligence and defense officials, including George Tenet, the former CIA director, and Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense.
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly urged President Bill Clinton to commute Mr. Pollard’s sentence so that he can move to Israel, arguing that his release was the key to winning right-wing support for any Israeli peace deal. Palestinian pushed by the White House.
But spy agencies backed down, citing the damage Mr Pollard’s espionage had done to US military intelligence.
“The Navy program was really shaken by what it had done under their noses,” said Jim Townsend, a former senior Pentagon official who joined the Navy intelligence service as a reservist at the time of the arrest of Mr. Pollard.
The damage Mr Pollard in particular caused to the National Security Agency’s collection efforts was too great, intelligence officials said, to allow an early release, pardon or commutation. In 1999, as the Clinton administration contemplated a pardon, intelligence officials revealed that some of the stolen material made its way to the Soviet Union, either stolen by Russian spies or handed over by service agents. intelligence agencies seeking to free Jewish families from Russia.
Over the years, Mr. Pollard’s release has emerged in conversations between Israel and the United States in peace talks with the Palestinians. But during the Trump administration, a number of steps that other presidents have kept in store to push Israel into a deal with the Palestinians were taken unilaterally, including recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights and displacement. of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.
Allowing Mr. Pollard to settle in Israel may be a similar move, as the Trump administration has continued to focus on Israel in its final weeks. This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and a community in the annexed Golan Heights.
Now that Mr. Pollard has served his sentence and fulfilled the conditions for his parole, internal opposition to allowing him to visit Israel has abated. Intelligence chiefs no longer threaten to resign in protest – or even realize the imminent end of the conditional release restrictions on Mr Pollard.
“If he served his sentence and completed his parole, I would see no harm in letting him go to Israel,” said Greg Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council. “All the secrets he knows are now or old.”
Katie Benner contributed reporting.