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Spy for Israel going back to court

Pollard, having served 16 years of life sentence, seeks appeal

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

Jonathan Pollard pleaded guilty to one count of espionage.
Jonathan Pollard pleaded guilty to one count of espionage.

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Jonathan Pollard
Military Intelligence
Espionage and Intelligence

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jonathan Pollard has spent nearly 18 years in prison, 16 of them as part of a life sentence for spying against the United States on behalf of a U.S. ally -- Israel.

Pollard is scheduled to appear at a hearing Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Washington on whether he should be allowed to appeal his life sentence.

Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy, was arrested by FBI agents in November 1985 after he and his wife were rebuffed at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in their attempt to seek asylum.

He was accused of passing thousands of top-secret documents to Israeli agents in 1984 and 1985.

He cooperated with authorities and pleaded guilty to one count of espionage. When he was sentenced in March 1987, his wife was given five years in prison for complicity in her husband's deeds.

Israel initially said Pollard was a rogue spy, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later acknowledged that he was an Israeli agent, and in 1995 granted him citizenship.

Pollard's life sentence came as a surprise to many observers, particularly because the Justice Department had agreed in the plea bargain not to call for the maximum term. No one convicted of spying for a U.S. ally had ever been given a life sentence.

Many observers say the judge was probably influenced by a 46-page memorandum from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

In it, Weinberger wrote that Pollard's crime was so great that it was difficult to conceive of greater damage to national security.

Pollard's lawyers and supporters argue that the punishment far exceeds the crime. For his part, Pollard contends that he was an Israeli patriot, spying not against the United States, but for Israel.

Israel has lobbied the U.S. government on several occasions to pardon Pollard.

President Clinton considered doing so in 1998 at Netanyahu's request during the Wye River peace conference, only to pull back after CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign if Pollard was pardoned or his sentenced changed.

Several Israeli officials have visited Pollard in prison.

"There's no doubt about it, he shouldn't have passed those documents to our ally Israel," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who has called for clemency for Pollard.

"But it certainly isn't something that rose to the level that Caspar Weinberger alleged that it did."

U.S. intelligence officials argue that Pollard is a spy whose sentence should not be reconsidered.

"Pollard is a traitor to the U.S., as far as I'm concerned, and would have compromised the Israelis in a heartbeat, too, if it had struck him as something he wanted to do, because that's the history of Pollard when you look at it," said Richard Haver, a one-time Navy intelligence officer who worked on the case.

"He has now re-invented himself as a great Jewish patriot and tried to present that to the people."

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials say there are indications that top-secret satellite and signals intelligence Pollard gave to Israel ended up in the hands of the Soviet Union.

Pollard's motive was money, pure and simple, officials say. There is evidence that Pollard also approached Pakistan, South Africa and others offering classified materials for sale, they say.

"There has never been anywhere in the court documents, or anywhere else, the allegation that he spied for anyone else, but this is what Jonathan Pollard is up against," said Weiner, who represents Queens and Brooklyn.

"He's sitting in a ... maximum security cell, while members of the intelligence community, some of which are only tangentially connected to this, are essentially free to say what they want."

Some U.S. intelligence officials say if Israel was willing to detail for the United States all the documents and intelligence Pollard stole, then officials in Washington might drop their strong opposition to letting him go.

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