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Former U.S. official calls for release of imprisoned spy

By Izzy Lemberg, CNN
  • Korb says Israel should push for Pollard's release
  • He says Weinberger's statement was too harsh
  • Netanyahu says he is seeking Pollard's release

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Lawrence Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense in the 1980s, came to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Monday to urge Israel to take a more pro-active and open campaign for the release of an American imprisoned for spying for Israel.

Jonathan Pollard is an American who spied for Israel, was arrested in 1985 and sentenced in 1987 to life in prison. Pollard was an American Navy intelligence analyst. He has already served 25 years in prison.

Korb had been working under Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger during Pollard's arrest and was privy to the internal goings-on at the Pentagon. He believes now that Pollard was treated unfairly by getting a too harsh a sentence for his crime.

"Jonathan Pollard made a deal with the prosecutors: they agreed if he cooperates, which he did, he would not get life in prison," Korb said. "He did cooperate, but he got life in prison and the question really is why?"

Korb explained that "the victim impact statement" which was given at the time by Weinberger was painted in harsh terms suggesting that the information Pollard gave the Israelis wound up in the hands of the Soviet Union. This was in the days of the Cold War.

At the time other espionage arrests had been made involving American military, CIA and FBI officials who had sold secrets to the Soviet Union. There were American agents based in the Soviet Union who had been compromised and were executed by the Russians.

Later it was concluded that the deaths of American agents was not a result of material Pollard had stolen and given to the Israelis but a result of the other arrests.

"We found out later that the secretary's statement was really exaggerated, and he himself, before he died in 2004, said in retrospect the Pollard affair was a comparatively minor matter, but at the time we did not know it," Korb said.

He went on to say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be doing more for the imprisoned spy.

"He needs to publicly ask for clemency for Jonathan Pollard and in his asking for it he has to make it clear that the Israeli government and the Israeli people admit that what they did was wrong by recruiting an American to spy on his own country," said Korb, "and they must be willing to work with the American intelligence community to go over whatever information they have."

Originally, the organizers of the event said that Netanyahu would also be attending. He did not, although Korb and Esther Pollard, the wife of Jonathan Pollard, were received by the prime minister in his office at the Knesset.

His office issued a statement afterwards indicating that Netanyahu is trying to get Pollard's release. "I raised the subject a number of times in the last months with the president and the secretary of state, and I promise that I will continue to make every effort in the future to release him," the statement read.

Esther Pollard read a letter that was written by her husband that she hand delivered to Netanyahu.

In the letter Jonathan Pollard writes to Netanyahu, "I herby request that you submit an official request for my release to the President of the United States now, without any further delay and that concurrently you announce this request publicly, and that you follow up immediately with whatever actions is needed to implement this request. I am willing to bear a risk of any consequence that may result in taking this action."

Every Israeli prime minister since Pollard's imprisonment has asked the United States for clemency. Netanyahu had even visited Pollard in prison in 2002 as a private citizen.

Yossi Melman, who writes about intelligence matters for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz told CNN that Israelis feel badly about the entire affair. "There is a general guilt feeling in Israel that it was a stupid operation, that it was wrong despite the temptation because of his access to information, to recruit an American to spy against his own country," but he went on "it is about time to release him because he has been there for 25 years, enough is enough. He paid his debt to the American society."