Washington (CNN)The U.S. government anticipates releasing convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard in November 2015 when he is up for parole, or perhaps even earlier if legally possible, U.S. officials said Friday.
Convicted Israel spy Jonathan Pollard could be released early
The move, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, could be viewed as an effort to placate the Israeli government, which has long called for Pollard's release, at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to keep Israel from actively scuttling the nuclear deal with Iran.
But multiple officials insisted that it had nothing to do with the Iran deal but rather was a recognition that Pollard met the conditions for release and noted that the final decision is up to an independent parole commission.
"Mr. Pollard's status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures. There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard's status and foreign policy considerations," according to Alistair Baskey, an NSC spokesperson.
Pollard, who was convicted in 1987, is eligible for parole this November. Officials said Pollard has been a model prisoner during his term and the belief is the classified information he once possessed no longer poses a danger to the U.S.
A U.S. Naval Intelligence officer at the time, Pollard was accused of passing classified military information to Israel and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on one count of espionage. Top Israeli officials have since repeatedly lobbied successive presidential administrations to release Pollard -- with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being the latest to make the appeal.
"The Department of Justice has always and continues to maintain that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed," according to a Justice Department statement.
At the time of his conviction, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger wrote to the court a classified memo to emphasize the danger Pollard posed in passing stolen secrets to the Israelis, according to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, whose book "Territory of Lies" chronicled the case.
In the memo, parts of which were later declassified and published in Blitzer's book, Weinberger said he sought to "dispel any presumption that disclosures to an ally are insignificant; to the contrary, substantial and irrevocable damage has been done to this nation."
The suggestion that Pollard would be released has come up before, including during an effort to extend peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last year.
At the time, in April 2014, Charles Leeper, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Pollard, told CNN that any decision to let Pollard out should include a specific condition.
"If the professional diplomats and intelligence officials do decide to release Pollard to Israel," he said, "in my opinion, it should only be on the condition that Israel agrees to keep him and will not try to send him back."