Jonathan Pollard, American Who Spied for Israel, Released After 30 Years

November 20, 2015 in News by RBN | Peter Baker & Jodi Rudoren

WASHINGTON — Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, walked out of prison early on Friday after 30 years, but the Obama administration had no plans to let him leave the country and move to Israel and his lawyers immediately went to court to challenge his parole conditions.

Mr. Pollard, who as a Navy intelligence analyst passed suitcases filled with classified documents to Israeli handlers in the mid-1980s, was released in the early morning hours from a federal prison in Butner, N.C., afterreceiving parole on a life sentence, ending a long imprisonment that has been a constant irritant in relations between the United States and Israel.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement that the people of his nation “welcome the release” and that he, personally, “had long hoped this day would come.”

“After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family,” Mr. Netanyahu said, noting that he had “raised Jonathan’s case for years” with several American presidents. “May this Sabbath bring him much joy and peace that will continue in the years and decades ahead.”

A spokesman for Free Pollard, a group based in Israel that has campaigned for his release, said it had been confirmed by Mr. Pollard’s wife, Esther, who had seen him. The spokesman declined to give any specifics about the timing of the release or about the couple’s whereabouts.

“We know that he is out of jail; we can’t give more details,” said the spokesman, who asked that his name not be published to avoid personal attention. “He met his wife. It was a really, very, very moving moment, as you can imagine — the first time that they have been together as a couple out of jail, something that is really, really hard to imagine.”

But Mr. Pollard remained under parole conditions that he and his supporters denounced as onerous. Under federal rules, he cannot leave the country for at least five years without permission. He has asked for an exception so that he can move to Israel where his wife now lives.

The federal authorities also insisted that he wear an electronic bracelet with a global positioning system so that his movements could be tracked at all times and stipulated that any computers he uses, including those of any employer that hires him, be subject to monitoring and inspection. His lawyers on Friday asked a federal judge in New York to overturn those conditions, calling them illegal and unnecessary.

“The notion that, having fought for and finally obtained his release after serving 30 years in prison, Mr. Pollard will now disclose stale 30-year-old information to anyone is preposterous,” his lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, said in a statement. “Apart from the fact that the information is useless, disclosing it will result in Mr. Pollard’s swift return to prison to serve out his life sentence.

In documents filed in federal court, the lawyers said Mr. Pollard has obtained a job as a research analyst in the finance department of an investment firm in New York, which would be complicated by computer monitoring. The lawyers attached statements from Robert McFarlane, who was President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, and former Senator Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat from Arizona who served on the Intelligence Committee, stating that any classified information Mr. Pollard may remember from 30 years ago would be useless.

The court documents made no mention of Mr. Pollard’s desire to immediately move to Israel, which would require a waiver of federal parole rules. Israel Today, a newspaper based in Jerusalem that often reflects the views of Mr. Netanyahu, reported on Thursday that the prime minister had personally appealed to President Obama during their meeting this monthto lift the standard prohibition on parolees leaving the United States but received no response. American officials confirmed that the request was made.

Two Democratic lawmakers wrote to the Justice Department last weekurging Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to grant the request, saying that Mr. Pollard would be willing to renounce his American citizenship and never return to the United States. They noted that a spy for Cuba was allowed to renounce his American citizenship and live in Cuba in 2013 after serving his sentence.

But the White House repeated on Friday that it would not intervene in the matter. “The president has no plans to alter the forms of his parole,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One en route to Malaysia, where the president was traveling. He referred questions to the Justice Department.

Other senior administration officials who asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations said on Thursday that the Justice Department was not considering Mr. Pollard’s request either, and that it had no plans to consider it. Administration officials have been loath to appear to grant Mr. Pollard special consideration in the face of strong opposition by intelligence agencies that call his actions a grievous betrayal of national security.

“They don’t want to make it look like they were being too lenient,” saidJoseph E. diGenova, the former United States attorney who prosecuted Mr. Pollard. If Mr. Pollard were allowed to go to Israel, where his case has been a cause célèbre for years, Mr. diGenova said there would be a “parade” and “events just rubbing it in the United States’ face.”

The Israeli news media reported that Mr. Netanyahu and supporters of Mr. Pollard were discouraging public signs of celebration at his release to avoid antagonizing Washington. Israel radio reported that he was released before dawn on Friday to keep the event as low-profile as possible, given the international attention to his case.

Supporters said it was churlish to deny Mr. Pollard the chance to leave the country now that he has completed his sentence.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t approve that,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who wrote last week’s letter along with Representative Jerrold Nadler, another New York Democrat. “He served his full term. I don’t know what good it does except to keep the whole show going.”

The show has been going for three decades. Arrested in 1985, Mr. Pollard eventually pleaded guilty to handing Israel suitcases full of classified documents that included intelligence about Arab military systems and Soviet weapons as well as satellite photographs and information about American “sources and methods” of its own spycraft.

In the ensuing years, multiple governments in Jerusalem pressed for Mr. Pollard’s release, only to be rebuffed by successive American presidents. The only American ever given a life sentence for spying for an ally, Mr. Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship during his imprisonment.

At one point, the Obama administrationconsidered freeing him as part of a broader effort to induce Israel to make concessions in a peace deal with the Palestinians, but ultimately opted not to. In the end, officials said Mr. Pollard served the full amount stipulated by federal law, which requires a parole hearing after 30 years of a life sentence.

While the Obama administration did not facilitate his early release, it alsochose not to object to granting him parole, but it denied that it was trying to assuage Israel after a rupture over the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. The United States Parole Commission announced in July that Mr. Pollard had met the legal standards for release.

Mr. Pollard left the prison in North Carolina under cover of night, eluding reporters, photographers and television crews waiting on the other side of a country highway. Guards prevented the journalists from entering the prison grounds, directing them across the road, where the only sight of anyone coming or going was through the windows of moving cars.

An Israeli couple that had been touring the United States and Canada since last month pulled up to the east entrance of the prison in a Pace Arrow recreational vehicle around 6:30 a.m. “We came to see Pollard get out,” said Laya Saul. “I’ve been praying for him for years.”

“He did something wrong,” she added. “He deserved to do some time. But people who have done some really dark crimes have gotten less time than he did.”

Her husband, Yaron Jackson, wearing the sidelocks of Orthodox Judaism, said he wished 10,000 more Jews had come. “There’s a mitzvah, a commandment, to bring a Jew out of prison,” he said. “It’s just kind of a custom to pray for a Jew to get help. This is God answering our prayers and saving one of our brothers.”

Mr. Netanyahu had asked his ministers to refrain from discussing the case in order to tamp down the air of celebration. On Friday morning, though, Ayelet Shaked, the hawkish Israeli justice minister, exulted on her Facebook page, “A free man!” over his photograph, and made a biblical reference that implied that he should be allowed to emigrate to Israel.

“Sons will yet return to their borders,” Ms. Shaked wrote, a twist on a verse from the Book of Jeremiah, “And thy children shall return to their own border.”

Nachman Shai, a lawmaker from the center-left Zionist Union who heads a Parliament caucus that pushed for Mr. Pollard’s release, wrote in a letter to Mr. Pollard that the group would “not cease its activity until we remove the limitations imposed upon you upon your release.

“We continue to demand the removal of any restriction on your freedom of movement, communication, or other violation of your rights,” Mr. Shai wrote. “We will not rest until you are free to depart the United States for any destination of your choosing, first and foremost Israel.”

Correction: November 20, 2015
An earlier version of this article inaccurately quoted a Facebook post by Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister. Ms. Shaked’s post did not include the actual biblical quotation from the Book of Jeremiah, “And thy children shall return to their own border.”