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Chicago, Thursday, December 28, 2000


The Fruit of a Special Relationship 


By John Treacy

Wire services have reported that President Clinton might issue pardons to junk-bond financier Mike Milken and Whitewater scandal players Webster Hubbell and Susan McDougal. The wires did not report that the president also is considering a much more disquieting act of indulgence: the release of admitted American spy Jonathan Pollard.

While a mid-level civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy in the 1980s, Pollard provided vast quantities of highly classified information to Israeli intelligence officers. Pollard's betrayal lasted from mid-1984 until his arrest in November of 1985. During this period, Pollard gave the Israelis virtually on a weekly basis, secret strategic intelligence as well as sensitive information revealing collection sources and methods. Pollard confessed and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. Some American intelligence officials suspect that the Israelis traded part of the material stolen by Pollard to the Soviets in exchange for the emigration of Jewish scientists.

NetanyahuThe American intelligence community has been unable to conduct a thorough assessment of the damage caused by Pollard's betrayal. Israel has returned only a handful of stolen documents and has refused to debrief American security officials on the material's ultimate use. Indeed, for a dozen years following Pollard's arrest, Israel denied any connection with him. The Israelis, who had paid Pollard handsomely for his services, initially displayed little loyalty or responsibility for their hired spy.

Pollard's "defense" was that, as a Jew, he was an ideological spy. He claimed he was motivated by a presumably higher loyalty to Israel. While in prison he petitioned the Israeli government for citizenship. The Israeli government reversed course and, in May of 1998, acknowledged Pollard was an Israeli agent and began to pressure the United States for his release. The pressure was applied most dramatically during the Wye Plantation negotiations in October of 1998. Apparently on the extraordinary thesis that peace in the region was more in America's interests than Israel's, then Prime Minister Netanyahu [left, visiting Auschwitz] suggested to President Clinton that Israel might find an agreement with the Palestinians more palatable if the deal were sweetened with the release of Pollard.

Netanyahu apparently thought Clinton agreed to Pollard's release. When word of the "agreement" became known, however, Clinton faced strong opposition from within his own administration. The national security agencies all strongly opposed the release of the unrepentant spy. CIA Director George Tenet let it be known he would resign in protest if Pollard were released. Faced with such strong opposition, Clinton put the Pollard release aside.

Improbably as it may seem, responsible American Jewish organizations and individuals have mounted an intense lobbying campaign on Pollard's behalf. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has called for Pollard's release. Three Jewish members of the House of Representatives, including Chicago's Jan Schakowsky, wrote Clinton to request that Pollard's sentence be commuted.

Pollard's release would be a grave error. He remains unapologetic. As does the Israeli government that recruited, paid and controlled him. Pollard's release would reward unacceptable behavior, an invitation to further misbehavior in the future. Pollard's release would demoralize the personnel of the intelligence and national security agencies who would see pandering to domestic pressure groups trump national security interests.

Finally, Pollard's release would vindicate the appalling if unspoken subtexts of those Americans who clamor for Pollard's freedom: that hyphenated Americans owe their primary loyalty to what precedes rather than what follows the hypen, and that membership in certain ethnic groups constitutes a license to betray the United States. In a diverse, multiethnic society such as ours, such premises are prescriptions for disunity and disaster.

Jonathan Pollard consciously chose to betray the United States and to commit espionage on behalf of a foreign power. For money, we know. Out of loyalty to the foreign power, he says. In either case he made his choice and deserves to live with the consequences prescribed by a court of law. He should not be released.

John Treacy, retired from the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, was posted toAmerican embassies in Europe, Latin America and Africa. He also wasan instructor at the National War College. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.


Related items on this website:

 Jonathan Pollard "lucky to have escaped death penalty"
  Jewish Pressure on Clinton to Release Traitor Pollard
  The New Yorker on the case against Pollard
  What about the plight of Mordechai Vanunu?
  New York Post: Hillary Clinton pull strings for Pollard
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