To his supporters, Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel in 1987, is a naive ideologue, an American Jew who wanted to help Israel and warned about threats that the U.S. intelligence community appeared to be withholding. His life sentence for espionage is grossly unfair and unnecessarily reactionary, his supporters argue.
This view of Pollard is in sharp contrast with the way he is viewed by the U.S. intelligence community, who portray Pollard as a reckless and selfish man who seriously compromised U.S. interests. Pollard, they argue, was a drug user and a believer in his own grandiose lies. The scale of his leaks rightly earned him a lengthy sentence, they feel.
That entrenched position is why reports of talks to release Pollard have taken many by surprise. That Pollard's release should be offered to Israel at all is a sign that Middle East peace talks are in serious trouble, many argue. These people seriously don't want Pollard released.
To give you a sense of that, here is a (far from complete) list of things U.S. officials and former officials have said about Pollard. Please note, this isn't designed to be a fair and balanced portrayal of Pollard's case (you can read a broader overview here), nor to offer an accurate impression of his character. Instead, this post is designed to show the genuine vitriol with which the U.S. government community sees him.
- "Mr. Pollard’s apologists portray him as a sort of dual patriot: loyal to the United States, but also motivated to help Israel," M.E. Bowman, a former deputy general counsel for national security law at the FBI, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed. "In fact, he was primarily a venal and selfish person who sought to get rich. When dealing with his handlers at a meeting in Paris, he commented on the risks he faced and told them to up his “salary” by $1,000 a month."
- "Jay was intrigued by intrigue, and he wanted to be part of this secret game," retired Cmdr. Jerry Agee, a former supervisor of Pollard, told The Post's Peter Perl in 1998. "When he couldn't get anything going, he would still hint and tell tales, and say he had good contacts and could work the diplomatic circuit. People blew it off as 'typically Jay,' a blowhard, bragging, et cetera. But the sad fact is that it was an indicator of a behavior that wasn't recognized until later on."
- In 1987, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger issued a referendum that read (pdf): "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called 'year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel. That information was intentionally reserved by the United States for its own use, because to disclose it, to anyone or any nation, would cause the greatest harm to our national security."
- "Whether it was Pollard's initiative or the Israelis', the idea that an American Jew would spy for anyone bothers the hell out of me," Rear Adm. Sumner Shapiro, the first Jewish director of naval intelligence, told Perl in 1998. "It bothers me because it puts all Jews in a position of trust like that under a certain cloud. Whether the cloud actually exists or not, you think that it does. We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up . . . and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me."
- In an op-ed for The Washington Post written in 1998, four former past directors of Naval Intelligence, William Studeman, Sumner Shapiro, John L. Butts and Thomas Brooks, argued that it never became public that Pollard "offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel."
- “The supporters who claim that the sentence of Pollard was disproportionate to the crime cite three to four cases where Americans sold or gave documents to non-adversary countries like Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and El Salvador,” a CIA officer speaking anonymously to The Post's SpyTalk column in 2008 said. “These were a handful of secrets, and those who committed the crime were sentenced proportionately. What Pollard's crew has done is to take these handfuls of cases and then extrapolated the sentences saying that Pollard has served far longer than the 'average' spy who spied for 'friendly services.' "
- In 1998, George Tenet, then director of the CIA, reportedly told President Bill Clinton that he would resign if Pollard was released. In his memoirs, he wrote that Pollard's release “would reward a U.S. citizen who spied on his own country, and once word got out (and that would take a nanosecond or two), I would be effectively through as CIA director. What’s more, I should be.”
- "Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison," Noel Koch, who served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986, wrote for Foreign Policy in 2013. "Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States."
- “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,’ ” Vice President Biden reportedly told the New York Times in 2011 (Biden later said this was taken out of context). “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”
That, of course, is a very small selection. There's plenty more out there, and it's worth reading to understand just how desperate a bargaining chip Pollard might be. If Pollard is released, it's a sign of how serious the problems in the Middle East peace process have been.