Pollard's family and supporters acknowledge his guilt. But they argue that it is past time to release him on humanitarian grounds. He spent seven years in solitary confinement at the maximum security prison at Marion, Ill., in the harshest of prison environments, and his 121/2-year incarceration -- which began with his arrest -- is already considerably longer than anyone has ever served for spying for a friendly nation, his advocates say. They portray Pollard as a naive idealist who intended only to help Israel and did not realize the extent of the potential damage he was doing to the United States.
Jonathan Pollard's story is one of deceit and betrayal. He betrayed the United States for Israel, and also for money. Israel then betrayed Pollard by turning him away when he sought refuge and by denying its responsibility. Both Israel and the United States broke faith with each other through espionage, despite their long-standing alliance. And the United States betrayed Pollard -- in the view of his supporters and at least one federal judge who heard his case -- by reneging on an agreement in which Pollard cooperated with the prosecution, pleaded guilty and was assured he would not receive a life sentence.
Perhaps the final betrayal is one of self. Friends and relatives say Jonathan Pollard has consistently undermined the campaign for his own release because he is obsessed with vindication, consumed by the idea that he is a victim of antisemitism and that Israel can rescue him through diplomatic and political pressure. He has systematically cut himself off from anyone who has questioned his tactics. He refuses to see or speak with his mother, father and sister, despite their decade-long effort on his behalf. He divorced his wife and former accomplice, Anne, just after her release from prison in 1990. He says he is now married to Esther Pollard, who has taken the name of a Jewish biblical heroine, although prison officials say the two have never formally wed. She shares his obsessions, ferociously championing his cause using faxes, Web pages, TV appearances and hunger strikes in a strident publicity campaign, denouncing American and Israeli officials for failing to act decisively to free her husband.
Pollard declined to be interviewed for this article, but he has spoken from prison to selected Israeli and Jewish media. He has indicated to them that he still sees himself, as he told an Israeli interviewer last year, as "a front-line soldier forgotten deep in enemy territory, taking a last stand on a small hill."
Pollard's fate hangs in a strange diplomatic limbo. His name appears on lists of issues prepared for bilateral meetings such as those during Vice President Gore's recent trip to Israel. Israeli politicians, particularly those seeking to appeal to right-wing voters, insist publicly that freeing Pollard is a priority. But it remains low on everyone's official agenda -- a photo op at Butner with nothing more than symbolic value.
Neither side has produced startling new revelations. But this account of Jonathan Pollard's short and unhappy career as a spy -- based on numerous American and Israeli investigative documents and more than 50 interviews with present and former officials in intelligence, law enforcement and diplomacy, as well as Pollard's family and supporters -- shows that the security breakdown that allowed Pollard to gain easy access to thousands of highly sensitive documents was massive, that the state of Israel deceived both him and Washington, and that U.S. officials remain determined to make an example of him. And the question remains: What is justice for Jonathan Pollard?