The Justice Department announced Friday that the U.S. Parole Commission had ended his parole, finding after a review of his case that “there is no evidence to conclude that he is likely to violate the law,” department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in a statement.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 and accused of passing secret documents to the Israeli intelligence service, including satellite photos of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s headquarters in Tunis, which Israel later used to guide airstrikes on the Tunisian capital. He pleaded guilty in 1987 to one count of providing classified information to a foreign government and was sentenced to life in prison.
Israeli governments and sympathizers in the United States lobbied successive U.S. administrations for his release, arguing that his sentence was excessive compared with penalties for others convicted of spying for friendly countries. Israeli leaders sought to make his freedom a negotiating point in Middle East peace talks as early as the 1990s.
The CIA, the FBI and other national security agencies resisted for years. The full scope of his activities has never been disclosed, but a damage assessment by the CIA described his spying career as “short but intensive,” consisting of “biweekly deliveries of classified material,” including suitcases full of sensitive files on Arab, Pakistani and Soviet military capabilities. In the 1990s, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet threatened to resign if President Bill Clinton agreed to such a request.
But the intensity of that opposition waned with time.
“It would be surprising if the current intelligence community leaders expressed any strong view about Pollard’s fate,” said Stephen Slick, a former CIA station chief in Tel Aviv who now directs the intelligence studies project at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.
“His crimes were serious, the harm he inflicted was real, and Israel’s poor judgment in pursuing the operation unquestionably damaged our bilateral relationship, but this case and controversy belong to an earlier generation,” Slick said. “Pollard was appropriately punished for his crimes, and his case serves as a useful deterrent to allies that may be tempted to take advantage of bilateral security relationships with the U.S.”
Now 66, Pollard has medical problems, as does his wife, and he would like to live out his life in Israel, said Alan Dershowitz, who defended him during his prosecution and was among those pressing for his release. “He’s no danger to anybody,” Dershowitz said. “He’s served his sentence and parole honorably. This is long overdue. I’m thrilled for him.”
The news will be welcomed in Israel, where government leaders in recent weeks have cheered steps taken by the outgoing Trump administration.
Pollard was born in Texas to a Jewish American family strongly devoted to the cause of Israel. He was arrested in 1985 along with his then-wife, Anne, whom he divorced shortly after she was released from prison in 1990. He married his second wife, Esther, in 1993 while he was in prison. The couple have been living in New York, Dershowitz said.