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The Spy Who's Locked Into the Cold

May 9, 2009 | by Sara Yoheved Rigler

It's time to release Jonathan Pollard.

When this article was first published three years ago, Jonathan Pollard's lawyers were involved in a final legal initiative that they hoped would lead to his release. That battle was lost last week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused, without comment, to hear Pollard's request to see the classified documents -- including the memo written by ex-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger -- that led to his life sentence.

Without a Presidential pardon, Jonathan Pollard will likely die in prison. This is a crushing defeat not only for Jonathan, but for the whole Jewish People.

In 1995, an American Naval officer named Michael Schwartz (a non-Jew) was arrested and, after confessing, indicted for spying for Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Schwartz's only punishment was discharge from the Navy with the loss of his rank and pension. He never spent a day in prison.

In 1986, Dr. Abdel Kader Helmy was arrested and indicted for passing American ballistic missile secrets and parts to Egypt, which then passed them on to Iraq. Helmy's treachery led directly to Iraq's development of the Condor missile. At the insistence of both the State and the Defense Departments, Helmy was indicted not for espionage, but for "smuggling" restricted technology. Helmy was sentenced to four years in prison, and was released after two years.

In 1987, Clayton Lonetree was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, an enemy of the U.S. Among other things, Lonetree passed the floor plans of the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Vienna to the Soviets, jeopardizing the lives of all the Americans employed there. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and, after several sentence reductions, was released after 9 years.

In 1985, Jonathan Pollard (a Jew) was arrested for passing classified intelligence information to Israel. He was never tried. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea bargain, which spared both governments a potentially embarrassing trial. In violation of the plea agreement, Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he never be paroled.[1]

On November 21, 2002, Pollard entered the 18th year of his life sentence, with no end in sight.

Since his arrest, Jonathan Pollard has publicly and repeatedly expressed his remorse.
He regrets having broken the law, and is sorry he did not find a legal means to act upon his concerns for Israel.

Pollard's first attorney, Richard Hibey, a non-Jewish lawyer of Lebanese extraction, failed to file a Notice of Appeal, a simple and straightforward task that any attorney would have routinely done. This unheard of failure has forever deprived Pollard of his right to appeal the life sentence he received without benefit of trial.

Appellate Court Justice Steven Williams has called the Pollard case "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."

Contrary to widespread misconceptions, Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. Pollard was never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans, nor was he accused of nor convicted of treason. Jonathan Pollard was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, with no intent to harm the United States. [2]

The median sentence for this offence is two to four years. Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

Appellate Court Justice Steven Williams has called the Pollard case "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."


Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980s, he discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld by the United States. This information included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities -- all being developed for use against Israel. According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, the United States was legally obligated to pass such information on to Israel.

Pollard, an American Zionist, at first pursued legal channels to have this information passed on to Israel. When he asked his superiors why evidence of Iraq's development of nerve and biological gases was not being shared with Israel, he was told, "Jews are too sensitive to gas."

When all American authorities up to the Pentagon refused to relay this intelligence information to Israel, Pollard took it upon himself to do so. The receipt of this information led Israel to revamp its entire civil defense program to include gas masks, sealed rooms, and biological and chemical antidotes.

Pollard's disclosures to Israel were potentially a great embarrassment to the American administration. If made public, they would have proved that not only were the Americans withholding vital security information from Israel, in violation of their agreement, but even more damning, that the United States was covertly aiding and arming Iraq, in hopes that it would overthrow the regime in Iran. This secret aid continued up until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.[3]

The reason, in fact, that the United States had stopped sharing intelligence information about Iraq with Israel was because Israel had used such information to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. Angelo Codevilla, who was a Senior Staff Member for the Senate Intelligence Committee from 1978-1985, related in a 1999 interview:

"Bobby Ray Inman, at the time Deputy Director of the CIA, was very angry, and cut off a good chunk of that information flow… I was in the U.S. Intelligence Committee hearing room when Bobby Ray Inman came in and told us how outraged he was that Israel had destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor. He told us that the US was engaged in a ‘sophisticated and very successful effort' to turn Saddam Hussein into a pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The Israelis, in their blundering ways, as he put it, had misunderstood Saddam Hussein. They had figured this nuclear reactor posed a danger of Saddam building nuclear weapons. Our CIA knew better than that, and was outraged that the Israelis had done this. As a result, Inman was unilaterally cutting off the flow of US intelligence to the Israelis."[4]


A year before Jonathan Pollard was arrested, the spy story that would ultimately doom him started to play itself out in the upper echelons of the CIA. In 1984, Aldrich Ames, who was Chief of Counter Intelligence for the Soviet-East European division of the CIA, was recruited by the Soviet Union to work as a mole. Ames later admitted (in the New York Times and in a televised interview on Sixty Minutes) that he transmitted to the Soviet Union the names of virtually every American and foreign operative in the Soviet Union known to him. A draft of a 400-page classified report, prepared years later under the direction of the CIA's inspector-general Frederick Hitz, would reveal that Ames exposed -- and caused the deaths of -- 34 secret American and allied agents, and identified 55 clandestine American and allied operations to the Soviet Union, thus causing the deaths of many others. [5]

This led to the virtual collapse of the American espionage network in the Soviet Union, a collapse that lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This collapse was a bitter humiliation to the CIA heads in Washington.

The CIA put Aldrich Ames in charge of investigating Pollard for a damage assessment.

Of course, the CIA suspected a mole. To deflect suspicion from himself, Ames searched frantically for a scapegoat. On November 22, 1985, Jonathan Pollard was arrested and charged with spying for Israel. The CIA put Aldrich Ames in charge of investigating Pollard for a damage assessment. Ames began fabricating a secret file that cast blame on Israel for selling to the KGB the data it had received from Pollard. Then Ames leaked to the press allegations that the information Pollard fed Israel included the secret codes for American agents working in the Soviet Union, thus endangering their lives.

Ames also, of course, handed his "findings" about Jonathan Pollard over to the Departments of Defense and Justice, which accepted their veracity without question. Caspar Weinberger was Secretary of Defense at the time. Weinberger was the former vice-president and legal counsel to the Bechtel Group, which conducts a multi-billion dollar business with Arab states.

Just prior to Pollard's sentencing, Weinberger delivered a classified memorandum to the sentencing judge, falsely accusing Pollard of treason [defined as spying for an enemy nation during a time of war] and other serious crimes for which he had never been legally accused nor indicted nor given the opportunity to refute. Pollard and his attorney were allowed to briefly see this document. Since then, neither Pollard nor any of his attorneys, despite their top secret security clearance, have ever been allowed to access the Weinberger memorandum, nor to challenge it in a court of law.

Weinberger declared publicly that if it were up to him, Pollard would have been hanged.

"…it appears that he is being punished for a crime he did not commit and disproportionately punished for the one he did commit."

The sentence of life imprisonment that Pollard received was not for the crime he committed and was charged with -- spying for an American ally, but rather for a crime he did not commit and was never legally charged with -- treason. As Jerome J. Shestack, former President of the American Bar Association, wrote about Pollard: "He was not convicted of treason, although his sentence assumes he was. Thus it appears that he is being punished for a crime he did not commit and disproportionately punished for the one he did commit."

The America media bought Ames's story, and, citing "intelligence sources," (Can the reader guess who?) widely circulated allegations that Jonathan Pollard had endangered the lives of many American agents.

For example, Time's "Inside Washington" column on December 6, 1993, reported: "Time has learned that one document Pollard is believed to have slipped to the Israelis - thought to have landed in Soviet hands - was a huge national security agency compendium of frequencies used by foreign military and intelligence services… Officials fear that data in this book was so specific that its discovery may have cost informants their lives."

Even four years after Ames's confession and conviction, the American media was still pillorying Jonathan Pollard. A CBS news show with Dan Rather as anchor on December 8, 1998, claimed to reveal "new information" leaked to CBS by "official sources" alleging that Jonathan Pollard betrayed US Codes and HUMINT Sources.

Even before Ames was arrested for committing the crimes that the media blamed Pollard for, and certainly thereafter, intelligence experts seriously interested in the truth should have smelled a rat. First of all, most of the data Pollard passed to Israel concerned Soviet weaponry sold to Arab states. Why would the Soviet Union buy from Israel data about their own weapons systems? As a 1994 article put it:

As Jerry Agee, Pollard's superior in Naval Intelligence told [journalist] Wolf Blitzer, Agee and another colleague were suspicious of the number of classified documents Pollard was taking home with him. Eventually they concluded that the information was almost certainly going to Israel. They reasoned that in light of the fact that the materials dealt with Soviet weapons systems and Arab military capabilities, it was not something the Soviets would be interested in.

As Agee put it to Blitzer: "It didn't take a fool to find out that the Soviets were not buying back all their own information." [6]

Secondly, Ames's web of allegations against Pollard assumed that Pollard, a GS-12 security analyst, had access to such top-secret CIA data as the "huge national security agency compendium of frequencies" and the codes of American spies working in the Soviet Union. All intelligence experts knew that Pollard was too low level an analyst to have had any access to such data. As Codevilla pointed out: "Jonathan Pollard could not have provided codes, because he did not have any access to codes. GS-12 analysts don't." [7]

Former Justice Department attorney John Loftus explained: "In order to hide his own espionage for the Russians, Ames successfully pointed the finger of suspicion at Pollard for the spate of serious leaks that crippled U.S. networks inside the Soviet Union." [8]

Loftus went on to say: "Several investigations from CIA and NIS [Naval Investigative Service] have made sheepish admission that Pollard was the victim of hysterical over-reaction." Loftus quoted Naval Intelligence sources as admitting that "90 percent of the things we accused [Pollard] of stealing, he didn't even have access to." [9]

Why, eight years after Aldrich Ames was convicted, is Jonathan Pollard still languishing in prison?

Codevilla, now a Professor of International Relations at Boston University, has asserted: "Judges in the Anglo-Saxon tradition are supposed to write opinions explaining their judgments. Judges are supposed to evaluate the evidence and contrasting arguments provided to them at trials. Judges are not supposed simply to listen to some powerful person whispering in their ear. In the case of this judge, he allowed himself to be used by Weinberger, who lied to him and supplied a false memorandum. I find this behavior by Weinberger to be contemptible, and the judge's behavior to be beneath American standards." [10]

The question which defies all logic and analysis is: Why, eight years after Aldrich Ames was convicted, is Jonathan Pollard still languishing in prison?


There is no greater mitzvah than Pidyon Shevuyim.

Some mitzvot of the Torah are ubiquitous, such as keeping Shabbat and eating kosher food. Other mitzvot cannot be performed at all in our days, such as the mitzvot related to the Temple. Some few mitzvot can be fulfilled only when special circumstances conspire. The mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim -- redeeming Jews unfairly held captive -- falls into the last category.

Maimonides wrote: "Pidyon Shevuyim takes precedence over feeding and clothing the destitute; there is no greater mitzvah than Pidyon Shevuyim, for the captive is counted among the hungry and the unclothed, and his very life is endangered. He who turns a blind eye from his redemption transgresses four separate negative commandments, and neglects at least four positive commandments. There is no mitzvah as exalted as Pidyon Shevuyim."

To work for the release of Jonathan Pollard, go to the website Justice for Jonathan Pollard,", apprise yourself of the facts, then click on "Help Jonathan Pollard."

For Further Reading:

The Dreyfus - Pollard Parallel

The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard: an Interview with Angelo Codevilla

Please pray for the well being and release of
Yehonaton ben Malka.

This article has recently been re-edited.


1. "Justice and Jonathan Pollard," by Alan Dershowitz et al, The Washington Post, Jan. 2, 1999, page A19.
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2. Ibid.
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3. See "How the US Armed Iraq," by Murray Waas and Craig Unger, The New Yorker Magazine, Nov. 2, 1992.
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4."The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," An Interview with Angelo Codevilla, by Whesley Phelan, The Washington Weekly, Jan. 11, 1999
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5. "The Ames Disclosure," The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 28, 1994Return to Text

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7. "The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," by Whesley Phelan
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8. "Whose Crimes? Pollard's or Ames's?" by Hershel Shanks, Editor, Moment Magazine, Dec. 1995
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10. "The True Motives behind the Sentencing of Jonathan Pollard," by Whesley Phelan
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