Did Jonathan Pollard ever spy on the United States? If not, why is he still in prison?

The Jonathan Pollard Spy Case: Plot Thickens
By Russ Baker

Deciding who is a spy and who isn’t—and who is a good spy or a bad one—is highly subjective. For the longest time, anyone from your side caught behind enemy lines either was just doing his or her job, or, we were told, was innocent of the charges. We see that phenomenon every time the US media reports—usually with transparent relief, even joy—that Americans accused of spying in foreign countries have been sent home and reunited with their families.

The whole business of what constitutes spying has become far murkier with the rise of the post-9/11 security state. There have been numerous examples of Americans, like the soldier Bradley Manning, the CIA officer John Kiriakou, and the NSA analyst Thomas Drake, accused of traitorous behavior for acts that others might consider patriotic in the best sense. The most recent example is Barrett Brown, facing a potential hundred years in prison under the Espionage Act for posting links to documents that reveal troubling information to his fellow Americans about their own country.

But perhaps no spy case in recent decades has more sharply divided opinion than that of Jonathan Pollard, the American accused of spying on the US for Israel. Pollard is described in the subtitle of one book as “one of the most notorious spies in American history” and by others as no actual threat to the United States at all. Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987, and has thus far spent a quarter century behind bars. To some, the whole thing seemed a little strange, given the close relationship between the United States and Israel. How seriously could friends damage each other by “spying” on one another?

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3 thoughts on “Did Jonathan Pollard ever spy on the United States? If not, why is he still in prison?”

  1. Thanks for posting, but I’m still puzzled why Pollard got a life sentence if the US “knows” that Israel was spying on the US and all the allies appear to be spying on each other.

    What was Pollard doing that specifically pissed someone off or his sentence was used as an example of what the US would do to others?

    Did his life sentence have to do with shutting him up or Pollard catching wind of some sort of US alliance with a bad guy that the US intel was in bed with who happened to be super anti-semitic and thus anti-Israel?

    The mid-80s were marked by then VP George Bush Sr., former CIA director, calling the shots while Reagan was not more than a bobbing figure head mouthing off about calling for an end to the Soviets’ influence in Afghanistan and his wife’s insipid “Just say No” –to drugs–campaign who was suffering from dementia and who was the point man for big corporations anyway who were responsible for putting him into office in the first place.

    There must have been some sort of info that he passed on that was considered treasonous but perhaps Pollard didn’t know it at the time of the extent of the corruption within certain agencies and this more than anything else got him his life sentence.

    What was it? V

  2. What Baker might have been choosing not to accentuate in Pollard’s case is that much of it was straightforward in the same way that, say, the case of Aldrich Ames was straightforward–clear intent to aid a particular foreign country, in return for monetary gain. Ames’ information was much more damaging to individuals in the U.S. spy network, but that was never a condition for prosecution under the Espionage Act. Damage to national interests is enough, and financial gain as motive is sufficient.

    As we see today, damage assessments aren’t particularly dispositive. Bradley Manning is still going to be tried on “aiding the enemy” charges, even though the value of the information he distributed was downplayed in the damage assessments made by State and the CIA (and even though he didn’t seek to provide advantage to an adversary, and didn’t receive compensation from anyone).

    Contrary to what Baker suggests, the decision to bear down on Pollard may well be the result of Israel’s actions. It’s quite possible that Israel had demanded the information Pollard eventually provided, and was denied on the basis of worries about how Israel might use the information. This is not as farfetched as it sounds, because a similar circumstance occurred in the last decade or so. Israel had gotten wind of a new proprietary process developed by the U.S. Army for hard-chroming tank and artillery barrels, making them last longer before replacement (doesn’t sound like a big deal, but every tank or artillery piece out of commission for repairs is one that can’t be used against an enemy, and the costs are not cheap, either–there have been suggestions that the Iraq-Iran war was finally concluded when Iran had exhausted its cash and credits with the nations supplying it with gun barrels–in that almost nine years, Iran had replaced the barrels of at least half of its tanks and artillery pieces an estimated 18-20 times).

    Israel demanded that the U.S. give it the process. The Army, for still-classified reasons, declined (in such matters, there is always the possibility that the Israelis would seek to profit from the information, rather than use it strictly for defense–fully a quarter of the Israeli economy is dependent upon the IDF, arms manufacturing and arms sales and training). In retaliation, the Israelis took some of the cash economic aid we annually send to start a new company, staffed, in part, by two people with links to Mossad, and stole the information on the process.

    Once the process was in hand, the company was further funded with cash from U.S. economic aid to begin production. I’ve seen an interview with an Israeli general on the matter, and his sense of entitlement was extreme, along the lines of “we are your ally, so you cannot have any secrets from us.” Israel presupposes that its interests are paramount, and that the interests of the U.S. are, at best, identical to Israel’s or, at worst, subordinate to its own. Every country thinks this way, to a degree, but Israel’s unique application of the principle, along with its sense of entitlement, makes it potentially dangerous, ally or not.

    So, what the U.S. thought Israel intended to do with the information Pollard provided may have influenced the sentence Pollard received to a greater degree than might be otherwise apparent.

  3. The US and Israel are neither friends nor allies.

    USS Liberty bombing of 1967 and the very questionable Israeli involvement in the 9/11 terror bombing (obvious advance prior knowledge but failure to warn regular Americans citizens) .

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