Jonathan Pollard and American Fairness, Justice, and Mercy

The Price of Betrayal

The pro-Pollard buzz that was building in the Israeli press, blogs, and social media channels throughout last year has culminated in an official plea from Netanyahu:

Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of the people of Israel, I am writing to you to request clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government. Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.

As you know, Mr. President, I have raised the question of Jonathan Pollard’s release numerous times in discussions with your administration and with previous U.S. administrations. Previous Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents have also requested clemency for Mr. Pollard from your predecessors.

Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress.

Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.

I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful.

Sincerely yours,*

Benjamin Netanyahu*

Fairness, justice and mercy. These are precisely the reasons why Jonathan Pollard should not see the light of day.


The intelligence community, the one which Jonathan Pollard betrayed, is overwhelmingly composed of patriots. Most of them quietly shoulder the burden of secrecy. They do this, not for personal gain, but because it is a requirement of their service. They tolerate the rules, regulations, and the invasions of privacy. They may struggle with strained relationships, long hours, and sometimes even great personal risk. They do this quietly and at a government pay grade because they are patriots.

Pollard, on the other hand, acted without honor. He is not an American patriot. At the time of his arrest he was, by most accounts, a greedy, cocaine-snorting, narcissist:

For about a year after the time Pollard met Avi Sella, he gathered computer printouts, satellite photographs, and classified documents from his department three times a week and brought them to various Washington apartments. There, they were copied and returned to Pollard, who restored them to the Navy the following day. In exchange for his services Pollard received, in addition to the agreed salary, a lavish collection of gifts for himself and his wife, including a honeymoon in a private compartment aboard the Orient Express.

Pollard did not sacrifice for his country. He traded it for diamond rings, bundles of cash, and expensive vacations. He betrayed every American and every patriot who served with or before him. So yes, fairness is important. How could releasing Pollard to a hero’s welcome in Israel be in any way fair to the countless Americans and patriots he betrayed? Fairness demands some measure of…


Pollard’s apologists have conjured up so many silly arguments over the past two plus decades that (and this is part of their strategy) casual observers may understimate the impact of his betrayal:

Joseph DiGenova, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said Tuesday that Pollard was a spy who was paid and who tried to entice others to join his operation.

Mr. DiGenova said Pollard received about $500,000 a year plus expenses for giving intelligence documents to Israeli agents.

“By the time he was caught, he caused enough damage to U.S. intelligence that, according to the Defense Department, it cost between $3 billion and $5 billion to fix because of what he compromised,” Mr. DiGenova said. “That the country he spied for is seeking clemency is not only unprecedented, it is a joke.”

The bits and pieces of the Pollard damage assessment that have leaked out over the years are shocking. It’s easy to understand why the U.S. intelligence community continues to oppose his release:

The men and women of the National Security Agency live in a world of chaotic bleeps, buzzes, and whistles, and talk to each other about frequencies, spectrums, modulation, and bandwidth — the stuff of Tom Clancy novels. They often deal with signals intelligence, or SIGINT, and their world is kept in order by an in-house manual known as the RASIN an acronym for radio-signal notations. The manual, which is classified “top-secret Umbra,” fills ten volumes, is constantly updated, and lists the physical parameters of every known signal. Pollard took it all. “It’s the Bible,” one former communications-intelligence officer told me. “It tells how we collect signals anywhere in the world.” The site, frequency, and significant features of Israeli communications — those that were known and targeted by the N.S.A. — were in the RASIN; so were all the known communications links used by the Soviet Union.

The loss of the RASIN was especially embarrassing to the Navy, I was told by the retired admiral, because the copy that Pollard photocopied belonged to the Office of Naval Intelligence. “He went into our library, found we had an out-of-date version, requested a new one, and passed it on,” the officer said. “I was surprised we even had it.”

The RASIN theft was one of the specifics cited in Defense Secretary Weinberger’s still secret declaration to the court before Pollard’s sentencing hearing. In fact, the hearing’s most dramatic moment came when Pollard’s attorney, Richard A. Hibey, readily acknowledged his client’s guilt but argued that the extent of the damage to American national security did not call for the imposition of a maximum sentence. “I would ask you to think about the Secretary of Defense’s affidavit, as it related to only one thing,” Judge Robinson interjected, “with reference to one particular category of publication, and I fail to see how you can make that argument.” He invited Hibey to approach the bench, along with the Justice Department attorneys, and the group spent a few moments reviewing what government officials told me was Weinberger’s account of the importance of the RAISIN. One Justice Department official, recalling those moments with obvious pleasure, said that the RASIN was the ninth item on the Weinberger damage-assessment list.

The compromise of RASIN alone would justify life in prison but the piece goes on to detail the compromise of the Rota reports, DIAL-COINS, and the National SIGINT Requirements List. Pollard compromised not only individual intelligence systems and methods. He compromised the security of every single American citizen. So please Mr. Netanyahu don’t talk to us about justice. Justice was served and it was served with…


Jonathan Pollard is alive. He is alive after betraying the patriots at his side. He is alive after betraying the government which trusted him. He is alive after betraying those who fought and died, sometimes quietly and without public acknowledgment, for this country. He is alive after betraying every single American man, woman, and child. Jonathan Pollard is alive and he is treated humanely. He is a living testimony to our mercy.

As I have said before, I support Israel as an ally. I even respect Mr. Netanyahu’s (now) persistent support of the spy Israel once betrayed. However, Jonathan Pollard was never a harmlessly naive ideologue. His betrayal was cold, calculated, and immensely damaging. May he stay in prison indefinitely where he can reflect on America’s fairness, justice, and mercy.

Blogs of WarJohn Little has been breaking national security news and leveraging thousands of conflict, intelligence, security, technology & political sources to provide level-headed analysis in a complex news environment since 2002.