Paul Pillar

How to Treat Jonathan Pollard Fairly

Some things just won't go away and keep coming back. One of them is lobbying to free the spy Jonathan Pollard. I wrote about this a few months ago amid reports that the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu was considering offering to extend a moratorium on construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in return for Pollard's release. Last week Netanyahu—after having stared down President Obama on the settlements issue—sent a letter to the president calling again to release Pollard. The letter, which Netanyahu read aloud in the Knesset, did not explicitly offer any deals; it simply said the spy should be let out of prison.

Lawrence Korb, whose views on most issues I respect, took up Pollard's cause years ago for reasons that are not entirely clear and has now followed up Netanyahu's letter with another appeal of his own. Korb adduces a point that frequently comes up in the pro-Pollard lobbying: that Pollard deserves leniency because he was spying for a “friendly” country. But the world cannot be cleanly divided into friendlies and unfriendlies and a transgression as serious as espionage be excused because it is associated with one side of that divide. U.S. interests diverge from the interests of even countries that might be labeled friends and allies. The United States certainly has significant differences of interest with Israel. That is one reason, though not the only reason, it is important for the United States to safeguard its secrets from any sort of compromise and to punish severely violations of trust that lead to compromise, especially compromises as huge as those that Pollard perpetrated.

Even more to the point, espionage is not a friendly act. It is a hostile act. It adds insult to the substantial injury Pollard caused, in addition to being oxymoronic, to call for leniency for a spy because what happened was between “friends.”

Moreover, as I recalled in my earlier commentary, Pollard was not acting only out of his love for Israel, given that he had offered his secret-selling services to at least one other country. This is relevant to Korb's statement, “Information has come to light since Pollard's arrest that shows that the intelligence he passed to Israel never made its way to the United States' enemies, such as the Soviet Union.” How in the world can we know that? The Israelis stonewalled the U.S. damage assessment after Pollard was caught, which is part of why we don't know the full extent of the damage. And who's to say what intelligence inroads the Soviets and later the Russians made against Israel (especially given the large, infiltratable Russian-origin population in Israel)? As for anything Israel did officially with the purloined U.S. information, the past record of Israel's lying about its involvement means that whatever the Israeli government says about this case cannot be trusted.

Korb talks about equity in view of how previous espionage cases have been handled. Fair enough. During the Cold War one of the most conspicuous forms of handling was the exchanging of caught spies between the United States and the Soviet Union. These exchanges did not imply any leniency or excusing of the espionage that had been committed. It was a simple trade of resources: your spy for my spy. Several of these exchanges took place on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin—the “Bridge of Spies.”

So I have a proposal to make. If Israel ever were to catch, prosecute, and imprison anyone for spying against Israel on behalf of the United States, then we would have the makings of a trade. One for one: Pollard for the other spy. I suggest that any such exchange take place—if the Jordanian government agreed—on the Allenby Bridge spanning the Jordan River. That would duplicate the clarity, not to mention the drama, of the Cold War spy exchanges. If such a trade ever occurred, I would endorse it and would look forward to seeing the movie that no doubt would be made, with the trade on the bridge being the climactic scene.

Until and unless that happens, Pollard is right where he belongs: in a U.S. prison.

 

 

(Photo by משתמש:תמרה)