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U.S. Grants Parole to Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard

The only U.S. citizen ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an American ally, Pollard has served 30 years for passing secrets to Israel.
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Convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard will be released from prison on Nov. 21 under an order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Parole Commission.

The only U.S. citizen ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an American ally, Pollard will be freed after serving 30 years of a life sentence for passing U.S. intelligence secrets to Israel.

Critics have accused the Obama administration of seeking an early release for Pollard as a favor to the government of Israel, which remains strongly opposed to the Iranian nuclear deal approved earlier this month.

But the administration and Pollard's lawyers denied that was the case.

"The decision is not connected to recent developments in the Middle East," said the lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman.

They noted that the vote was unanimous by the three members of the parole commission, "who make their decisions independently of any other U.S. government agency."

On Tuesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had already spoken with Pollard's wife Esther.

"After decades of effort, Jonathan Pollard will finally be released," he added in a statement. "Throughout his time in prison, I consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive U.S. administrations. We are looking forward to his release."

The U.S. government, meanwhile, had posed no objection to the parole, noting that it did oppose earlier requests for releasing Pollard.

"The Department of Justice has always maintained that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence," said Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman.

Though parole no longer exists in the federal system, it was still in effect in 1985, when Pollard was sentenced and continues to apply to his case. It makes him eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission found that he committed serious violations of prison rules or showed a probability that he would commit crimes after his release.

On July 1, the Justice Department notified the Parole Commission that it would not oppose the scheduled release on Nov. 21. The commission held a hearing July 7 at the North Carolina prison where Pollard is held, and its vote approving release was announced Tuesday.

The board's decision requires Pollard to remain in the U.S. for five years after his release, and his lawyers said they had found housing and employment for him in New York. But they called on President Obama to allow him to leave prison early and move to Israel immediately.

"We respectfully urge the President to exercise his clemency power in this manner."

Pollard was convicted of smuggling classified documents out of the Naval Intelligence Center and giving them to Israel. The material included closely guarded secrets about American intelligence sources in the Middle East, which dried up after Pollard began spying.

Spy caught in act

Oct. 1, 200602:33

He handed the documents to Israeli contacts who set up a high-speed copier at a Washington apartment house. By the time the FBI caught up with him in 1985, trying to seek asylum at Israel's embassy, he'd been spying for 18 months.

Intelligence officials said the material Pollard gave the Israelis would fill 30 file cabinets with stolen documents — including secrets about U.S. weapons, intelligence, and communications systems.

The disclosures forced the U.S. into an expensive and lengthy review of the security of those systems.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official said America believed that some of the materials Pollard supplied to Israel wound up in the hands of Soviet Union intelligence.

The same official said Pollard received $50,000 in cash for his efforts and that the U.S. found hundreds of thousands of dollars had been deposited by Israeli intelligence in overseas accounts that Pollard could access.

"He wasn’t doing this for purely ideological reasons," said the former official. "He profited from it."