According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, a surprising—indeed, almost shocking—development appears in the works as a byproduct of, or fallout from, the recently agreed to Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In what appears to be, at least in the eyes of this author, a calculated move to appease an angered Israel—due to the United States and Iran coming to an agreement regarding Iran’s heretofore stymied nuclear program—Obama administration officials have floated the idea of releasing convicted Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard, who was at the time of his arrest a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested and convicted of espionage against America—for Israel—in 1985, and has served nearly 30 years of his life sentence. Pollard was paid thousands of dollars to spy for Israel, and routinely passed classified documents to the Israeli government. He pleaded guilty to the charges. His wife also served jail time for her involvement. Israel has for years requested Pollard’s release, a request that has been routinely rejected by multiple U.S. administrations.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, some U.S. officials have “strongly denied” any link between the Iran deal and Pollard’s possible release, noting that the U.S. Parole Commission would make the decision. That seems a ludicrous claim, to state that a bureaucratic commission will decide on such a sensitive, high-level espionage-related maneuver without heavy involvement of senior politicians.
In what might end up being used as the fig leaf for releasing Pollard, it has been noted that he suffers from a host of medical problems, which should afford him a show of mercy on the part of the administration. Even some Republicans in the past have shown support for Pollard’s release, including presidential candidate Rick Santorum. However, in the current political climate, they would surely be opposed to linking that release to the Iran nuclear deal.
Heads of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Justice Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have always strongly opposed Pollard’s release, and would likely do so again in the current circumstances. Rightly so.
While it is commonplace for countries to occasionally swap captured spies in closed, back-room, secret deals, releasing Pollard to simply placate Israel would be a mistake. Pollard was caught red-handed in blatant espionage due to his “affinity” for Israel, and bestowing clemency on him in this case would set a dangerous precedent. Other countries, for one, would possibly attempt to use diplomatic disagreements as leverage for future such deals, and those individuals caught allegedly spying for America in the future could also be used as bargaining chips to force future U.S. policy actions.
The release would also demonstrate to future spies, or those considering spying on America, that the act of committing espionage might not be as risky as first thought. They may very well consider that, even if captured, they could be released later in a political deal. The deterrent effect of jailing such criminals would be undoubtedly weakened.
Hopefully, airing the details of this proposed release prior to its execution will elicit strong and vocal opposition from politicians and non-elected officials alike, and smother this deal in the cradle, before it comes to fruition. It is a seedy and desperate move to seek forgiveness from an ally for a diplomatic maneuver with which that ally does not agree. The United States should not seek to blackmail its allies in this way to accept our diplomatic initiatives, especially when those initiatives are beneficial to America. This release should not happen. Let Pollard pay fully for his crimes.
(Photo courtesy of Corbis-Bettmann/Reuters)