Jonathan Pollard was released from prison Friday after 30 years behind bars for spying for Israel, his case a persistent thorn in relations between the two allies. His lawyers began an immediate court challenge to parole conditions that would let the government track his movements and monitor his computer activity.
The former Navy intelligence analyst was arrested Nov. 21, 1985 after unsuccessfully trying to get asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The pre-dawn release from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, gave Pollard his long-sought freedom, but the legal and diplomatic wrangling that has defined the case continued.
Within hours of his release, Pollard’s attorneys filed court papers in Manhattan — where Pollard and his wife, Esther, were seen checking in at a probation office — challenging “onerous and oppressive” parole conditions.
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Those include a requirement that he wear a GPS ankle bracelet and submit to inspections of his computer at his home or at his job, which his lawyers said will be in the finance department of a New York investment firm.
In their petition, Pollard’s lawyers complained that wearing a GPS monitor would be harmful to his health because he has severe diabetes and suffers chronic swelling in his legs and ankles. They said the computer monitoring was unnecessary because he was no longer in possession of any useful classified information.
Pollard’s supporters, who have long maintained that he was punished excessively for actions taken on behalf of an American ally, are pressing the Obama administration to permit him to move immediately to Israel despite parole requirements that he remain in the U.S for at least five years. The supporters include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Friday applauded Pollard’s freedom.
“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come.”
The White House renewed its longstanding opposition to the request that Pollard be allowed to leave the country. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama has no plans to alter the parole conditions.
Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987 for providing large amounts of classified U.S. government information to Israel. He was granted parole this summer, effective on the 30th anniversary of his imprisonment.
The crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr. Pollard did to the United States government.
Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case
His was among the highest-profile spy sagas in modern American history, a case that became a diplomatic sticking point and divided supporters who praised him as aiding an ally and critics who called him a traitor to his country.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr. Pollard did to the United States government,” said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case as U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. “I would have been perfectly pleased if he had spent the rest of his life in jail.”
Seymour Reich, a former president of B'nai Brith International who visited Pollard twice in prison, said that while he believed Pollard broke the law and deserved to be punished, his sentence was overly harsh. Like other supporters, he believes Pollard was “double-crossed” into thinking he’d be afforded leniency in exchange for a guilty plea.
“I hope that he settles down and lives the remaining years as best as he can,” Reich said.
I hope that he settles down and lives the remaining years as best as he can.
Seymour Reich, former B’nai Brith International president
Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst, was arrested Nov. 21, 1985, after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He had earlier drawn the suspicion of a supervisor for handling large amounts of classified materials unrelated to his official duties.
U.S. officials have said Pollard, over a series of months and for a salary, provided intelligence summaries and huge quantities of classified documents on the capabilities and programs of Israel’s enemies. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage and was given a life sentence a year later.
Israel initially claimed that Pollard was part of a rogue operation, but acknowledged him in the 1990s as an agent and granted him citizenship.
Although he has said his guilty plea was coerced, he has also expressed regret, telling The Associated Press in a 1998 interview that he did not consider himself a hero.
“There is nothing good that came as a result of my actions,” he said. “I tried to serve two countries at the same time. That does not work.”
Last year, the U.S. dangled the prospect of freeing Pollard early as part of a package of incentives to keep Israel at the negotiating table during talks with the Palestinians. But the talks fell apart, and Pollard remained in prison.
The decision to grant him parole came amid a public disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over a nuclear deal with Iran. But U.S. officials have said the decision to let Pollard out on parole had nothing to do with that deal and was not meant as a concession for Israel.
Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.