The Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, has asked President Obama to release Jonathan Pollard, a former US naval intelligence analyst now serving a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel.
Mr. Pollard, a civilian, was formerly employed by the Naval Investigative Service. The CIA had declined to hire him (too many red flags in his background check). He wound up at the Navy; and, sometime during his employment, came in contact with an Israeli Air Force colonel studying in the United States. In 1984, Mr. Pollard began passing classified information to the colonel for cash and diamonds. Mr. Pollard’s spying was discovered in 1985, and upon apprehension Mr. Pollard cooperated to some degree with investigators, entering into a plea agreement in exchange for leniency for his wife. In subsequent public statements, Mr. Pollard and wife were both unrepentant.
Mr. Pollard ultimately pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government, and was sentenced to life in prison. Due to the lunacy of US sentencing practices, the “life in prison” sentence means that Mr. Pollard will probably be eligible for parole in November of 2015.
Pollard’s initial Israeli controller got out of the country before apprehension, and the Israelis naturally declined to extradite him. Now the Israeli Prime Minister wants to drag the status of Mr. Pollard into restarting Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. This would win him points politically in Israel. Since the Obama administration has been offering to give Israeli virtually everything in the arsenal that’s not nailed down over some miserable huts on the West Bank, perhaps Mr. Netanyahu’s rather public request is not as unreasonable as it appears.
I don’t blame the Israelis for recruiting Mr. Pollard. Spying is a routine matter for governments, even among mostly friendly ones. I don’t even blame his recruiter – the Israeli colonel was a serving officer, who saw an opportunity for his country, and took it. He was doing his duty. Finally, it speaks well of the Israeli Prime Minister, as a man, that he would seek to ameliorate the personal circumstances of a spy who has done his country significant service. However, Mr. Netanyahu demeans his position and the honor of his state by making this request in public.
But Mr. Pollard? He’s another matter – an American citizen born in Galveston, Texas, who sold American secrets to a foreign government for money. Oh, he’s got Israeli citizenship now, but Israel gave him that after he was in the slammer, and if he’d wanted to be an Israeli, he could have emigrated rather than spied.
Maybe it’s just that I don’t like spies much. A personal failing of mine. They’re about on a level with child-rapists with me. This applies to our spies too. No, I don't mean CIA employees working (sometimes at great personal risk) to ferret-out things we need to know; or Russian Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR) guys, or British MI6 people, or Israeli Mossad or whoever, doing the same things for their countries. Those people are patriots. Sometimes they are enemies of ours, but that doesn't necessarily make them evil. I’m talking about the other end of the food-chain -- the inside operators, the turncoats, the people stealing the documents -- people inside our camp, or inside somebody else's who are selling out their own country for money, ideology or whatever.
I know spies are a necessary evil and often useful, but to me they’re not quite cricket. Two days before the Battle of Ligny, on 14 June 1815, a French general named Bourmont, a royalist, defected from the French army to the Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher’s Prussian army, betraying Napoleon’s plans to the enemy. The old Prussian general turned the pestiferous traitor over to his staff, who learned what they needed to know, but Blucher refused to be in the same room with the traitor, acknowledge him, or shake his hand: saying something to the effect of “A dog is always a dog, no matter whose damn flag he waves.” Blucher hated Napoleon’s guts, but he knew a scumbag traitor for what he was when he saw one.
I find it outrageous that Jonathan Pollard could actually see daylight again. At the least, “life” ought to bloody well mean life, at least in this case and it will be criminal if Obama trades him in exchange for some striped-pants diplomat deigning to shake hands with another one. As for me, if I had my druthers, Mr. Pollard would dance on the end of a rope, or get the cigarette and blindfold.