Freeing Pollard would be a terrible mistake

In September, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that filmmaker Michael Moore had launched a campaign to free Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been accused of providing most, if not all, of the classified documents being revealed on WikiLeaks. Mr. Manning has not yet been charged with a crime.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will soon, again, seek the release to Israel of Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen employed by U.S. naval intelligence, who was convicted in 1987 of espionage on behalf of Israel and sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Pollard has admitted that he received thousands of dollars in cash and valuables as well as a monthly salary from the Israelis. According to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the Pollard investigation, interrogated Mr. Pollard and obtained his confession, Mr. Pollard sold or attempted to sell information to other governments (South Africa and Pakistan, for example). Ultimately, he accepted a plea bargain with the U.S. government that he would be sentenced to up to life in prison for "conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government."

Mr. Pollard was given Israeli citizenship in 1995. In 1998, the Israeli government confirmed Mr. Pollard's activities. There is absolutely no question that he committed espionage. Clearly, he is a mercenary who was prepared to sell U.S. secrets to anyone who would pay.

Mr. Pollard's case aside, we need to ask ourselves: Why are the Israelis running espionage operations against us? Are we not their absolute best friends? Do we not support them with every gift one nation can give to another?

The American intelligence community's approach to Israel has been hands-off. From the creation of the CIA in 1947, CIA operations officers were absolutely forbidden to target or cultivate for recruitment any Israelis. We were their closest ally and friend on the planet. They kept nothing from us. There was, therefore, no need to collect intelligence clandestinely through human sources.

But Israel did not share that point of view. It clearly was running recruitment operations against us throughout the post-war period. FBI officers told us in the early 1970s that there were Mossad officers all over the country in official and non-official positions who were actively recruiting Americans. Numerous sources here indicate that Mossad is more active recruiting Americans today than ever before.

It seems logical that Mr. Manning will be prosecuted, despite what Michael Moore wants. This is an entirely internal U.S. matter.

The Pollard case is the same — yet it is totally different. Mr. Pollard is an American who broke U.S. law, was convicted and incarcerated. It is not an internal political group that seeks his release, as in the Manning case, but a foreign government that has acknowledged that it runs intelligence operations against us.

What would happen if the U.S. were to accede to Mr. Netanyahu's request to free Pollard? This is not like the recent return of Russian national sleeper agents to Russia. Mr. Pollard is an American citizen. Among many negative repercussions, we would be telling any current Americans who either are spying for Israel, or contemplating that activity, that there may be a way out if caught.

For Mr. Pollard to be released to Israel, he would have to be pardoned by President Barack Obama. What would the rationale be for a pardon for a self-confessed, mercenary spy? How would our president look to the rest of the world in the aftermath of such an action?

The unspoken question here is whether either the U.S. or Israel sees Mr. Pollard a bargaining chip for progress in the Middle East. If that is the case and America agrees to swap Mr. Pollard for, say, a one-year moratorium on settlements, it would be a terrible mistake. We would be prostituting our legal system for questionable goals that so far have proved unattainable.

In the end, a settlement moratorium and the two-state solution represent the only course of action open to Israel if it wishes to preserve itself as a democratic, Zionist state. It is a course that Israel has to want to follow for its own reasons — not one that is worthy of blackmail or bargaining over Mr. Pollard.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East, as chief of the counterterrorism staff and as executive assistant in the director's office. His e-mail is

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