Last modified on June 22, 2021, at 18:19

Jonathan Pollard

Jonathon Pollard

Jonathan Pollard (born 7 August 1954, Indiana) was convicted of spying for Israel against the United States of America in 1986 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to providing Israel with information about the military capabilities of Arab states, including Iraq. He was released on November 20, 2015.


In the mid 1980s Pollard had discovered that information about weapons of mass destruction possessed by Israel's enemies was being withheld by the United States government for reasons of U.S. national security. Israel was legally entitled to this information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, but the U.S. was under no obligation to provide it, in order to protect U.S. capabilities and interests. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities being developed. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

When Pollard discovered this policy and asked his superiors about it, he was informed of the official U.S. policy pertaining to release of that information. Pollard was of the opinion that Israeli lives were being put in jeopardy as a result of this U.S. government policy on sharing foreign intelligence information. In stark violation of U.S. law and the pledge he made to the U.S. Navy to protect U.S. intelligence information, Pollard began to illegally provide classified information to Israel directly.[1]

Pollard was put under investigation in 1985 when a coworker anonymously reported his removal of classified information. He was arrested by the FBI at the gates of the Israeli Embassy on November 21, 1985. He had attempted to flee there to seek asylum, but had been forced out by embassy security officials. His wife was also arrested for assisting him, but before her arrest, she managed to warn Aviem Sella, the Israeli Air Force officer who had recruited him. As a result, Pollard's handler, Yossi Yagur, and Irit Erb, an Israeli embassy secretary who took the documents Pollard stole, were also warned. All three managed to flee the US and escape to Israel before the FBI could stop them. Aviem Sella was later indicted by a Federal grand jury. He is currently considered a fugitive from justice by the US government, and is still under Federal indictment.

Pollard pled guilty to espionage in 1986, and on March 4, 1987, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Federal judge Aubrey Robinson. The reasons for the life sentence are believed to be in a classified affidavit provided to the court by US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

After spending seven years in solitary confinement and one year in a mental hospital, Pollard was transferred to FCI Butner, a medium-security Federal prison in North Carolina, where he was incarcerated before his eventual release.

On 11 May 1998, Israel formally acknowledged Pollard had been an Israeli agent, handled by high ranking authorities within Lekem (Lishkat Kishrei Mada "Bureau of Scientific Relations"), which collected scientific and technical intelligence. Lakem was disbanded following Pollard's arrest.[2]

Israeli Prime Ministers hde repeatedly asked for US Presidents to commute Pollard's sentence to the time already served. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu made Pollard's release one of the conditions for his signing of the Wye River Agreement with the Palestinians. Bill Clinton was on the verge of freeing Pollard, but backed down when CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign. Netanyahu later visited Pollard in prison in 2002. Israel mulled exchanging Pollard for Yosef Amit, an Israeli military intelligence officer who was arrested for spying for the United States, but Amit himself torpedoed the proposal. According to a report by Israeli State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the Israeli government made many efforts to obtain his release, none of which were successful.

At the time of Pollard's arrest, there was an obscure law stipulating mandatory parole after 30 years for Federal inmates sentenced to life imprisonment who have displayed good behavior. Since Pollard remained on good behavior during his incarceration, he was released on November 20, 2015. He was not allowed to leave the United States for the next five years.[3] On November 15, 2020 the restriction on foreign travel ended.

Sentencing controversy

Pollard's supporters consider his life sentence to be disproportionate when compared to the sentences of others who spied against the United States for allied nations. He is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally;[4] the maximum sentence today for such an offense is 10 years. The median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4 years[Citation Needed].

Wall Street Journal

On February 15 February 1991 The Wall Street Journal published a letter from Pollard, written to his Rabbi in 1989, in which he stated that:

  • any objective examination of the record will show that no American agent, facility or program was compromised as a result of my actions - not one. But this salient fact was conveniently overlooked by Mr. Weinberger, who felt that I deserved the death penalty for having had the audacity to make Israel "too strong." With reference to the type of intelligence that Pollard turned over to Israel, he stated: The problem ... lay in the fact that many of the photos that I turned over to the Israelis were of a number of Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing plants which the government did not want to admit existed. Why? Well, if no one knew about these facilities the State and Defense Departments would have been spared the embarrassing task of confronting Iraq over its violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which banned the use of chemical weapons in war. You have to remember... that at the time of my sentencing the massacre of Kurdish civilians in Halabja had not yet occurred, and what little concern was being voiced over Iraq's apparent use of poison gas was largely ignored by the administration which did not want to anger the Arab world by criticizing the use of such barbaric weapons against Iran. The photos I gave Israel, though, if "compromised" would have jeopardized the administration's policy of callous indifference to this issue, in that they constituted hard, irrefutable proof that Iraq was indeed engaged in the production and wide scale use of chemical weapons. What the administration was really concerned about was being placed in a position where it would have to admit that it had tacitly condoned the creation of an Iraqi chemical weapons manufacturing capability.[5]

It is notable that nowhere in this letter did Pollard deny illegally providing U.S. intelligence information to a foreign government.


  1. The Facts of the Pollard Case Justice for Jonathan Pollard. Accessed 27 December 2007.
  2. Document: Official Recognition as An Agent by the State of Israel. Accessed 27 December 2007.
  4. Ex-Spy Jonathan Pollard Lands in Israel 35 Years After Arrest Breitbart. Retrieved January 4, 2020.
  5. Pollard, J. "Appeasement of Iraq Made Me A Spy" (1989) Accessed 27 December 2007.

External links