Speaking to the Boston Globe Tuesday, former CIA officer Bill Harlow said that “the atmosphere has changed in Washington” regarding the possible clemency of Jonathan Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the U.S. for over 25 years on charges of spying for Israel. Harlow, who worked in the Agency when Pollard was imprisoned in 1987, said that the strong opposition of then-CIA head George Tenet to releasing Pollard was particular to a specific time and place.
“Keep in mind his views on Pollard were pertinent to that time,” Harlow told the Globe, discussing the question of whether releasing Pollard at this time would raise the same ire among American officials that it has in the past. The opposition of Tenet and others then, he said, is “not necessarily transferable to the current environment.”
In recent years, several American officials – including former CIA officials – have recommended releasing Pollard. Earlier this year, for example, Lawrence Korb, United States Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Jonathan Pollard affair, appealed to U.S. officials to let Pollard go. Commenting on the issue before a trip to Israel earlier this year, Korb said that Pollard had paid a price for breaeking the law, but there is an element of disproportion in the punishment that “goes against the principles I believe in as an American citizen.”
Besides Korb, Former Head of the CIA James Woolsey has called for Pollard to be released. Speaking at a conference in November, Woolsey said that only spies whose actions resulted in deaths were given the kind of sentence Pollard got.
For “regular” spies, he said, the sentence “is usually is only 6-7 years. And if the fact that that Pollard is Jewish is what bothers the President, then let him pretend that Pollard is a South Korean, a Filipino-American or an ally from somewhere else. But he has been in prison a long time now, and only people like (Aldrich) Ames or (Robert) Hanssen, who got people killed, get a sentence like that... and Pollard didn't do that.”
According to Harlow, many others in Washington have experienced a similar change of heart. Agreeing with him was Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and a former staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Pollard's crime – supplying Israel with information that enabled the IDF to blow up Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor – certainly deserved a punishment of some sort, he said. But the sentence he received was excessive. “He should have gone to jail, no question about that. But not for life,” Codevilla said.
Pollard's former Israeli handler, Rafi Eitan, told Arutz Sheva yesterday that he believed his freedom could be imminent, citing recent diplomatic developments and the fact that Pollard is eligible for parole in 2015. But activists voiced skepticism, saying that due to his poor health he may not survive that long, and insisting he be released immediately.