Lang and the retired intelligence officer believe that the Obama administration knew the decision to parole Pollard would be controversial. Then-President Bill Clinton was forced by an uproar among military and intelligence chiefs in 1998 to back down from a plan to release Pollard as an inducement to then- and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement the Oslo peace agreement.
“There’s no requirement that says that Pollard has to be released,” Lang argued. “I suppose you could argue that the administration did it as a favor to Israel, but what exactly have the Israelis done for us lately?”
The Obama administration insists any change in Pollard’s status is a routine parole issue, unrelated to Israeli requests or any other strategic matters.
“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said in a statement. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.” A Justice Department statement concurred, indicating in a statement that it would not oppose parole, for which Pollard became eligible after 30 years of incarceration.
Current and former U.S. officials opposed to Pollard’s release don’t accept his portrayal by the Israelis and other supporters as an Israeli patriot, noting that Pollard is a U.S. citizen convicted of betraying his country’s secrets in exchange for cash.
“If it were up to me, this man would never see the light of day,” said M.E. “Spike” Bowman, a former senior FBI, National Security Agency and Navy intelligence official who had a key role in the investigation and prosecution of Pollard.
Pollard used his top-secret security clearance to remove documents from his office, offering the purloined intelligence and his services to a number of in addition to Israel, including Australia, South Africa and Pakistan. “Pollard was always scheming, coming up with ways that he could make a lot of money,” Bowman said. “And that’s why he did it. The Israelis were willing to pay him, and that’s what he wanted.”
From June 1984 until his arrest in 1985, Pollard supplied nearly 200,000 intelligence documents to his Israeli contacts. The material included some of the most sensitive material ever passed to a foreign government, including the 10-volume Radio and Signal Intelligence (RASIN) Manual, outlining U.S. signals and satellite capabilities — what intelligence officers refer to as sources and methods or, more commonly, the crown jewels.
At the height of his operation, Pollard was removing two briefcases full of documents every night, delivering them to the Israelis for copying and then returning them to his office the next day.
“The number of documents he took, by his own admission, would fill a space 6 feet by 6 feet and then 10 feet high,” Bowman said. “Pollard gave the Israelis anything and everything they wanted. Eventually, they were just providing him with lists of what they wanted and needed, and he would get it.”
After Pollard’s arrest in 1985, Bowman was tasked with providing an affidavit on the damage Pollard did to U.S. national security to then–Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Reading the document left Weinberger stunned. At one point, according to Bowman, he crossed out the recommendation that Pollard receive a 30 year sentence and substituted his view: Pollard should get the death penalty. “I went back at Weinberger two or three times on this,” Bowman remembered, “telling him that this just wasn’t possible. The death penalty was not then in use. So he finally got the picture.” Reports in the Israeli media and elsewhere have confirmed that Weinberger wanted Pollard executed.
Lang also holds the view shared by a number of top U.S. officials at the time that many of the documents supplied by Pollard to the Israelis were later shared by them with the Soviet Union in exchange for Moscow’s issuing visas to Russian Jews wanting to immigrate to Israel. “What it comes down to is that Pollard spied on us for the Israelis and the Israelis turned over that information to the Russians,” Lang said. “The Israelis even gave the Soviets material that Pollard had provided them on China. I suspect this made interesting reading in Moscow, where they not only were able to tell what we knew about them — they were able to learn what we knew about the Chinese.”
Like Bowman and many others who served in the U.S. intelligence community during the Cold War, Lang vehemently rejected efforts to downplay the damage caused by Pollard. “We were able to do a fairly detailed assessment,” Lang said, “and the damage was significant.” That was a view shared by Weinberger, who told the judge in Pollard’s case that he had difficulty conceiving of “a greater harm to national security than that done by the defendant.”
During his sentencing, Pollard apologized for his actions and told federal Judge Aubrey Robinson that his actions had not harmed U.S. security. At that point, midway through his explanation, Robinson flipped through Bowman’s affidavit and called Pollard forward. Robinson pointed to the page of the affidavit that referred to the RASIN manual. As Bowman remembered it, Robinson pointed to the page of the affidavit and looked at Pollard. “Young man,” Robinson said, “how do you explain this?” Pollard was silent.
In the years since his sentencing, Pollard and his supporters repeated the defense he used before Robinson, adding that he had spied for Israel out of concern for the Jewish state and that the harshness of his sentence was out of proportion to his crime.
Those views are not shared in the U.S. national security establishment. Seven former defense secretaries in 1998 signed a letter opposing Pollard’s release — Frank Carlucci, Dick Cheney, Melvin Laird, Elliot Richardson, Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger and Weinberger. “Releasing Pollard was a bad idea in 1998 & 2001,” Rumsfeld recently stated on Twitter. “It is not a better idea today.”