Magazine | July 7, 2014, Issue


Pollard’s Punishment

I have been reading National Review since I was a teenager and mostly respect and admire your writers and appreciate your professionalism. However, the short paragraph about Jonathan Pollard (The Week, May 5) was both inaccurate and inflammatory.

Having written a Fordham Law Review note on the subject of disclosing classified information to criminal-defense counsel, I have researched Pollard’s case extensively. Your statements that his was “one of the most serious espionage operations in modern American history” and that he received “a fitting punishment” belie your ignorance on the subject. Former senior government officials who know all the facts evidently disagree with you, as they have called publicly for Pollard’s release. They include George Shultz, Robert McFarlane, Henry Kissinger, Michael Mukasey, and Dan Quayle.

In fact, Pollard’s sole indictment was one count of passing classified information — and it was to an ally. He is the only person in the history of the U.S. to receive a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally. Many spies who committed more egregious crimes, such as transmitting information to hostile entities and thereby directly endangering the lives of Americans, have received far lesser punishments than Pollard’s.

One of many such examples is that of Hassan Abu-Jihaad. While serving in the U.S. Navy, Abu-Jihaad relayed to al-Qaeda information regarding the position of his battleship, endangering the lives of thousands of U.S. sailors. Abu-Jihaad was ultimately charged with transmitting classified information to unauthorized people (as well as supporting terrorism in an unrelated crime) and was sentenced to a mere ten years.

Pollard sent classified documents to an ally in an attempt to warn it about impending danger to its citizens. He pled guilty and received a life sentence. One may reasonably argue that he deserved to serve time in prison for that decision; it would be unreasonable to conclude that his was a far worse crime than that of Abu-Jihaad.

Rachel S. Holzer

Miami, Fla.

The Editors respond: Our characterization of the seriousness of Pollard’s perfidy rests on the assertion by the U.S. government in Pollard’s trial that “the breadth and volume of the U.S. classified information sold by [Pollard] to Israel was enormous, as great as in any reported case involving espionage on behalf of any foreign nation.” This puts it in the pantheon of most serious espionage operations, it seems, and we made no claim about its being the most serious or more serious than any other particular operation.

The government went on to explain — convincingly, in our view — why selling such information to an ally is really no less deserving of punishment than passing it to an enemy. Pollard didn’t seem to mind the difference either: He also expressed interest in spying for decidedly less friendly countries, including Pakistan and South Africa.

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