There seems to be a steadily growing chorus (including Mr. Netanyahu's government) clamoring for the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, a Naval Intelligence analysis who in 1986 was convicted of handing over to the Israeli government highly classified information. (And this, apparently, after a series of incidents in which he tried to set up deals with agents of other countries.) By all accounts, the damage that he did to US military intelligence was huge. Philip Giraldi, a former counter-terrorist expert and analyst with the CIA, puts it plainly:
Pollard did more damage to the United States than any spy in history. And it was genuine damage, not just a mass of documents that had been routinely classified. Pollard’s Israeli handler, aided by someone in the White House who has up until now evaded arrest, was able to ask for specific classified documents by name and number. The Soviets obtained US war plans, passed to them by the Israelis in exchange for money and free emigration of Russian Jews without any regard for the damage it was doing to the United States. The KGB was able to use the mass of information to reconstruct US intelligence operations directed against it and a number of Americans and US agents paid with their lives. Pollard also revealed to the Israelis and Soviets the technical and human source capabilities that US intelligence did and did not have, which is the most critical information of all as it underlies all information collection efforts. Compounding the problem, the United States has never actually been able to accurately ascertain all of the damage done by Pollard because the Israeli government has refused to cooperate in the investigation and has not returned the documents that were stolen.
Israel granted him citizenship in the 1990s, even as he was in prison. A public square in Israel is named after him.
Yet a few days ago, the LA Times published an op-ed piece by Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan administration official, pleading for Pollard's release on essentially humanitarian grounds, as well as on the basis of the claim made by former CIA head James Woolsey (one of the more extreme neocons and American Likudniks of the 1990s and post 9-11 era, I might note, as well as a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy - DC's most pro-Zionist think-tank and the Project for the New American Century) that the information Pollard sold never made it into the hands of Soviet agents, as Giraldi claims. In fact, Bill Clinton came close to making a deal with Israel to release Pollard in hopes of advancing a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians - only to back off when CIA chief George Tenet threatened to resign.
Obama is getting pressure to make a similar deal, for similar reasons. He shouldn't. For one thing, whatever Obama might get for Pollard's release won't be anywhere near enough to produce an actual deal. (Netanyahu might offer some prolongation of the already expired settlement freeze; but don't hold your breath.) Meanwhile, a US citizen who spied for a foreign power that claims to be a US ally, and whose actions imperiled US security and possibly caused the deaths of CIA assets, would be welcomed to Israel with open arms and honored as a national hero. Some of Obama's current foes might praise him for supposedly doing the right thing, but I suspect that far more of his foes, and his friends (including members of the current US intelligence establishment) would revile him for giving into Netanyahu, who's already shown himself quite capable of dissing an American president. Any shreds of credibility that Obama might still have as a strong leader on the international scene would vanish.