WASHINGTON (Dec. 28)
The campaign to win clemency for Jonathan Pollard may have suffered a setback this week with new allegations that the convicted spy disclosed classified information in letters he wrote from prison.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that outgoing Defense Secretary Les Aspin accused Pollard, the former Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, of trying to leak classified information in 14 letters written from his prison cell.
The article cited a Dec. 23 letter to President Clinton from Aspin, who wrote that Pollard continues to be a security risk and should serve the remainder of his life sentence.
The allegations appear in the wake of an intense lobbying effort by the Israeli government and several Jewish groups to have Pollard’s life sentence reduced or commuted.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote a letter to Clinton earlier this year requesting leniency and discussed the matter with the president during a White House meeting in November.
But Pentagon and other government officials have been mounting a strong counter-campaign, arguing that Pollard did grave damage to the nation’s national security and should not be released early.
“The intelligence community clearly wants Pollard to stay in prison,” said Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement.
The new charges are “an 11th-hour effort to stem a tide that has been surging in favor of commutation,” he said.
A report from the Justice Department evaluating the case is expected to be delivered to Clinton within days. Clinton has said that his decision on Pollard will follow soon after he receives the Justice Department’s recommendation.
Tuesday’s article accused Pollard of disclosing information from satellites and electronic eavesdropping devices in letters from prison.
The Justice Department would not comment on what information the letters contained or to whom they were addressed.
NEGATIVE FALLOUT ON CAPITOL HILL
The article is expected to deal a major blow to the efforts of Pollard supporters, who argue that Pollard’s life sentence far exceeds that of others convicted of spying on a U.S. ally.
“The article makes it extremely unlikely that the president will commute the sentence,” said Alfred Moses, national president of the American Jewish Committee.
Moses said his organization, which urged Clinton to assess the fairness of Pollard’s sentence, would withdraw its support of a review if the allegations proved to be true.
Other Jewish groups that have supported Pollard would likely do the same, he said, thereby derailing the entire effort to obtain leniency.
A source close to the case said similar effects would be felt on Capitol Hill, where Pollard has won backing from some lawmakers.
Former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova, who was the chief prosecutor in the Pollard case, said the new allegations against Pollard were not surprising.
“Mr. Pollard has betrayed his own supporters,” he said. “He never had legitimate remorse, and he should never be granted clemency.”
But Pollard’s attorney, Theodore Olson, sharply disputed the allegations and complained about the way they were released.
Aspin is “leaking untrue charges to which Pollard has been given no opportunity to respond,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
“It is appalling that the government of the United States would engage in such underhanded and blatantly outrageous conduct,” he said.
Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York, a leader in Pollard’s fight for leniency, called Aspin’s letter “egregious and outrageous.”
“But one who reads the article subjectively will see what a vendetta there is against this man,” said Weiss, who is national president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha.
Meanwhile, one Jewish organizational official disputed the notion, widely reported in the mainstream news media, that the Jewish community as a whole has been actively lobbying for clemency.
Jerome Chanes, co-director of domestic concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said that while “many Jewish groups are lobbying vigorously in favor of commutation,” most major national agencies have only asked Clinton to review the case.
“There is simply no consensus within the organized Jewish community on the Pollard case,” he said.