NEW YORK (EJP)---The former head of the CIA executed a career u-turn on Wednesday with a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he called for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to be released, insinuating that the reason he has yet to be freed is that “he’s an American Jew”.
In a controversial twist to the case, which has received increased media coverage recently due to reports of Pollard’s ill health and lobbying by Israeli officials, James Woolsey implied that political reasons may be behind successive governments’ refusal to release the former spy:
“For those hung up for some reason on the fact that he’s an American Jew, pretend he’s a Greek – or Korean – or Filipino-American and free him,” he wrote.
As CIA director in the early 1990s, Woolsey advised the then-President Bill Clinton’s administration against issuing Pollard clemency, but now believes that as the American has shown remorse and vowed to cooperate with the US government, his life sentence should be commuted to the 26 years he has already served.
Attributing his about-face to “the passage of time”, he expanded that of “the more than 50 recently convicted Soviet bloc and Chinese spies, only two—Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen—also received life sentences, and two-thirds of these some-50 enemy spies served or have been sentenced to less time than Pollard has already served".
He concluded there was “absolutely no reason” why Pollard should be imprisoned for “substantially longer than spies from other friendly, allied and neutral countries”.
Ahead of last month’s state visit to Washington by Israeli President Shimon Peres, nearly 70,000 Israelis signed a petition calling on the statesman to use the opportunity of his trip to lobby for Pollard’s release. Responding to the petition, which was signed by Israeli dignitaries including former president Yitzchak Navon and leftwing authors Amos Oz and David Grossman, Peres vowed before his departure to “raise the issue” in conversation with his US counterpart Barack Obama.
“The decision is not in my hands but I will do my best. We want the man to be free but publicity does not always help,” he added.
Meanwhile, ahead of the Israeli president’s arrival, White House spokesman Jay Carney issued a warning that “the public shouldn’t expect any surprises on this issue”, adding: “Our position has not changed and will not change today. Mr Pollard was convicted of extremely serious crimes.”
Earlier this week, Peres met with Pollard’s wife Esther, for the first time, since returning from Washington, where he was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama in a White House ceremony. Speaking from Jerusalem, the Israeli vowed to continue working to promote Pollard’s release.
Pollard, a former US navy analyst, was convicted of passing thousands of secret documents about American intelligence activities in the Arab world to Israel between May 1984 and his arrest in November 1985.
He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and was officially recognised by the Jewish state as an Israeli spy in 1998.
Israelis have insisted that Pollard's punishment and the long-standing US refusal to reduce his sentence have been particularly harsh, considering that he gave information to a friendly nation.