In a spectacular case of criminally divided loyalties, Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison 23 years ago for selling to Israel some of America's most guarded secrets. Ever since, Israeli leaders, including current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have lobbied for his release. Now Pollard himself is asking too. His lawyers and the Justice Department tell NEWSWEEK that he would like President Bush to commute his sentence to time served—the first time Pollard has submitted such a request. He's already figured out what he plans to do if the president grants his wish. "Upon his release, he intends to work on helping to develop alternative sources of energy so that the U.S. can reduce its dependence on foreign oil," Pollard's pro bono attorney, Jacques Semmelman, said in an e-mail. Pollard studied political science before taking his civilian job with the Navy in 1979.
Much of the U.S. intelligence community remains against a commutation. Pollard, a Jewish American, says he acted out of concern for Israel's security after noticing that potentially vital information was not being shared with the Jewish state. But Ronald Olive, the former Navy counterintelligence officer who oversaw the investigation against Pollard, says the spy handed over hundreds of thousands of secret documents, including information on sources and methods of intelligence gathering. "He gave Israel the ability to analyze the holes and weaknesses in our security system," Olive says. He said Pollard would automatically be eligible for early release for good behavior in 2015.
But former CIA director James Woolsey told NEWSWEEK he would support Pollard's release on two conditions: that he show contrition and renounce any profits from books or other projects linked to the case. In the mid-1990s, Woolsey advised President Bill Clinton to dismiss appeals by Israeli leaders on Pollard's behalf. But at that point, Pollard had been behind bars for just a decade. "We're now coming up on a quarter of a century," Woolsey said, a duration typically reserved for "only the hard-line Soviet bloc spies." (When Pollard was caught in 1985, Israel initially described his operation as rogue but then made him a citizen.) He said Pollard's release would send the right message at a time when Hamas is firing rockets on Israel. Semmelman would not say if Pollard's petition for early release contained an expression of remorse. The White House refuses to comment on pardon and commutation requests.