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Life Term for Spy?

Aired September 1, 2003 - 19:35   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard will appear in court tomorrow, trying to win the right to appeal his life sentence. He was convicted in 1987 of passing U.S. secrets to a foreign power.
But as CNN national security correspondent David Ensor reports, even though this is Pollard's first public appearance in 16 years, who he was spying for has kept his case in the spotlight.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jonathan Pollard has now served nearly 18 years of a life sentence for spying against the United States on behalf of a friendly nation, Israel.

JOSEPH DIGENOVA, U.S. ATTORNEY: Mr. Pollard, I believe, will not see the light of day.

ENSOR: The prosecutor welcomed the life sentence imposed after then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told the court it was difficult to conceive of greater damage to national security. But Pollard's lawyers and supporters argue the punishment far exceeds the crime.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: No doubt about it, he should not have passed those documents to our ally, Israel. But it is certainly not something that rose to the level that Caspar Weinberger alleged it did.

ENSOR: U.S. intelligence officials though argue Pollard is a spy whose sentence should not be reconsidered.

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: With respect to Mr. Pollard, I have agreed to review this matter seriously.

ENSOR: Five years ago when then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convinced President Clinton to consider a pardon, U.S. officials say CIA Director George Tenet privately told Mr. Clinton he would have to resign if Pollard's sentence was changed. Richard Haver was a naval intelligence officer who worked on the case.

RICHARD HAVER, FMR. U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Pollard is a traitor to the United States. He's also, as far as I'm concerned, would have compromised the Israelis in a heartbeat, too, if it had struck him as something that he wanted to do because that was -- that's the history of Pollard when you look at it. He is now reinvented himself as a great Jewish patriot and tried to present that to the people.

ENSOR: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials say there are indications that top secret satellite and signals intelligence Pollard gave to Israel ended up in the hands of the Soviet Union. Pollard's motive, they say, was money. Pure and simple. There is evidence, they say that Pollard also approached Pakistan, South Africa and others, offering classified materials for sale.

WEINER: There has never been anywhere in the court documents or anywhere else the allegation that he spied for anyone else. But this is what Jonathan Pollard is up against. He's sitting in a jail cell in a maximum security cell, while members of the intelligence community, some of which are only tangentially connected to this are essentially free to say whatever they want.

ENSOR (on camera): Some U.S. intelligence officials say that if Israel was ever willing to detail the documents and intelligence that Pollard stole, then officials here might be willing to drop their strong opposition to letting him go.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.


O'BRIEN: Elliott Goldenberg wrote the book "The Hunting Horse: The Truth behind the Jonathan Pollard Case." He joins this evening from Miami.

Good evening. Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: I'm well, thank you. And thank you for joining us.

Even Pollard's attorneys admit he spied for Israel. So what do you think are the grounds for cutting his sentence short?

GOLDENBERG: I'm sorry?

O'BRIEN: Are you having trouble with audio?


O'BRIEN: Let me repeat my question for you. Even Pollard's attorneys would say, yes, he spied for Israel. So give me a sense of why you think his sentence should be cut short?

GOLDENBERG: Well, you know, first of all, he spied for an American ally. He was the only person in the history of the United States, who ever got a life sentence for spying for an ally. It's never happened before. No sentence has ever been close to that. So there is more to this case than meets the eye. That's for sure.

O'BRIEN: Pollard supporters, and we have to include you among that group, believe he is an idealist, a patriot. You don't see him in any way as a traitor to this country?

GOLDENBERG: Well, you know, he certainly was never even accused of treason. He was accused of passing one -- he was passing classified information to an American ally in the so-called Weinberger memo, which was given to Judge Aubrey Robinson after the damage assessment report.

It -- words like treasonous conduct were used which implied that Pollard committed treason. There's really a lot to this. As far as spying for, you know, his information, winding up in the hands of the Soviets, there's never been any proof of that. The person who did the damage assessment report on Pollard that was read by Caspar Weinberger or allegedly did the damage assessment report was none other than Aldridge Hayes and Ames, who was the head of Soviet and Eastern bloc counterintelligence for the CIA.

So it was a perfect frame. I mean, here's Ames trying to protect himself. And does he does the damage assessment report on Pollard that's read by Weinberger. And by -- and there were certain Soviet -- there were certain spies working behind the iron curtain that we did lose. They were rolled up, meaning they were executed.

The thing is, who gave up these people? Whose information caused these people to be killed? Well, Ames admitted that it was his information after his arrest. And after the arrest of spy Robert Hansen, the FBI spy, that was verified. So it seems that Pollard...

O'BRIEN: Ames is...

GOLDENBERG: I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you. I just want to make a point that Aldrich Ames was convicted, as you say, and is serving a life in prison sentence.


O'BRIEN: Elliott Goldenberg, we're out of time, but I do want to thank you for joining us this evening.

GOLDENBERG: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it.

GOLDENBERG: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You are most welcome.

Our own Wolf Blitzer not only covered the Pollard story for CNN, but he also interviewed Pollard and wrote a book about him "The Territory of Lies: The Exclusive Story of Jonathan J. Pollard."

Wolf's taking a little break from prepping for the 8:00 show tonight, to give us a little perspective.

You've heard what Elliott had to say. He basically says that he doesn't think Pollard merits life in prison because was spying, yes, but for an ally. Do the critics of Pollard see the difference and shades there?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Look, the damage that Pollard did to the United States is not as bad as his worst enemies would suggest, but it's not as lenient as some of his supporters would suggest.

Pollard pleaded guilty to spying for Israel. There's no doubt about that. There was no trial. He pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain agreement with a then U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Joe Digenova.

He was promised a substantial, a significant sentence, but his lawyers were assured as part of the agreement he would not get the maximum sentence, which was life in prison.

So the attorneys themselves, the U.S. attorney Joe Digenova agreed he wouldn't get the maximum sentence. At the same time, when Judge Aubrey Robinson, the federal judge, heard the evidence and the Weinberger document, as Elliott Goldenberg points out, was a significant piece of evidence, it's still classified all these years later. The judge on his own decided to throw out the plea agreement and give him life because he was so outraged by the damage he believed Pollard caused the United States.

O'BRIEN: Israeli leaders, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, have all said that they would like to see a release or a cut in the sentence. Does the U.S. government take these pleas with any weight, any merit, do you think?

BLITZER: They take them very seriously. And when I covered the White House, Bill Clinton was pressed repeatedly by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders to do something to let Pollard get a reduced sentence.

I have so to say when all of those reviews were done, there was some mixed analysis between the civilians and the military. People in the U.S. intelligence community, though, by and large still hate Jonathan Pollard. And as George Tenet made clear to Bill Clinton if Bill Clinton would have reduced the sentence, he would have resigned as director of the CIA. And there's still a lot of hard feelings 18 years later.

O'BRIEN: Clearly a very touchy subject. Wolf Blitzer, thanks again. As we mentioned you're preparing for the 8:00 show. So we certainly appreciate you stopping by. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.


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