US releases notorious Israeli spy after 30 years in prison
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was released yesterday after 30 years in a US prison in a case that has strained relations between the two allies.
Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1987 of passing classified information to Israel.
He was released from a federal prison in North Carolina and quickly headed to New York, where he was set up for electronic monitoring as required under his parole, according to spokesmen for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and US Marshals Service.
"I'm sorry, I can't comment on anything today," the 61-year-old Pollard told a swarm of reporters as he exited the courthouse in Manhattan after being fitted for the monitoring.
Pollard's lawyers filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court in New York, seeking to rescind the parole conditions, calling them "onerous and oppressive".
Pollard will be required to wear an electronic bracelet so his movements can be monitored at all times. His computers and those of his employer will be subjected to "unfettered monitoring and inspection", his lawyers said.
In their petition, Pollard's lawyers complained that wearing a GPS monitor would be harmful to his health because he has severe diabetes and suffers chronic swelling in his legs and ankles. They said the computer monitoring was unnecessary because he was no longer in possession of any useful classified information.
As part of his parole, Pollard must remain in the United States for five years, although his lawyers have asked President Barack Obama to allow him to go to Israel immediately.
A US official said Obama did not have any plans to alter the terms of his parole to allow Pollard leave the United States.
The former spy has secured a job with an investment firm in New York City, his lawyers said, but they did not identify the firm.
Pollard, who was granted Israeli citizenship while in prison, has said he wants to emigrate to Israel, where his second wife lives and where he can expect to receive substantial Israeli government back pay.
"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family."
Netanyahu has urged Israelis to stay low key about Pollard's release because of concerns that too warm a celebration might damage efforts to persuade the US government to let him leave for Israel sooner.
Successive US administrations had resisted Israeli calls to show the unrepentant Pollard clemency, though Washington did, at times, consider an early release as part of efforts to revive talks on Palestinian statehood in Israel-occupied territories.
Pollard's supporters have long maintained that he was punished excessively for actions taken on behalf of a US ally.
"I don't think there's any doubt that the crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr Pollard did to the United States government," said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case as US attorney in Washington, DC. "I would have been perfectly pleased if he had spent the rest of his life in jail."
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985, after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli embassy in Washington. US officials said Pollard, over a series of months and for a salary, provided intelligence summaries and huge quantities of classified documents on the capabilities and programmes of Israel's enemies. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage and was given a life sentence a year later.