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Calls To Free Spy Jonathan Pollard Grow Louder


Free Jonathan Pollard - that's something President Obama is expected to hear in Israel. In the 1980s, Pollard was a young, Jewish-American intelligence analyst who spied for Israel. He pleaded guilty; and after an alarming victim-impact statement from then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, claiming how much damage Pollard's spying had done, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Calls for Pollard's release are not new. What is new is how many Israelis and Americans have joined in the call, including people who used to oppose any leniency or early release for Jonathan Pollard. One such person joins us now. R. James Woolsey was director of Central Intelligence in the Clinton administration. He's in New York, and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: You opposed - or used to oppose Pollard's release. What's different now?

WOOLSEY: Passage of time. In - 20 years ago, when I'd just taken over as director of Central Intelligence in the Clinton administration, the White House asked several of us what we thought about clemency for Pollard. And I said I thought he had not been in prison long enough for the seriousness of what he had done. It had been about eight years, at that point.

But now, 20 years later, he's been in prison solidly over a quarter of a century. And the only spies who are sentenced to - that way are basically, people like Ames and Hanssen, who got Americans killed and spied for an enemy. We've had several spies for friendly countries - we've had a Greek-American spy; we've had a Filipino-American spy; we had a South Korean-American spy - and they get sentenced to four to five years, six - seven, in one case - but not 28.

SIEGEL: Since prosecutors in the Pollard case claimed that he spied not just out of love of Israel, but for money; and that he was willing to sell things, they said, to Pakistan and to South Africa; does that put him in a different category from spies for friendly nations, and into the category of mercenaries who might have sold anything?

WOOLSEY: Well, most spies, there's a mixture. Sometimes, the notion of allegiance is overriding and sometimes, money is; and sometimes, it's a mixture. But whatever his motivation and however it mixed, Pollard didn't end up getting - as far as I know - American agents killed the way Ames and Hanssen did, and the way people who've been sentenced to life in prison.

SIEGEL: We should say he was - Pollard was delivering classified documents by the valise load, every couple of weeks.

WOOLSEY: Yes, it was a lot of material. It was a serious spy case; there's no doubt about that. I don't mean to diminish that at all by saying that 28 years is enough.

SIEGEL: One thing that's different about the Pollard case from either the Hanssen case or the Aldrich Ames case - or the other friendly nation spying cases - is, it relates to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. And for some American Jews, Jonathan Pollard was a poster child for everything that they do not want to be thought of the American Jewish community - that it tolerates dual loyalties, and doing things for Israel that are contrary to U.S. interests. You've encountered this argument, making the case...

WOOLSEY: Well, yes. Israel's on the front lines and - whereas we've had a formal alliance with Greece since NATO was formed; we've had one with the Philippines for 60-some years, and with South Korea for 50, 60 years; formal alliances, and we don't really have one of those with Israel. We just have a great deal of ties and close feeling, and strong sense of support. I really take the view now that if someone says he should not be released after 28 years, just pretend that he's a Filipino-American or a Greek-American and pardon him. I see no reason why people should treat a Jewish-American who spied for Israel on those grounds, more harshly than they treat a Filipino-American who spied for the Philippines, or a South Korean-American who spied for South Korea.

SIEGEL: Mr. Woolsey, thank you very much for talking with us today.

WOOLSEY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's R. James Woolsey, who is the former director of Central Intelligence in the Clinton administration. He was talking about the case of Jonathan Pollard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.