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After 3 Decades Behind Bars, Convicted Spy Jonathan Pollard is Free


Some other news - Jonathan Pollard is free today. He's the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst arrested 30 years ago and convicted of spying for Israel. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Just how much harm Jonathan Pollard did to U.S. national security remains open to debate. At a conference last year, former FBI and military official Spike Bowman described the damage this way.


SPIKE BOWMAN: How much did he give them? By his own admission, he said, I gave them enough information to occupy a space that would be 6 feet by 6 feet by 10 feet.

JOHNSON: Bowman said the Israelis had to install two high-speed photocopiers in an apartment to take care of everything Pollard handed them. Pollard eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government - Israel. In an interview years ago with the CBS show "60 Minutes," Pollard said he had reasons for delivering suitcases of secrets to his handlers.


J. POLLARD: Soft reasons having to do with a family that was destroyed in the Holocaust, having to do with the realization that this government, in the '40s, had abandoned the Jewish people to its fate in Europe.

JOHNSON: The men who investigated Jonathan Pollard aren't buying it. Joseph diGenova was the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., at the time of Pollard's arrest.


JOSEPH DIGENOVA: From the very first meeting with his handlers, until the day he was in prison, it was always about money for Pollard. Any other explanation now is to make himself look better for the history books, all of which will deal with him the way they should. He was a nasty, mean-spirited, conniving American who spied against his country and hurt it gravely.

JOHNSON: Over the years, Pollard became more than a spy to some in the Jewish community here and abroad. Israel made him a citizen while he was incarcerated in a U.S. prison, and its leaders repeatedly pressed the White House to grant him clemency. Former CIA Director George Tenet said he threatened to quit over that idea in the Clinton years.

For its part, the Obama administration refused to pardon Pollard. Instead, the Justice Department decided this year it had no basis to keep him in prison after 30 years, and that paved the way for his release. Pollard's headed to New York where his lawyers found him a job and an apartment. His wife Esther has pleaded with authorities to allow him to live with her in Israel. Here she is speaking at an outdoor news conference this year.


E. POLLARD: I'm counting the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds until I can take him into my arms, and we can close the door on the past behind us.

JOHNSON: Pollard's wife made a last-minute request this month. She said her husband would renounce his U.S. citizenship if he could be allowed to leave for Israel right away. The Justice Department has not responded.

Jane Eisner edits the Forward, a news organization that follows the Jewish community. Eisner points out that Pollard has changed in the past 30 years.

JANE EISNER: He has, over time with a new wife and a new set of supporters, created a different kind of identity for himself. He's much more aligned with a kind of more religious Judaism.

JOHNSON: Eisner says she's not sure what Pollard will do next. But she says she and a lot of people hope he'll go quietly into his new life.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.