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National

Imprisoned Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard To Be Paroled In November

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

After 30 years, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is going free. Pollard was a naval intelligence analyst when he passed classified U.S. documents to Israel. He was sentenced to life, but he will be released on parole in late November. Over the years, Israeli leaders have pressed successive U.S. administrations to release Pollard. And for more on his story, we reached reporter Daniel Estrin, who is in Jerusalem. Good morning.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, remind us just briefly of the background in this case.

ESTRIN: Well, Jonathan Pollard, as you said, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, he was arrested 30 years ago. And interestingly, we still don't know the details of what he turned over to Israel. He pleaded guilty to one count of espionage. But because there was no trial, whatever he did was never made public. But U.S. officials throughout the years have insisted that even though he was giving material to a friendly country, to Israel, he passed along highly sensitive information that harmed U.S. intelligence.

MONTAGNE: How is his release being viewed in Israel? And also, talk to us about the lobbying efforts there to get him out of prison.

ESTRIN: Yeah, there were many years that Israelis did not acknowledge that Pollard was spying for them at all. And so the sense here is that Israel has acknowledged responsibility for dispatching him. So it's Israel's responsibility to seek his release. And that's what Israeli leaders did for many years. And so reaction here is bittersweet. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he's looking forward to his release after so many years in prison and so many years that he lobbied for his release. The deputy foreign minister says this fixes a historic injustice. Israelis say that other Americans who have done similar crimes were released a lot earlier. So she said the U.S. showed no generosity or kindheartedness on the issue.

MONTAGNE: Well, does his release have anything to do with the U.S. trying to placate Israel just after this new nuclear deal with Iran?

ESTRIN: Well, according to the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry, they say there's absolutely no connection. They say Pollard did his time, that the U.S. is releasing him according to federal sentencing guidelines at the time of his sentencing, which means that he would be eligible for parole after he did 30 years in prison. By law, the government could object to his release on two grounds only, his behavior while in prison and whether he would resume his criminal activity if he were released. But the U.S. government says neither of those apply. So there are no grounds to hold him further.

MONTAGNE: And what is expected now for him? Will he go to Israel?

ESTRIN: That appears to be Israel's next battle, to try to bring Pollard here. It's unclear what the conditions of Pollard's parole will be. He may be restricted from travel for a period of time. But Israel gave Pollard citizenship while he was in prison. He has an ex-wife and a current wife, both in Israel. And Israel's deputy foreign minister says Israel will make great efforts so that he can be reunited with his wife in Israel.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That was reporter Daniel Estrin speaking to us from Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.