There was a great exchange on Wolf Blitzer the other night between Rep Eliot Engel, a cosponsor of the most recent bill to get Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard released, and the prosecutor in the original case, Joseph di Genova, a former US Attorney for DC who prosecuted Pollard on the topic. It’s here.
The remarkable aspect of this exchange: Engel stuck robotically to his script – Pollard received the harshest sentence ever for someone spying for a “friendly” country. The gestalt: Pollard is the victim and so is Israel, because the U.S. was holding out on them on vital intelligence.
Watching Engel was pathetic because he clearly had no depth on this issue. Di Genova set him straight on a lot of the facts that he had wrong about the case, especially the late Caspar Weinberger’s role in the harsh sentence. What was even more interesting, from my view, was the effect Engel’s behavior had on di Genova. My sense is that di Genova at the beginning of the exchange was sort of sympathetic to the view that Pollard had served enough time – recall as prosecutor he was willing to let Pollard cop a plea for less than the maximum sentence but the judge in the case ignored his recommendation and imposed it. But by the end of the exchange, di Genova was so ticked off with Engel’s bloviating on this issue that he had clearly shifted to the “let Pollard rot camp.”
Di Genova pointed out that Pollard has never applied for parole. My sense is that he has not done so because he would have to agree to work with the Intelligence Community on a damage assessment. He also pointed out that Pollard had secretly taken Israeli citizenship and $500k in exchange for a 10 year deal with the Israelis to keep spying. Finally, what di Genova did not mention, but I have read and heard from very senior counterintelligence people involved in the case, is that our “friend” Israel took some of the most sensitive material Pollard gave them and traded it to the Soviets in exchange for the release of Soviet Jews.
For intelligence professionals, the Pollard case is like the Liberty attack: An open sore that the lobby keeps picking. My take away from last night’s exchange is that Engel’s ham-handed and lunk-headed approach will ensure this sore continues to fester.