Convicted spy Pollard to be paroled Nov. 21

WASHINGTON — Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for nearly three decades, will be paroled Nov. 21, officials said Tuesday.

Pollard, 61, was granted parole by a 3-0 vote Tuesday by the U.S. Parole Commission. Eliot Lauer, one of Pollard’s lawyers, said he was informed of the panel’s decision early Tuesday afternoon.

“We are very, very grateful,” Lauer said.

Lauer said he expects Pollard to be freed Nov. 20 because releases are usually done on Fridays, since the date of the spy’s actual release is a Saturday. The attorney also said he may ask President Obama to expedite the release via clemency.

“We have not made the application, but this is definitely something we would consider,” Lauer said. “I would hope that the president would do it on his own.

“Is there really any purpose for him staying in jail for another four months?” Lauer said.

Over the years, members of the defense and intelligence communities have strongly opposed Pollard’s release. Former  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted Tuesday that “releasing Pollard was a bad idea in 1998 2001. It is not a better idea today.”

Under federal guidelines at the time of Pollard’s case, a person serving a life sentence is eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission “determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime.”

U.S. officials have indicated that they would not challenge Pollard’s release by asserting those provisions.

Pollard, a U.S. Navy Investigative Service analyst convicted of spying for Israel, was sentenced to life in prison following his 1985 arrest. Working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy at the time of his arrest, Pollard pleaded guilty to selling classified information to Israel.

The news of Pollard’s imminent release surfaces amid friction between the Obama administration and Israel over the Iran nuclear agreement and other issues. Obama administration officials, however, said Pollard is a criminal justice issue, not a diplomatic one.

Alistair Baskey, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Pollard’s status “will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” and added that “there is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”

Lauer said the Iran deal had “nothing to do” with the parole that he and others have pursued through normal channels for months.

“I don’t expect anyone to object to this,” the attorney said. “The Parole Commission has the final say.”

“We will follow whatever conditions the Parole Commission sets,” Lauer said.

Aaron David Miller,  a former Middle East negotiator for Democratic and Republican administrations, said he would be surprised if Pollard’s parole is part of a diplomatic effort by the Obama administration.

For one thing, he noted, there are American hostages in Iran. It would look bad if the Obama administration fixed Pollard’s release before getting back those Americans.

Also, evidence of a deal involving Pollard would likely bring internal criticism to  Netanyahu, an outspoken foe of the Iran deal.

“He would have to fight harder against the agreement,” said Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Miller also said he doubts that Pollard’s release will do much to ease friction between U.S. and Israeli governments that have clashed over settelements and Palestinian policies as well as Iran.

“Will this eliminate one irritant? Yes,” Miller said. “Will it fundamentally improve the dysfunctional relationship between Obama and Netanyahu? No.”

In Israel, where the commission’s decision was widely broadcast Tuesday evening, many expressed relief.

Avi Hyman, a public relations consultant, asserted that Pollard “should have been freed long ago.”

“It’s high time he be permitted to come and live as a free man in Israel, the country that he dedicated his life to protect,” Hyman said.

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Michele Chabin contributed from Jerusalem.