OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Possible Pollard release riles Congress

The Topline: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle slammed the potential U.S. release of Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel who has been imprisoned for decades.

The heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees both criticized the potential deal that would see Pollard released as a way to jumpstart the Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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“It’s one thing if this is product of a settlement agreement, then you could say there’s a greater good that comes of it, but to do it now is something that I would never agree to,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill.

“This is a man who received a lot of money for taking literally suitcases of material and trying to sell it not only to Israel but other countries as well,” she said. “And I think the Intelligence Community views it as a massive, massive betrayal.”

Even senators who say they support Pollard’s release after serving a prison sentence of nearly three decades argue that he shouldn’t be released just to jumpstart the talks.

“I think Mr. Pollard should be released but it should not have anything to do with a meaningless resumption of negotiations,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). 

The White House said that President Obama had not made a decision to release Pollard, and downplayed the notion that a deal was close.

“There is no agreement at this time,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “There are a lot of possibilities.”

Pollard was convicted in 1985 of providing Israeli agents with classified U.S. government material. He was working as a civilian U.S. Navy analyst at the time.

Pollard’s supporters have argued he did not provide Israel with any information about U.S. security or defenses, and that Israel had not sought that kind of intelligence.

Still, his release remains controversial; intelligence officials have argued that the spying had a serious cost, and that there was no guarantee that the documents he gave the Israelis wouldn’t end up in Soviet hands.

“As a former [Office of Naval Intelligence] ONI reservist, I would hope that he would kind of rot in hell in jail for a long time,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

Some lawmakers argued that he has served out his punishment and should be released.

“I’ve always felt that he did a bad thing. He should serve time in jail. But the sentence has been disproportionate to others who have done the same,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate who is staunchly pro-Israel. “So I would welcome it.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also said that he felt Pollard’s sentence was “excessive.”

House budget boosts defense spending: The Pentagon’s budget would get a $483 billion boost above the sequester caps over the next decade under the House’s spending plan released Tuesday.

The House budget busts the spending caps under sequestration by nearly $500 billion, returning Pentagon spending to pre-sequester levels starting in 2017.

The added defense dollars are offset by non-defense discretionary cuts, making the budget plan a non-starter with Democrats.

The plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) does adhere to the $521 billion defense budget cap agreed to in last December’s budget deal for 2015.

The Pentagon’s budget also met the $521 billion cap, although a $26 billion “wish list” was also submitted.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said it “moves us in the right direction” to address critical military shortfalls.

NATO suspends military relationship with Russia: NATO suspended its military relationship with Russia on Tuesday, the transatlantic alliance announced.

“We have decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia,” said a statement by NATO foreign ministers.

“Our political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council can continue, as necessary, at the ambassadorial level and above, to allow us to exchange views, first and foremost on this crisis. We will review NATO’s relations with Russia at our next meeting in June.”

Despite reports that a Russian battalion had pulled back from the eastern border of Ukraine, Pentagon officials said they had not yet seen any evidence of any such withdrawal.

“We have not seen any indications of a troop withdrawal on the eastern border," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Tuesday.

He did say there has been some troop movements, but downplayed the possibility it was related to any kind of a withdrawal.  

“We have seen a unit moving along the eastern border — movement that you would expect to see in this situation. ... There’s naturally going to be movement of resupply, of small and medium size units. This is going to be routine in a large troop deployment of this nature,” he said.

Warren said there was also no evidence of any exercises taking place either, despite Russian officials saying the troop-building along Ukraine’s borders was intended to carry out springtime exercises.

However, he added, “If the reports are true, we would welcome that as a step in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, U.S. senior defense officials are in Kiev, to discuss ways to build the U.S.-Ukraine military relationship.

Pentagon Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasian Policy Evelyn Farkas and European Command Director for Strategy and Policy Maj. Gen. Randy Kee met with the Ukrainian defense minister to discuss “areas for growth” in the defense relationship.

The last round of talks occurred last March.

Dempsey preparing for the zombie apocalypse?: After reading Max Brooks’s zombie thriller “World War Z,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey asked the service chiefs what the Pentagon would do in the event of a zombie attack.

“They said, ‘what are you talking about?’ ” he told West Point cadets last week, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Dempsey said there was a worthy moral question posed by the book, tougher than what today’s military leaders face.

“The nation has to actually decide to give away everything east of the Rockies and essentially set up a fortress on the west side of the Rockies to protect what they could, what remained of the American population,” Dempsey said. 

“Think about being faced with that,” he said. 

 

In Case You Missed It:

— Kerry downplays idea of Pollard deal

— Pentagon: No evidence of Russian withdrawal

— Intel probe: CIA misled on interrogation program

— Congress not eager for more US troops in Europe

— Navy pressed to end tobacco sales at sea

 

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