Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to be released

Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to be released
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A former U.S, intelligence agent convicted to a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel against the United States will be released later this year.

The Justice Department confirmed on Tuesday that Jonathan Pollard has been granted parole and will be released from a North Carolina medium-security prison on Nov. 21, which will be exactly 30 years after his Nov. 21, 1985, arrest.

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“The Department of Justice has always maintained that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence, as mandated by statute, ending Nov. 21, 2015,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement.

The scheduled release for Pollard turns the page on what has been a point of tension between the U.S. and Israel and comes amid increased friction over the multinational nuclear accord with Iran, which has been condemned by Israeli leaders.

The White House insisted that there was no link between Pollard’s release and the Iran deal or any other foreign policy matter.

“Mr. Pollard’s status was determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures, and the Parole Commission’s decision was in no way linked to foreign policy considerations,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said in a statement.“Mr. Pollard will serve his sentence as mandated by statute for the very serious crimes he committed.”

While working as a Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed top-secret documents out of the U.S. government and into the hands of Israel. Pollard, 60, is the only American ever sentenced to life in prison for spying on behalf of a U.S. ally.

He became eligible for parole 30 years after his conviction, and scrutiny had mounted ahead of the November deadline.

Earlier this week, conservative Orthodox Jewish rabbi Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told The Hill that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had told him that Pollard was on his way to being released, but he had held his tongue until a Wall Street Journal story stoked speculation about his future. 

Pollard had previously been considered a possible bargaining chip during the Obama administration’s attempts at Israeli-Palestinian peace, but those actions eventually came to naught amid opposition from Capitol Hill.

Lawyers representing Pollard told the Journal on Tuesday that the terms of his parole will require Pollard to stay in the U.S. for five years, though President Obama has the power to step in and grant clemency allowing him to move to Israel before that date. 

Baskey, the National Security Council spokesman, said that Obama “has no intention of altering the terms of Mr. Pollard’s parole.”

Israel has long placed a premium on freeing Pollard, but his name still sparks ire in U.S. intelligence circles. 

“While many people in the intelligence community today weren't around when this happened, there's a long institutional memory,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “And he is not very highly regarded, I'll put it that way, by members of the intelligence community.”

- Last updated at 10:54 p.m.