Jonathan Pollard Is Sentenced to Life in Prison

March 4, 1987

Jonathan Pollard (shown in the photo) is sentenced to life in prison for espionage. Pollard, a Naval Investigative Service analyst, spied for Israel in 1984 and 1985, providing Israel with nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union.

Stealing an estimated 800 documents and another 1,500 intelligence summaries from the time he was recruited by Israeli Air Force officer Aviam Sella in May 1984, he was arrested with his wife in November 1985 while trying to enter the Israeli Embassy in Washington.  The incident created great strain between the United States and Israel.  In December 1985, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres agreed to allow the Israelis involved in the operation to be questioned by American officials.  In June 1986, Pollard pled guilty to espionage charges in exchange for a limited prison sentence for his wife Annie.

Between June 1986 and his sentencing on March 4, 1987, the US government entered two victim impact statements into the case.  The two statements argued that Pollard had threatened US relations with Arab states and diminished American leverage with Israel.  On March 3, 1987, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger stated to the court, “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

Despite his plea agreement with the government and never having a trial, Pollard was sentenced to the maximum penalty of life in prison and continues to serve. Two separate Israeli investigations found that both Sella and Rafael Eitan, head of an independent intelligence unit, had exceeded their authority in recruiting and working with Pollard. Both investigations criticized the Israeli government for errors in judgment.

In December 2012, newly declassified documents once again raised questions about the severity of Pollard’s sentence and brought new calls for President Obama to commute the sentence. Those in favor of reducing Pollard’s sentence argue that it is not in line with others who had been accused of spying for American allies.

After multiple pleas to have Pollard released from prison, the US Government announces in July 2015, that it will not oppose his parole in November 2015. He is released on November 20, 2015.

Read the newly declassified documents.