Why Is the Navy Stonewalling on the Pollard Case?

August 22, 1997 - Richard Z. Chesnoff - The New York Daily News

An open letter to John Dalton, Secretary of the Navy

Dear Mr. Secretary:

You may remember our meeting last May. The fleet was in town and you came by to brief the Daily News editorial board about the state of the Navy. I took the opportunity to ask you about one of the Navy's biggest bogeymen: Jonathan Pollard -- the former Naval intelligence aide who was caught passing US security information to Israel 13 years ago and is now serving a life sentence in the federal prison at Butner, North Carolina.

Pollard broke the law and he clearly deserved to be soundly, if reasonably punished for that. No question. But he doesn't deserve to be treated like the Man in the Iron Mask. So my question to you was why the Navy was making it impossible for me or any other journalist to interview prisoner Pollard without compromising our civil rights and the basic rules of free press; specifically, without turning over interview tapes and interview notebooks to the U.S. government. What could Jonathan Pollard possibly reveal after 13 years in jail that might endanger US security?

I also wanted to know why Pollard had become such a mega-villain for both the Navy and the Washington intelligence community? Why a man who'd helped Israel with strategic information about Iraq and other enemies, received so tough a sentence, while another navy officer who sold secret data to Saudi Arabia was merely discharged from the service. Why turncoats like the army's Robert Lipka, who spied for our Soviet enemies, recently received an 18 year sentence, while Pollard, who spied for an American ally was condemned to life behind bars, the harshest sentence ever meted out in such a case. Why the US railroaded Pollard into a plea-bargain during his trial, then threw the book and the entire bookcase at him. Some bargain: life in prison.

At the time, Mr. Secretary, amazingly you expressed unfamiliarity with the Pollard case. But you promised to look into it. And in front of me and my Daily News colleagues, you ordered your senior public affairs aide, Capt. Charles Connor, to investigate and get back to me.

I'm still waiting. Despite months of calls to the Pentagon, both to Capt. Connor, to his successor Capt. Michael John, and to Commander Frank Thorp of Media Operations, all I've received are the stones the Navy keeps piling on its increasingly high stonewall.

The US Navy isn't the only one stonewalling. The Israeli government, which has never acknowledged Pollard as anything more than an employee of "a rogue operation" (and did nothing to bring him out of the cold), still seems to do little to plead his case. Despite promises by Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and now Benjamin Netanyahu to seek US presidential clemency for Pollard, Pollard's problems appear to have moved to Israel's backburners. So much so, that he's now suing in an Israeli court, demanding the Israelis acknowledge he was their spy!

The American Jewish community has also failed to do all that it could to help. Some communal leaders actively seek clemency. But most tsk-tsk about Pollard's plight, then do nothing. And many in the mainstream community still cringe with embarrassment when they hear his name.

Pollard has expressed remorse for what he did. All he asks now is to receive clemency and be allowed to immigrate to Israel and live out his life there -- the type of arrangement we've made in the past for people who spied not for our friends, but for our enemies.

There seem to be hidden agendas here, implications about details that haven't been revealed, hints -- but never any evidence or even specific charges -- that somehow Pollard endangered lives. When a senior White House official was asked about the case, he warned the questioner: "don't push-- you don't want to know". Well, we do want to know. If there's more to the Pollard case than has been publicly revealed, then release it. If there isn't, then release Pollard.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours respectfully,

Richard Z. Chesnoff

  • See also: Jonathan Pollard - Still The Man In The Iron Mask