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Jonathan Pollard and the Rosenbergs

Jonathan Pollard’s case has been in the news again.

While working as a civilian Naval intelligence analyst in the mid 1980’s, Pollard, an American citizen, spied for Israel. He was caught in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation against parole. Recent media reports indicate that Secretary of State Kerry has offered to send Pollard to Israel in exchange for Israeli concessions to restart the failing “peace process” between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government.

I’ve been asked many times about the parallels between the Pollard and Rosenberg cases. I think there are both similarities and differences.

In both cases, the defendants were over-sentenced. The rationale for my parents’ execution was that they stole what the prosecution called “the secret of the atomic bomb.” We now know that Julius facilitated the transfer of non-atomic information to the Soviet Union, and that Ethel did not actively participate in any espionage. Pollard faced one charge; passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. Nevertheless, in apparent response to a 46-page still-classified memorandum from then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, he received a life sentence.

In both cases, the defendants were charged with spying for an ally. My parents were charged with conspiring to commit espionage for the Soviet Union when they were our ally during World War II. A website supportive of Pollard notes: “No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally – only Jonathan Pollard.” While this is technically correct, since it ignores that my parents received an even harsher sentence for aiding an ally, it is misleading.

There are differences as well. Pollard disclosed what he did to the U.S. government in exchange for leniency he did not receive, while my parents steadfastly refused to cooperate and denied all the charges against them. Although Pollard did not implicate others, his cooperation makes him more like David and Ruth Greenglass than my parents. The Greenglasses testified against my parents in exchange for Ruth’s freedom and a shorter prison sentence for David. The government evidently reneged on its agreement with Pollard, but kept its deal with the Greenglasses.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Pollard wasn’t killed, and so it is possible that he will ultimately be released.

There is one final similarity. Although my parents were not charged with treason, the prosecution, the judge, and the media all acted as if my parents had been convicted of that offense. In Pollard’s case, Secretary Weinberger submitted a supplemental 4-page sentencing memorandum that labeled Pollard’s actions treason. The judge apparently based his sentence upon that, and some of today’s media still describe Pollard’s actions as treasonous. The framers of our constitution felt so strongly that charges of treason should only be leveled against those who gave aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war that they wrote those words into our constitution. Unfortunately, in both the Rosenberg and Pollard cases, the wisdom of our founding fathers has been ignored. Read More 
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