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Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard released from U.S. prison after 30 years

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard released from U.S. prison after 30 years
Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., in 1998. (Karl DeBlaker / Associated Press)

Jonathan Pollard, whose spying for Israel led to a serious rift in relations with the U.S., was released from prison early Friday after serving precisely 30 years. But complaints continued from his supporters that he has been treated unfairly.

Even as Pollard, 61, was being whisked from a federal prison in North Carolina to his new home in New York City, where he plans to work as a financial analyst at an investment firm, his lawyers were filing a new court petition on his behalf.

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Parole Commission restrictions requiring Pollard to wear a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet, limiting his travel and monitoring his computer use are "unduly restrictive, unnecessary and unlawful,"  said his lawyer, Eliot Lauer.

Two Congress members from New York, Jerrold Nadler and Eliot L. Engel, have urged Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to permit Pollard to renounce his U.S. citizenship and move immediately to Israel, which first disavowed Pollard when he was caught and later granted him citizenship.

The White House has said repeatedly it will not intervene on Pollard's behalf.

For years, Pollard supporters campaigned for his early release, insisting the former civilian naval intelligence analyst had been imprisoned too long. Now that effort has been redirected to pressure the U.S. to facilitate his move to Israel.

Detractors say the magnitude of Pollard's crimes justify his punishment and that the conditions of his parole are routine. U.S. officials did not respond to questions about the parole conditions.

Pollard has indicated he wants to relocate to Israel, where he is certain to receive a hero's welcome that could prove embarrassing to the U.S.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement welcoming Pollard's release. But according to Israeli newspapers, Netanyahu ordered his cabinet ministers not to discuss the subject because of its sensitivity with the Obama administration.

"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," Netanyahu said. "May this Sabbath bring Jonathan Pollard much joy and peace that will continue in the years and decades ahead."

Pollard's release was not opposed by the Justice Department last summer, much to the disappointment of a bipartisan coalition of the country's national security elite, who have long argued that he had severely damaged U.S. interests.

Pollard's dramatic arrest by FBI agents in 1985 -- after his plea for asylum was rebuffed at the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington -- triggered a crisis between the two allies. Initially, Israel denied any official connection to Pollard, but it was quickly revealed that the operatives for whom he was working reported to an intelligence advisor to then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The arrest also revealed an uncomfortable divide in the American and Israeli Jewish communities, which are usually closely bound by religion and shared history. American Jews complained bitterly that the Pollard operation had exposed them to questions about their loyalty to the U.S., while some Israelis responded that their nervousness was proof that life in the diaspora was untenable.

Pollard said that he acted out of love for Israel, and that the U.S. was not sharing crucial intelligence about Arab countries with its ally.

But prosecutors and U.S. intelligence analysts said that he did it for cash, and that spies for the U.S. in the Soviet Union were discovered and probably killed because of Pollard's actions.

"It is my belief, and the intelligence community was of the nearly certain belief, that assets [agents working for the U.S. overseas] were compromised," said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted Pollard.

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DiGenova said Pollard passed the Israelis thousands of documents that had nothing to do with Israel's enemies, including technical information about U.S. information systems and satellites, photographs, maps and classified manuals.

"It was a gigantic amount of information and stuff of the highest top-secret code word classification," diGenova said. He said that Israel bartered the information to the Soviet Union in return for the release of Soviet Jews to Israel, compromising agents who quickly disappeared.

Pollard got $10,000 and an expensive diamond ring for his girlfriend from his Israeli handler when he started passing on documents, and was given a stipend of $2,500 a month. After his arrest, Pollard said he had intended to return the money to Israel. He allegedly also passed or offered documents to other countries, including South Africa, Pakistan and Australia.

Israel did not officially acknowledge that Pollard was its spy until 1998, by which time the country's failure to support him and fight for his release had became a political issue.

Pollard first wife, Anne, was convicted of helping him try to cover up his crime, and spent three years in prison. He divorced her after she was released from prison and, in a secret prison ceremony in 1996, married his second wife, Esther, who moved to Israel and helped orchestrate the campaign for her husband's release.

Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, attempted to make Pollard's release a condition of agreeing to a peace deal with Palestinians. But President Clinton said his security advisors were hard against such an arrangement.

By then, many leaders of the American Jewish community were also arguing that Pollard had been incarcerated too long. But successive presidents, including Obama, refused to grant him clemency.

When Pollard came up for parole this summer, the Justice Department did not oppose his release, saying he was automatically eligible for "mandatory parole" after serving three decades.

But his former prosecutor argued that Pollard should have remained behind bars.

"The Department of Justice decided not to oppose his release," diGenova said. "They own it. President Obama owns his release."

Twitter: @timphelpsLAT

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