Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jonathan Jay Pollard Spy Case

Politics and Pollard

The Jonathan Jay Pollard case remains a political hot potato. The question of anti-Semitism hovers over it. Is Pollard being treated more severely than another spy would because he is Jewish? Some well-informed observers believe so.

However, in 1988, the American Jewish Congress investigated the Pollard case and concluded that anti-Semitism was not a factor. Said Phil Baum, their executive director, "We made an independent effort and we could not document any charges of anti-Semitism, no evidence that he was treated differently."

Jewish Americans were deeply affected by the Pollard case because it revived the old suspicion of their supposed "dual loyalties." Indeed, anti-Semites, as could be expected, pounced on the case to make scurrilous accusations against Jews as a group.

Anne Henderson-Pollard served three years and four months behind bars before being paroled in March 1990. Jay divorced her later that year. The way she found out about his plan to dissolve the marriage was especially traumatic for she was in the hospital being treated for her stomach ailment. "With tubes and IVs hooked up to my body," she recalled, "a man dressed as a hospital orderly entered my room. To my total disbelief, he dropped divorce papers on my lap."

Some close to Jay Pollard think that his reasons for filing for divorce were benign. Believing his chances for freedom were slim, he wanted Anne to get on with her life.

In 1988, Israel finally acknowledged publicly that Pollard had indeed been their agent. They also granted him citizenship. Top Israeli officials have visited Jonathan in prison. Many Israeli politicians and Jewish groups, both in Israel and in the U.S., clamor for his release. Many non-Jews who believe his sentence was unwarranted join them.

However, the American intelligence community has strongly opposed clemency. The data he gave to a foreign power was very sensitive, they say, and the United States must discourage others who may be tempted to follow in Pollard's footsteps. Indeed, one of the reasons he may have been given such a severe sentence by Judge Robinson is the feeling that, since so many Americans are also committed Zionists, it is especially important to deter the millions of its citizens who love Israel from spying on its behalf.

Prison life is always rough. However, as Richard Hibey said in arguing for leniency, "There is hard time and there is hard time." Time for Jonathan Jay Pollard has been among the hardest possible. He is in prison as someone commonly called a "traitor." He is a Jew in a prison system in which there are few Jews and many anti-Semites. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer that took place while Pollard was awaiting trial and still in jail, Jay told the writer that he lived in constant fear since both the Aryan Brotherhood and Black Muslims two groups usually at each others' throats have vowed to kill him.

Immediately after his sentencing, Pollard was transferred to the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Here Pollard was among inmates who were severely mentally ill. He claimed to have witnessed so many prisoners cutting their own throats that "I actually have developed the ability to distinguish between the ones who are serious about killing themselves and those who are merely bent on a little self-mutilation." He spent a little over a year at the Springfield prison hospital.

Then he was taken to the prison at Marion, Illinois. Marion is considered the ultimate in maximum security and houses the infamous Mafioso John Gotti. At Marion, solitary is the rule and each prisoner must spend at least 23 of every 24 hours locked in his cell.

Attorney Theodore Olson (AP)
Attorney Theodore
Olson (AP)

Pollard got himself a new legal team. Theodore B. Olson, a handsome man with blonde hair was the head of it. Olson had been the personal attorney for President Ronald Reagan during part of the Iran-Contra affair. He would later become Solicitor General under President George W. Bush.

Olson and his associates argued before the United States Court of Appeals that their client was entitled to a new trial. This court consisted of three jurists: Stephen F. Williams, Laurence Silberman, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg, of course, would later become a household name when she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The reasons Pollard was entitled to a new trial, Olson claimed, were several. The government had secured his cooperation by promising leniency for both Pollard and his wife. However, the prosecution had, in effect, gone back on their part of the bargain by delivering such a damning summation. It failed to properly note Pollard's cooperation. Finally, the Weinberger memorandum and letter had unfairly influenced the judge into taking an unreasonably tough stand against the defendant.

The court turned down the appeal, voting 2 to 1 against Pollard.

Esther Pollard in 1996, working to get her 'husband' freed (CORBIS)
Esther Pollard in 1996, working to get her
'husband' freed (CORBIS)

While serving his sentence, Pollard began corresponding with Esther Zeitz, a strong supporter of his. Zeitz was Canadian and an Orthodox Jew. Eventually, the two of them fell in love through their letters. Although lacking a formal marriage, they came to regard themselves as husband and wife and Zeitz began calling herself Esther Zeitz-Pollard.

Supporters of Jay Pollard believed he stood a good chance of securing his freedom when a lame-duck President Bill Clinton began looking into last minute pardons. Their hopes were dashed for, although Clinton pardoned more than 140 people during his last days as president, Pollard was not among them. The pardoned included Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, Clinton's half-brother Roger Clinton, and, most famously, financier Marc Rich who had fled the country to avoid facing an array of charges including many counts of tax evasion and racketeering.

Jay Pollard, 1998 (AP)
Jay Pollard, 1998 (AP)

Many years have gone by since Jay Pollard was a free man. He is now housed at the federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina. His receding hairline has become a bald dome. The remaining black hairs have so mixed with white as to make his hair look a dull, dusty brown. He wears it in a longish fashion that, together with beard and mustache, gives him the look of an old-time hippie. Whether awake or asleep, he spends much of each day dreaming, as he has for so much of his life, of living in his dear Israel.

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