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Imprisoned Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard To Be Released In November

Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., in May 1998.
Karl DeBlaker
Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., in May 1998.

Updated at 8:45 p.m.

Jonathan Pollard, who has served almost 30 years in prison after being convicted of espionage, will be granted parole on Nov. 21, according to his attorneys.

The former civilian Navy analyst was arrested in 1985 and charged with passing classified information to Israel. He pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.

"But under laws in place at the time, that meant he could get parole after 30 years," NPR's Carrie Johnson says. "Now, that term is nearly up — and the Justice Department did not stand in the way of his release."

In their statement, attorneys Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman said the decision to release Pollard, who is now 60, was made unanimously by three members of a parole commission, independent of any other U.S. government agency. They also said that the decision is not connected to "recent developments in the Middle East."

As we've previously reported, Pollard's supporters have claimed that his release could have a positive impact on the Middle East peace process, that he was spying for an ally of the U.S. and had no intent to harm the U.S., and that his sentence was too harsh.

Carrie tells our Newscast Unit that Pollard's lawyers say their client is sick and looking forward to reuniting with his wife.

In the statement, the attorneys say President Obama has the authority to release Pollard before Nov. 21 and could allow him to leave the U.S. and move to Israel immediately. They also say they've secured employment and housing for Pollard in the New York area.

National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said Tuesday night that Obama does not plan to set Pollard free early.

"Mr. Pollard's status was determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures, and the Parole Commission's decision was in no way linked to foreign policy considerations. Mr. Pollard will serve his sentence as mandated by statute for the very serious crimes he committed. The President has no intention of altering the terms of Mr. Pollard's parole."

Pollard also communicated words of thanks through his attorneys for his release, expressing gratitude to the National Council of Young Israel as well as to supporters:

"Mr. Pollard would like to thank the many thousands of well-wishers in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world, who provided grass roots support by attending rallies, sending letters, making phone calls to elected officials, and saying prayers for his welfare. He is deeply appreciative of every gesture, large or small."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.