JERUSALEM -- On Nov. 21, 1985, Jonathan Jay Pollard and his wife, Anne, packed their cat, Dusty, and their wedding album in their red Mustang. Tailed by unmarked cars and vans of the FBI, they drove in circles around Washington, then pulled into the driveway of the Israeli Embassy.
The Pollards expected asylum. Instead, they were expelled from the grounds.
"Do you know what I have done for Israel? I'm an Israeli agent," said Pollard, a U.S. naval intelligence analyst.
Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for stealing thousands of classified papers, satellite photos and maps for Israel. The prosecutor said at the time that Pollard probably would "never see the light of day" again, but technically he will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years. While the content of ,, most of the documents has never been revealed, some had sensitive information about Iraq's facilities for producing nuclear arms and poisonous gas.
In interviews and letters after his arrest, Pollard agonized about the threat Iraq posed to the balance of power in the Middle East. The Persian Gulf war proved his point, he says now. With the war over and relations between the United States and Israel cordial, Pollard's supporters are trying to turn him from a discredited spy into a visionary.
"Pollard was one of those who realized that Iraq was a danger not only to Israel but the entire free world," said Israeli Parliament member Geula Cohen, who is lobbying American officials to get Pollard's sentence reduced.
Ms. Cohen says Pollard should get the Israeli asylum he sought six years ago -- and a hero's welcome.
She has pressured Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and others to help. Ms. Cohen said she detected a gradual change in attitude in her government, which wanted nothing to do with Pollard when he was caught.
Since the beginning, the Pollard case has created a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations. The new drive to free Pollard has attracted some sympathy in Congress, but it has also served as a reminder of the uneasy alliance between Washington and Jerusalem.
Former CIA officer George A. Carver Jr., for instance, calls the talk of freeing Pollard "cockamamie."
"He took out documents literally by the suitcase-load," he said. "It's absolutely as blatant a violation of the espionage statute as has come down in a long time."
Pollard, a native of Galveston, Texas, admitted spying for Israel for 18 months. The top-secret documents he stole drew on findings from Washington's leading intelligence sources: the National Security Agency, State Department, CIA, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency.
The papers -- 360 cubic feet, enough to fill a small room -- contained details about such topics as Middle East arms sales, Palestinian terrorist cells, U.S. and Soviet ship movements and Pakistan's nuclear arms program.
Pollard has always maintained that he was not spying against the United States, he was spying for Israel. In other words, he sought information that Israel could use for its defense, not anything that would compromise U.S. agents or policies.
The Israeli government deposited thousands of dollars in a Swiss bank account for Pollard after he started spying, but Pollard said he was motivated by his love of Israel.
He said he was frustrated by the Reagan administration's refusal to share some intelligence that could affect Israel's security, despite a secret agreement between the two countries to cooperate.
Supporters say the irony of Pollard's crime was that it helped the United States in the gulf war.
Their reasoning goes like this: Israel's intelligence agencies had long concentrated on neighboring Syria and Lebanon, not Iraq. Many Israelis figured that their air force had taken care of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by bombing a nuclear reactor he was building in 1981. However, the information provided by Pollard showed that Iraq was a menace and would be a greater threat when its war with Iran ended.
Pollard advised Israel to continue shipping arms to Iran, despite U.S. protests.
"The logic of 'Realpolitik' often requires a person to choose between the lesser of two evils," he said. "For me, the need to keep the Iraqi regime preoccupied fighting a militarily strong Iran on a battlefield far removed from the Israeli frontier was paramount."
Such statements made Pollard more of a martyr than a pariah, his defenders suggest. They believe that intelligence he obtained was developed by Israel, then shared with the United States before the gulf war.
"He pinpointed . . . where the nuclear and chemical sites were in Iraq and Syria. That let Israel stay out of this war, and it let the coalition stay intact," said his sister, Carol Pollard, chairwoman of Citizens for Justice, which is orchestrating Pollard's court appeal.
The United States and Israel have refused to specify how the information from Pollard was used.
Those close to him say he is kept mostly in isolation at the top-security federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill. He is "rotting away," said a friend, Rabbi Avraham Weiss. (Anne Pollard was released from prison, got a divorce and moved to Israel.)
Pollard's lawyer in the appeal, Alan Dershowitz, argues that Pollard was given an unusually harsh sentence: Israeli Army weapons analyst Thomas Dolce, for instance, was sentenced to 10 years for providing defense data to South Africa; rocket scientist Abdel Kader Halmy, who tried to smuggle missile material to Egypt, was sentenced to less than four years, even though the material could have been used to increase the range of Iraq's Scud-B missiles.
However, Mr. Carver said Pollard broke one of the most important laws on the books, plain and simple. "It says espionage is a felony. It doesn't say that espionage is acceptable if done for Israel or another ally or by motives which the perpetrator considers admirable."