Let spy out of prison, but make him leave U.S.

February 16, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

There seems to be a Jonathan Pollard fan club out there. And lately I've heard from many of them, accusing me of being inaccurate, insensitive and a bigot.

I'll plead guilty to inaccuracy, but not to the rest.

First, the background: Pollard is a former naval intelligence analyst who passed our secrets to Israel. He was caught, convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Many people believe that the life sentence was unduly stern. They point out that Israel is our ally and Pollard was simply slipping it information it should have had for its own security.

They argue that Pollard has been treated more harshly than spies who dealt with genuine enemies. And that because he is Jewish, he was motivated by conscience rather than disloyalty or greed.

The White House is now under intense pressure by Pollard's sympathizers -- including Israel -- to let him go. At the same time, it is under pressure from the CIA and the Pentagon to let him rot in prison.

Me? I kind of stumbled into this issue.

It was right after little Bobby Inman said he wouldn't be secretary of defense because he couldn't endure the agony of being tweaked by William Safire, the New York Times columnist.

I wrote a column arguing that Inman was talking like a ninny, since no columnist is influential enough to chase someone like Inman out of public life.

But in passing, I mentioned that among the many reasons Safire didn't like Inman was that he thought Inman contributed to Pollard's stiff prison sentence.

In commenting on the whole Inman-Safire foolishness, I wrote that had I been the judge, I would have had Pollard shot for treason.

OK, I will concede it is not one of the more reasonable thoughts I've ever had. It just sort of popped out while I was writing the column. If all columnists were honest, they would admit that strange thoughts sometimes leap from their brains through their fingers to the keyboard.

Oh, boy, have I caught heck for it.

First, hundreds of Pollard's supporters have phoned, faxed and written to remind me that I made a factual error: Pollard was not convicted of treason.

They are right. Treason can be committed only when you are consorting with an enemy. And since Israel is our friend, it wasn't treason.

That means I was wrong. Pollard was not accused or convicted of treason. So had I been his judge, I couldn't have had him shot for treason, since he was not accused or convicted of treason.

But does that make Pollard a good guy?

No, it doesn't.

Pollard may have been morally correct, by his standards. It is possible that our intelligence agencies were being less than generous in the sharing of our satellite snapshots of Arab hostiles with Israel.

It isn't easy being Israel, a tiny speck on the world map, surrounded by hundreds of millions of people who want to destroy you. So what they couldn't get from our government spooks, they got from Pollard.

But thousands of people work in government intelligence agencies, with access to secret information.

What if they all thought the way Pollard did? "I am of French ancestry, therefore as a matter of conscience I will slip NATO secrets to the French." "I am of Polish ancestry, so out of ethnic loyalty I will slip them secrets." Albanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Mexican and on and on. You just can't have that sort of thing going on in your intelligence agencies. Everyone born here, except Indians, has immigrant ancestors. Even Native Americans, as the politically correct call them, are believed to have come here from Mongolia. So how do we know that Dances with Jukeboxes is not slipping secrets to Mongolian spies?

If they all decided as a matter of conscience to sneak intelligence to the country of their ancestors, we would look pretty silly.

Besides, Pollard took $50,000 from Israel. That may have been nothing more than a gratuity, but it does shake his claim of "conscience."

However, I do believe Pollard and his supporters. The 50 big ones aside, I believe that he did act out of principle. He was worried about Israel's security. He did believe that our intelligence experts were withholding info from Israel that Israel should have had.

So President Clinton probably should let Pollard go. There's not much to be gained by keeping him in prison for the rest of his life. Especially when we need the cell space for child-killers, parent-killers, stranger-killers, head-choppers and other ordinary fiends.

I doubt if most Americans care one way or another. It's the street-corner muggers and porch climbers that threaten us, not Pollard.

But the Clinton White House thinks about twitches in the polls, so before it does anything, it will have to be politically comforted.

I will make a suggestion. Let Pollard go, but require him to renounce his American citizenship. Tell him that he has to leave this country and will never be allowed to enter it again. If his greater loyalty is to Israel, let him go there.

Poor schnook. I hear they have lousy restaurants.

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