NEW YORK: Jonathan Pollard, the former US intelligence agent who was convicted of spying for Israel, by compromising Pakistan’s nuclear secrets, could be released before the Jewish holiday of Passover as part of efforts to save Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, an Israeli official involved in the talks reportedly told CNN.
Reports of Pollard’s possible release came as US Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Israel on Monday to try to mediate a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Kerry was in Belgium on Tuesday but would go back to Israel on Wednesday and also visit Ramallah, West Bank, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
No decisions have been made about Pollard’s release, which sources familiar with the talks have cautioned is far from certain and would need to be approved by President Barack Obama.
Pollard’s possible release was being discussed as part of a broader agreement that has not been finalised yet, an agency report said.
Pollard, who was jailed in 1987 for spying for Israel, gave his spy handlers information on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, according to declassified documents. He is currently serving a life sentence for selling classified information to the Israeli government between 1985 and 1987.
On December 14, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified its official damage assessment of Pollard’s espionage, who some counter-intelligence officials at that time believed was the most prolific mole that ever spied on the US government for a foreign country.
Former US president Bill Clinton, who was considering releasing Pollard in 2000 to save the Middle East peace talks, was stopped by the top Pentagon generals from agreeing to any such deal. At that time now deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barack were at hand in Camp David as the talks failed.
But Israel persisted and former president George Bush had to listen to his generals despite Israeli pressure.
The second time that the CIA declassified the document, titled ‘The Jonathan Jay Pollard Espionage Case: A Damage Assessment’, was when an appeal was filed by George Washington University’s National Security Archive.
A newspaper report said that even though this latest version of the declassified document was still heavily redacted, it contained some new information. One new revelation is that Pollard’s Israeli handlers specifically asked him to acquire intelligence collected by the US government on the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme.
In a section titled ‘Implications of Compromises: What Israel Gained from Pollard’s Espionage’, the CIA assessment states that Pollard focused on “Arab and Pakistani nuclear intelligence” and gave his Israeli handlers information on a secret Pakistani ‘plutonium reprocessing facility near Islamabad’.
Further information in the declassified report about this subject is completely redacted. The question is, what kind of information on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme did Tel Aviv acquire from Pollard?
According to A.Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, Islamabad was able to detonate a nuclear device “within a week’s notice” by as early as 1984.
IntelNews has also reported that the US was aware of Pakistan’s plans to build the bomb in the 1970s and had been working along with other Western countries, including the United Kingdom, to prevent Pakistan’s covert attempts to purchase ‘grey area’ technologies for its programme.