A catalyst for peace talks
With the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks foundering, President Obama is considering the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel remaining at the table.
Mr. Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 while seeking asylum from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, is serving a life sentence. While a civilian analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence, he turned over massive amounts of intelligence data to Israel.
Israel rejected Mr. Pollard's asylum efforts when he attempted to evade the FBI but since then, Israeli leaders often have pressed for his release. And Mr. Pollard has broad public support among the Israeli public.
The popular line on Mr. Pollard is that he was a patriot whose love for Israel drove him to violate an informal U.S. embargo on sharing intelligence data with a close American ally. Moreover, the line has it, the data was not about the United States but about several Arab counties, the Soviet Union and Pakistan.
But the truth is far less romantic, indicating that the spy was more mercenary than patriot. Mr. Pollard sold the information for $50,000 and the case against him indicated that he expected to receive $500,000 more. Four former heads of naval intelligence wrote a column for The Washington Post in 1998 contending that the spy had attempted to sell the data to three other countries before reaching the deal with Israel, and that he attempted to shop information to a fourth while the Israel deal was in place.
And what became of the information never has been resolved. Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in 1999 that some of the information might have gone to the Soviet Union in exchange for its continued permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel.
Mr. Pollard's supporters contend the data was not about the United States, but Mr. Hersh's article contended that data included U.S. techniques for tracking submarines.
Mr. Pollard will be eligible for parole in 2015. So there might be value in exploring his release as a catalyst for peace talks. But the administration should ensure that his release procures a high, tangible price.