MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The prison doors may open soon for a man convicted of spying for Israel nearly 30 years ago. Jonathan Pollard's prosecution generated international tensions, and the Israeli government has long pressed for his release. But White House officials say foreign-policy considerations will play no role in his parole. With us to talk about the case is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. And Carrie, wanted to review just who Jonathan Pollard is and what he did.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Pollard was a Navy analyst. He was arrested in 1985 on espionage charges for conspiring to pass national defense information to Israel. He was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison back then. But former intelligence community analysts and FBI agents say he was motivated by greed. Here's retired FBI executive Spike Bowman who worked on the case at a conference last year.
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SPIKE BOWMAN: How much did he give them? By his own admission, he said, I gave them enough information to occupy a space that would be 6 feet by 6 feet by 10 feet.
JOHNSON: In other words, Pollard stole a lot of secrets, and it did a lot of damage.
BLOCK: Now, Carrie, as you said, Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence. What's the mechanism - what would be the mechanism for him to go free now?
JOHNSON: Under the laws on the books at the time, he would be eligible for parole after 30 years. And that time is nearly up. Pollard's always argued even that sentence was too severe. He talked to 60 minutes about his case years ago.
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JONATHAN POLLARD: My sentence did not reflect proportional justice. It reflected political vengeance, plain and simple.
BLOCK: Now, Carrie, this has been a real point of contention with the Israeli government. Officials there have been trying to get Jonathan Pollard released for many years, almost since he went into prison. What's their argument?
JOHNSON: The Israeli government and allies of theirs have tried and tried. They claim he's not as dangerous as many U.S. officials say, that he was merely trying to help a friend and ally of the United States. And at one point, Melissa, the CIA director, George Tenet at the time, threatened to quit over Pollard's release according to Tenet's own book.
BLOCK: And now what's changed?
JOHNSON: The Wall Street Journal reported it may be linked to the Iran nuclear deal - in essence, a way to placate or compensate Israel. But the White House says definitively, that's not the case, that there are no foreign-policy considerations here. And the Justice Department says he's simply eligible for mandatory parole in November unless he has black marks on his prison record, is likely to commit another crime. He's now 60 years old, and he's sick. So it seems like the Justice Department may not object.
BLOCK: Carrie, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
BLOCK: That's NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. We were talking about the likelihood that Jonathan Pollard, who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel, will be released on parole in November. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.