MANHATTAN (CN) — A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit showed little sympathy for Jonathan Pollard on Wednesday as the convicted spy fought for reduced parole restrictions now that he has served nearly three decades in prison.
“This is not a case where you have a pedophile or a drug dealer,” said Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer.
A partner at the firm Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosele, Lauer has argued that the conditions on his client — which include curfew, GPS and Internet monitoring — needlessly interfere with his devout Jewish observance, and keep him from finding work in the financial sector.
“I think this court has the opportunity to strip away the facade,” said Lauer, portraying these measures as punitive.
Since his guilty plea in 1987, Pollard’s espionage case has remained one of the most famous in U.S. jurisprudence and a perpetual strain between relations with Israel.
When he handed suitcases full of classified material to Israeli agents, Pollard had been working as a civilian intelligence contractor. High-profile supporters like star attorney Alan Dershowitz argue that Pollard acted out of a misplaced desire to help a U.S. ally obtain information to defend itself. But Pollard’s sharpest critics, like investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, call him a traitor who looked only for money as he shopped around top-secret documents to multiple countries.
At Wednesday’s oral argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Tonio argued that the government has taken reasonable measures to protect the nation’s security.
“There is no question that extraordinary and incredibly unusual parolee,” she said.
The New Yorker reported that Pollard disclosed tens of thousands of documents, including the National Security Agency’s 10-volume manual detailing how it gathers signal intelligence.
Prosecutors say that Pollard can spill more if he flees to Israel, but his attorney Lauer noted that the country where the government worries he will flee already has the secrets.
Several times throughout oral arguments, U.S. Circuit Judge Reena Raggi returned to the appeal’s assumption of Pollard’s faded memory.
“If your argument is, ‘Look, how can someone retain this information for 32 years,’ how is this burden not yours?” Raggi asked.
Turning to the curfew, U.S. Circuit Judge Susan Carney questioned whether monitoring makes this restriction redundant.
Tonio replied that the two measures simply go hand-in-hand. “If he leaves his residence at the time he’s supposed to be home, an alarm goes off,” she said.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rounded out Wednesday’s panel, sitting by designation from the Southern District of New York, but remained silent throughout the hearing.
Lauer told reporters outside court that the parole board lacks security clearances, forcing them to rely upon intelligence officers rather than exercise independent judgment.
“I do believe, putting the legal issues that were argued today aside, any fair-minded person looking at this situation would say Mr. Pollard served his time,” he said.
With the judges reserving decision on the appeal, Pollard’s case is almost certain to continue making geopolitical waves.
This morning’s proceedings fell one day after reports identified Israel as the diplomatic partner of the United States whose intelligence President Donald Trump compromised in a meeting with Russia.
Said to involve a plot by the Islamic State group to smuggle expensive laptops on airplanes, Trump’s leak prompted alarm from two Israeli intelligence officers. It’s “our worst fears confirmed,” they told Buzzfeed.
Official sources within Israel have maintained that the two allies still maintain confidence in their intelligence sharing.
When President Donald Trump begins his first official trip overseas on May 19, he is expected to make stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated Pollard’s release in 2015.
“After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family,” the prime minister said at the time, wishing him a peaceful Sabbath.