Spycatchers: Freeing Pollard While Pursuing Snowden Sends ‘Mixed Signals’

Probers who captured man who spied for Israel in 80s insist damage was severe.

April 1, 2014 — -- Former investigators who thought they'd put convicted U.S. spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard in the slammer for life lashed out today at news that the Obama administration is using his release as a bargaining chip in Mideast peace talks.

"How do you do this after Snowden?" fumed the former top prosecutor who won Pollard's conviction, Joseph diGenova.

DiGenova was referring to former National Security Agency contractor and admitted classified documents thief Edward Snowden, on the lam in Russia since last June.

The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service never fully assessed the exact amount of classified military and intelligence files Pollard sold to Israeli agents for more than $600,000 beginning in the mid-1980s until his 1985 arrest, ABC News sources involved in the investigation said. But Pollard himself once estimated that he forked over 360 cubic feet of documents, which the sources said pertained to much more than Israel and included secrets about U.S. intelligence capabilities that made it into the hands of spies in Russia, South Africa and other countries.

"Nobody who has seen the classified damage assessment thinks Pollard ought to be freed," diGenova told ABC News.

"Much of what he took, contrary to what he'd have you believe, had nothing to do with Arab countries or the security of Israel, but had everything to do with U.S. collection methods, to include most specifically against the Soviet Union," retired Navy Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence, told Foreign Policy magazine this week.

Pollard worked under Brooks in 1980.

A spokesperson for the State Department told reporters today that President Obama "has not made a decision" about whether to release Pollard.

Regarding comparisons to Snowden, a Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton contract systems administrator who admitted he downloaded a massive archive of highly classified NSA files last year and gave them to journalists, Brooks argued that Pollard's for-profit spying was of similar magnitude for its day.

Bargaining for Pollard's release even as the administration pursues its indictment of Snowden, who has political asylum in Russia, "sends a mixed signal for sure," said Ronald Olive, a retired NCIS agent who worked on the investigation and wrote the book, "Capturing Pollard: How One of the Most Notorious Spies in American History Was Brought to Justice."

"Much like Snowden, Pollard stole over one million highly-classified documents -- all paper, which would fill a room," Olive told ABC News. Most were never recovered.

"The Israelis had access to Secret-level intelligence from us, but they were asking Pollard for Top Secret material," M.E. "Spike" Bowman, a retired senior FBI national security lawyer and naval intelligence officer involved in the Pollard damage assessment, told ABC News.

For his part, Pollard's few expressions of remorse have been accompanied by an insistence that he was only trying to assist a powerful U.S. ally in the Mideast.

"I fully appreciate that what I did was wrong. Grievously wrong. My intent was to help Israel, but I had no right to violate the laws of this country or the trust it had placed in me. I had no right to place myself above the law," Pollard wrote in a December 2000 letter to President Clinton in an unsuccessful effort to win release from his life sentence. He has been eligible for parole for almost two decades but has never asked for it because parole would bar him from moving to Israel.

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Bowman recently penned a New York Times op-ed that savaged Pollard's claim of only aiding Israel and arguments that he's served longer in prison than anyone who ever spied for a U.S. ally.

"He did more damage than anybody who ever spied for an ally," Bowman told ABC News.

Still, after almost three decades behind bars, Bowman said he doesn't fault the Obama administration for using Pollard's release to further Mideast peace talks.

"I think it's a silly idea," he said, "but I'll give the administration credit for doing it for a positive result."

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