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In a world in which spying between friendly nations is not uncommon, what was unusual about the Pollard case? For one thing, the sheer volume of the intelligence material Pollard stole and turned over to Israel. According to the Government, if all these documents were stacked in one place, the resulting mountain of paper would be 6 ft. wide, 6 ft. deep and 10 ft. high. Furthermore, the material stolen covered a wide range of highly sensitive subjects, from nuclear facilities in Iraq and Pakistan to Soviet surface-to- air-missile capabilities to the antiaircraft defenses around the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis. Israel later staged an air attack on the P.L.O. buildings, killing at least 60 Tunisians and Palestinians. Declared Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger: "It is difficult for me to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S. and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel."
Throughout the case, Pollard's attorneys attempted to portray their client as an idealistic Zionist whose actions were based on his concern for Israel's security and survival. The prosecution, however, pointed out that Pollard had received some $50,000 for his espionage and, had he remained in the service of the Israelis for an additional nine years, would have wound up with at least $500,000.
The defense also based its case on the contention that spying for Israel, a close U.S. ally, was fundamentally different from spying for, say, the Soviet Union and that nobody could prove Pollard's actions had actually harmed his country. The prosecution took a dim view of that argument. Explains John Martin, the Justice Department's chief of internal security: "God forbid that the day should come when we would have the burden of showing that not only did a spy give up information on nuclear weapons but that those weapons were used under hostile conditions."
Outside the courtroom, Pollard and his wife were making statements that were as legally compromising as anything in their testimony. In a letter published in the Jerusalem Post, Pollard wrote of his "absolute obligation" to spy for Israel and alluded to circumstances in which a person might be forced to use "situational ethics" as a guide to his conduct. His wife, interviewed on CBS's 60 Minutes, spoke of the responsibility of American Jews to aid Israel. Said she: "I feel my husband and I did what we were expected to do, what our moral obligation was as Jews ((and)) as human beings, and I have no regrets about that."
In an unusually emotional courtroom finale, the Pollards pleaded desperately for clemency. But despite the fact that Pollard entered a guilty plea last summer and since then had been cooperating to some degree with the Government in fingering the Israeli officials with whom he had worked, U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. concluded that Pollard's crime merited the harshest punishment the court could impose.