In the summer of 1984, Jonathan Pollard began working for US Naval Intelligence Command and soon after met a former Israeli Air Force colonel named Aviem Sella. Of his own volition, Pollard offered to pass classified information to Israeli intelligence.
In exchange, Pollard received tens of thousands of dollars, meals, and jewelry, including a diamond and sapphire ring which he later used to propose.
Only one year after beginning his career in espionage, Pollard was picked up by federal agents. After pleading guilty, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison, where he has remained since 1985.
The punishment has been deemed overly harsh by many, in particular the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has personally fought for the release of Pollard, now 60 years old. Previously, the Obama administration hasn’t shown any sign of budging.
"I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he, like every other American who’s been sentenced, is accorded the same kinds of review and the same examination of the equities that any other individual would provide," President Obama told an Israeli interviewer last year.
But the Iran nuclear deal finalized by Tehran and the P5+1 negotiators earlier this month could be changing Washington’s stance. Prime Minister Netanyahu was one of the most vocal opponents, and the agreement has driven a wedge between Israel and the United States.
Pollard is up for parole in November, and while neither he nor his attorney had much hope for his release, several US officials are now pushing for just such a scenario. According to the Wall Street Journal, some officials even expect to Pollard to be free within a matter of weeks.
Other officials stress that the process could still take months, and strongly deny that it bears any relation to the Iran deal. Still, a release prior to his scheduled parole hearing would be highly unusual.
Officials with the White House and Justice Department have denied reports that Pollard will be released, adding that the Obama administration has no control over the parole process.
"[The Justice Department] has always and continues to maintain that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed," a DOJ official told Reuters.
"There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard's status and foreign policy considerations," Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, added.
While the possibility of Pollard’s freedom has been discussed in the past, the notion has always received strong opposition from the US intelligence community. Senior officials in the CIA, FBI, and Justice Department are likely to criticize any prisoner release which does not involve reciprocation from the Israeli side.
Others have argued that a 30-year imprisonment is ample punishment, especially given the fact Pollard was convicted of spying for such a close US ally.
Officials with the Justice Department have denied suggestions that Pollard will be released.