With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the brink, the Obama administration reportedly is considering the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a way to keep the two sides at the table, but the former head of the CIA said Sunday such a move would be disastrous.
Gen. Michael Hayden, former chief of both the CIA and NSA, said the release of Pollard — now serving a life sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina for selling secrets to Israel in the 1980s — would show the White House is desperate to make progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea just to keep some people at the table, which apparently was the purpose of this offer,” he said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s almost a sign of desperation, that you throw this into the pot in order to keep the Israelis talking with the Palestinians.”
Peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been derailed in recent days, with Israeli leaders refusing to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as they had previously agreed to do.
In response, Palestinian leaders took steps to join more than a dozen international organizations — something they had vowed not to do.
The prospect of Pollard’s release represents U.S. leverage to keep Israel at the table, but Mr. Hayden argued it would send the message that you can sell or steal America’s intelligence secrets and get away with it.
He said such a move would raise speculation that Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the depth of U.S. spying and data-collection efforts, also would be allowed to escape justice.
“The administration would be saying ‘Pollard,’ and everyone in my old community, the intelligence community, would not be hearing ‘Pollard.’ They would be hearing ‘Snowden,’” Mr. Hayden said. “And they would believe this kind of behavior could actually be politically negotiated away. That would be a very disturbing message for the people who provide America with intelligence.”
He will be eligible for parole in 2015.