The notion that President Clinton might release Jonathan Pollard from his life term for passing secrets to Israel has provoked concern by prosecutors in the case who say it would encourage others to spy.
Mr. Pollard, who admitted passing massive amounts of United States military and defense intelligence information to Israel in 1984 and 1985, is asking Mr. Clinton to commute his life term and release him from prison. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who became defense minister shortly after Pollard was recruited as a spy by Israel, has also asked Clinton to grant clemency.
Clinton has said he will not make a decision until he receives advice from the Justice Department. But the president made clear that he would not feel bound by a recommendation from the Justice Department. Many law enforcement officials expect the department will oppose clemency.
The US attorney's office in Washington, which prosecuted the Pollard case, has already told Attorney General Janet Reno that it opposes clemency.
``How could you possibly seriously consider clemency for someone who has done so much damage to US national security?'' asked Joseph DiGenova, a Washington lawyer who was US attorney when Pollard was arrested and pleaded guilty in 1986 to espionage conspiracy.
Pollard, who worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy, admitted that he was recruited by Israel in 1984 and passed along tens of thousands of pages of documents until his arrest in late 1985.
After pleading guilty in 1986, Pollard told authorities that he spied to help Israel protect itself from hostile Arab neighbors. He said that he passed along vital information that the US Navy should have given Israel for its security.
But prosecutors argued at Pollard's sentencing in 1987 that by giving Israel secrets, Pollard took the decision of whether to share classified information with Israel away from those in authority at the highest levels of US government, they said.
Granting Pollard clemency now could send a message to other Americans that the price for spying for an ally is not very high, these men say now.
Mr. Rabin requested clemency for Pollard after Israel reached its peace accord earlier this year with the Palestine Liberation Organization.