WASHINGTON (AP) — Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was released from prison early Friday, culminating an extraordinary espionage case that complicated American-Israeli relations for 30 years and became a periodic bargaining chip between two allies.
Within hours after his release, Pollard’s attorneys began a court challenge to terms of his parole that they called “onerous and oppressive,” including requiring him to wear an electronic GPS ankle bracelet and the monitoring of any computer that Pollard may use either personally or at a job.
Pollard was driven away from the federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, before dawn in heavy fog, and Larry Dub, a Pollard attorney, told Israel’s Army Radio that he was being driven to New York City. The prison is on a two-lane rural road lined with pine trees. Reporters and camera crews who waited outside didn’t get a glimpse of him.
“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come.”
The federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Pollard was no longer in custody but provided no other details.
Pollard’s release came nearly 30 years to the day after his arrest for providing large amounts of classified U.S. government information to Israel.
“I have waited for this day for 30 long years, unbelievable,” Anne, his ex-wife, told Israel’s Army Radio. “It’s an amazing moment.”
Pollard had been granted parole this summer from a life sentence imposed in 1987. His lawyers have said that they have secured a job and housing for him in the New York area, without elaborating. The terms of his parole require him to remain in the United States for at least five years, though supporters — including Netanyahu and some members of Congress — are seeking permission for him to move to Israel immediately.
The saga involving Pollard for years divided public opinion in the United States and became both an irritant and a periodic bargaining chip between the U.S. and Israel.
His release caps one of the most high-profile spy sagas in modern American history, a case that over the years sharply divided public opinion and became a diplomatic sticking point. Supporters have long maintained that he was punished excessively for actions taken on behalf of an American ally while critics, including government officials, derided him as a traitor who sold out his country.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr. Pollard did to the United States government,” said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case as U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. “I would have been perfectly pleased if he had spent the rest of his life in jail.”
Seymour Reich, a former president of B’nai Brith International who visited Pollard twice in prison, said that while he believed Pollard broke the law and deserved to be punished, his sentence was overly…