The son of a respected academic and cancer expert at Notre Dame University, Pollard graduated from Stanford University in 1977 and began studying law at Tufts, but in 1979 became an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy. He was later transferred to counterterrorism duties at the Naval Investigative Service.
In 1981 Pollard’s security clearance was suspended briefly after he offered to supply classified information to a South African military attaché in Washington, D.C., but he claimed he had been preparing an entrapment and threatened to sue the Navy unless his clearance was restored. In 1984 he began to supply an Israeli intelligence officer with documents and imagery to which he had access, but he was investigated when colleagues noted he was regularly requesting material outside his responsibilities and was placed under surveillance.
Pollard was arrested in November 1985 after he was turned away from the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where he had applied for political asylum. He had attempted to flee when his wife, Anne, had spotted Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance outside their apartment in Washington, unaware that the vehicles had actually been watching a different target, Ronald Pelton, who lived close by.
Panicked by the thought of their imminent arrest, she entrusted a suitcase of purloined classified documents to a neighbor, who later turned it over to the FBI. Also recovered was a mass of material relating to the People’s Republic of China and evidence that the Pollards had intended to sell it to the Chinese embassy.
Pollard was later sentenced to life imprisonment; his wife served three years of a five-year sentence before moving to Israel. Numerous requests for a reduction in his sentence have been declined; the Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet threatened to resign if Pollard were pardoned.
The damage assessment concluded that Pollard had betrayed numerous National Security Agency projects, and that there was evidence the information sold to Israel had reached the Soviets.