Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was freed Friday after decades in prison, but the White House said it has no intention of altering the conditions of his parole so he can travel back to Israel.
Pollard, 61, was released from the medium-security prison at Butner, N.C., after being granted parole this summer from a life sentence imposed in 1987. He was convicted of espionage after turning over classified information to Israel.
Pollard’s lawyers have sought permission for him to immediately travel back to Israel to live with his family and “resume his life there” and even had the support of two Democratic members of Congress backing the request. Pollard’s supporters say they don’t know what’s next for him.
President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama to Malaysia that “this is something that Prime Minister Netanyahu has regularly raised” in discussions with the U.S.
"Obviously, the one thing at issue is the requirement that he remains in the United States," Rhodes said. "But again, the president does not have any plans to alter the terms of his parole."
Last year, the U.S. dangled the prospect of freeing Pollard early as part of a package of incentives to keep Israel at the negotiating table during talks with the Palestinians. But the talks fell apart, and Pollard remained in prison.
His release Friday caps one of the most high-profile spy sagas in modern American history, a case that over the years became a diplomatic sticking point between the United States and Israel. Supporters say he was punished excessively for actions taken on behalf of an American ally while critics, including government officials, deride 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."
Pollard was a former Navy intelligence analyst. He was arrested on Nov. 21, 1985, after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He had earlier drawn suspicion of a supervisor for handling large amounts of classified materials unrelated to his official duties.
Though he has said his guilty plea was coerced, he has also expressed regret, telling The Associated Press in a 1998 prison interview that he did not consider himself a hero and was not in it for the money.
"There is nothing good that came as a result of my actions," he said at the time. "I tried to serve two countries at the same time. That does not work."
Under sentencing rules in place at the time of his crime, he became presumptively eligible for parole in November — 30 years after his arrest. The Justice Department agreed not to oppose parole at a July hearing.
The parole decision was applauded in Israel, which after initially claiming that he was part of a rogue operation, acknowledged him in the 1990s as an agent and granted him citizenship. Israelis have long campaigned for his freedom, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last summer that he had consistently raised the issue of his release with American officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.