When ‘Everyone Does It’

A king once sentenced a thief to death. Shortly before his sentence was to be carried out, the thief asked to speak to the king.

“I accept Your Majesty’s ruling that I should die for my crime, but I ask that my execution be delayed so that I can perform a wondrous feat before Your Majesty. I alone know this secret, and when I die this secret will die with me. Therefore, I wish to teach it to Your Majesty, so that the secret should not be lost forever.”

“What is this secret wonder?” the king asked.

“I know how to take a pit from a fruit, prepare it with certain spices, and plant it in the ground. Within half an hour, the earth will split and a full-grown tree laden with fruits will emerge.”

The king was intrigued and instructed that the thief be supplied with all the materials he required. Accompanied by his grand vizier and his treasury minister, he soon joined the thief in the royal garden.

The thief carefully soaked the fruit seed in a combination of herbs and spices.

“The seed is ready to be planted,” he told the king. “However, there is one condition. Whoever places the seed in the ground must have totally clean hands, free of any sort of thievery. If the person who plants stole anything — even once in his life — nothing will happen.

“Now, Your Majesty,” the thief continued, “I have been caught red-handed in an act of stealing, so I certainly cannot be the one.”

The thief then turned to the grand vizier and requested that he plant the seed.

The vizier seemed uncomfortable. “Your Majesty,” he said, “when I was a youngster, I used to request from my father a larger sum for expenses than was truly necessary and pocket the difference.”

The thief then turned to the treasury minister and asked him to plant the seed.

The minister, too, demurred. “Your Majesty,” he explained, “I am responsible for all the calculations for the royal finances. I am only human, and perhaps I erred once in my accounting…”

The thief turned to the king and asked him to plant the seed.

The king, too, refused.

“I recall that when I was a young boy I saw that my father, the late king, had a magnificent string of pearls. I desired it and took it without permission. Therefore, my hands are not totally clean, either.”

The thief fell to the king’s feet and pleaded, “Your Majesty! The treasury minister has acknowledged that his hands are not truly clean; the grand vizier has admitted that he stole from his father. Even His Majesty has said that as a child he stole from his father. Therefore, why should I be put to death for stealing? It was my extreme poverty that drove me to steal; I stole only to buy food!”

Ashamed, the king pardoned him.

*   *   *

National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress on Tuesday that nations spying on each other’s leaders goes both ways and is a longtime practice in the intelligence world. He played down European allies’ complaints about the United States spying on their leaders, saying they do it, too.

“That’s a hardy perennial,” Clapper told lawmakers.

Clapper said that during his 50 years working in intelligence it was “a basic tenet” to collect confidential information about foreign leaders, whether by spying on communications or through other sources, that reveals “if what they’re saying gels with what’s actually going on.”

The Intelligence Chief gave no indication that he saw anything wrong with this “tenet.” Not only is it a common and fully acceptable practice to spy on the intelligence agencies of allies, but even the private conversations of their leaders were considered fair game.

After all, everyone else does it.

Consider now the plight of Jonathan Pollard, a man who — contrary to what some erroneously assume — never spied on the United States, and therefore was never charged with treason or with seeking to harm the United States. Pollard pled guilty to passing classified material about other countries to Israel, vital security information to which Israel was legally entitled according to a 1983 memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

There is no doubt that despite his good intentions, Pollard made a serious error when he broke the law and gave that material to Israel, and he has repeatedly expressed contrition, as has the Israeli government.

Yet while the United States fully admits actually spying on its allies — and has no compunctions about it — Jonathan Pollard is completing his 28th year of an unprecedented life sentence.

Our message to President Obama is a very simple one:

If spying among allies is so acceptable, how can you possibly legitimize the continued incarceration of Mr. Pollard, who only transmitted to Israel information about other countries?

Mr. President: Justice in this case has been delayed for far too long. Follow the lead of the king in the story and immediately commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard.