WASHINGTON -- Jonathan Pollard, accused of selling stacks of secret documents to Israel, and his wife pleaded guilty today to espionage charges, admitting they were part of an Israeli spy network that included three Israeli officials and an embassy secretary.
Appearing in U.S. District Court, Pollard, indicted by a federal grand jury earlier today, pleaded guilty to conspiring to deliver classified military information to Israel.
The indictment named four Israeli citizens as co-conspirators in the espionage network operating inside the United States.
They were Rafi Eitan, an Israeli intelligence official; Col. Aviem Sella, an officer in the Israeli air force; Joseph Yagur, a science attache at the Israel consulate in New York and Irit Erb, a secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Pollard, waiving his right to trial, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
'I will accept your plea of guilty,' said Judge Aubrey Robinson, after carefully questioning the accused spy.
Pollard's wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, charged as her husband's accomplice, pleaded guilty to two counts of 'conspiracy to receive embezzled government property,' and accessory after the fact possession of national defense documents. She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sentencing dates were not set for either.
Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy, cooperated with government prosecutors, which sources said led to a plea bargain in whch several charges against Pollard were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
The spying dated back to 1984 and the Pollards were paid $45,000, court documents showed.
The guilty plea also avoids a sensational trial that could have further strained already tender U.S.-Israeli relations.
Pollard, who told FBI agents he was paid $2,500 a month for about 18 months by his Israeli contacts, faced a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of providing secret documents to a foreign government. His attorney declined to comment on the case.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment on several espionage counts against Pollard, charged last November with selling U.S. secrets to Israel, sources said.
The climax of the dramatic case came after reports last week that Pollard, who held a top-secret clearance for work on terrorist activities, was a link in a better organized and financed Israeli espionage ring in the United States than officials earlier thought.
The Israeli government has denied it operated such a ring in the United States.
Within days of Pollard's arrest, two Israeli diplomats were recalled from the United States and the Israeli government said it turned over all the documents involved and formally apologized to the United States for the incident.
A civilian intelligence analyst with the Navy Investigative Service when he was arrested Nov. 21, 1985, outside the Israeli Embassy, Pollard, 31, worked in a special counter-terrorism unit established after the bombing of the Marine headquarters in Beirut in October 1983. He and his wife went to the embassy seeking political asylum, the FBI said.
Pollard's wife, 25, arrested for unauthorized possession of national defense information, was released from jail in March on $23,500 bond. That charge carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.