US government spied on Israel’s Washington embassyby Toby Harnde, theunhivedmind.com
September 6th 2011
The United States government has spied on the Israeli embassy in Washington by bugging its phones, according to a journalist who received secret transcripts from an FBI translator who was jailed for the leak.
Shamai Leibowitz, 40, a contract Hebrew translator for the FBI, was jailed for 20 months last year after being prosecuted under the US Espionage Act for leaking the classified information.
The trial was conducted amid extraordinary secrecy with even the judge stating: “I don’t know what was divulged other than some documents, and how it compromised things, I have no idea.”
The person Leibowitz leaked to was identified in the trial only as “Recipient A”. Now Recipient A has come forward and identified himself as Richard Silverstein, who runs a liberal Jewish blog “Tikun Olam: Make the World a Better Place”.
Mr Silverstein, 59, told the New York Times that Leibowitz passed him some 200 pages of verbatim phone records because he feared an Israeli attack on Iran and was concerned about Israel’s efforts to lobby the US Congress and the American public.
He said that he had burned the documents in his garden in Seattle when Leibovitz, a joint US and Israeli citizen who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland in the Washington suburbs, came under investigation in 2009.
Mr Silverstein said he remembered that the conversations included discussions among American supporters of Israel, embassy officials and at least one member of Congress.
“What really concerned Shamai at the time was the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, which he thought would be damaging to both Israel and the United States,” Mr Silverstein said.
The two men became friends after Mr Silverstein said he got to know Leibowitz, a lawyer and long-time political activist, after he noticed that he had a liberal blog called “Pursuing Justice”.
At his sentencing, Leibowitz said that he made a mistake. At the time he disclosed the classified information, he believed the documents showed a “violation of the law” but in hindsight he should have pursued other options within the government to report his concerns.
Leibowitz, the father of seven-year-old twins and a leader of his synagogue, was an odd choice for an FBI translation post. He was born in Israel to a prominent academic family and represented controversial clients such as Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader convicted of directing terrorist attacks against Israelis.
A former CIA officer told The Daily Telegraph that Israelis routinely spy on American intelligence officials and it was neither surprising nor improper that the US government did the same. All CIA officers who serve in Israel are viewed as having had their identities compromised for the rest of their careers.
The public revelation could help the Israelis in their campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, an American civilian naval intelligence analyst sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.
Although the US government routinely eavesdrops on some Washington embassies, spying on close allies is an extremely delicate issue.
The FBI conducts any wiretaps on embassies in the US but intelligence obtained is passed to the CIA and other agencies. Matthew Aid, an intelligence writer, said the intercepts are carried out by the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, based in Quantico, Virginia. Translators like Leibowitz work at an FBI office in Calverton, Maryland.
The FBI, the US Justice Department or the Israeli Embassy in Washington refused to comment on Mr Silverstein’s claims. The Israeli foreign ministry said: “we will not dignify these reports with a comment”.
A former Israeli senior security officer told the Daily Telegraph: “This spying incident is of no major concern to Israel. We have our differences with the United States – that’s no secret – but they remain our strategic friend.”
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