Almost a year ago, anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein claimed he was the blogger to whom F.B.I. translator Shamai Leibowitz leaked classified information, something for which Leibowitz was incarcerated for 20 months.
When Shamai K. Leibowitz, an F.B.I. translator, was sentenced to 20 months in prison last year for leaking classified information to a blogger, prosecutors revealed little about the case. They identified the blogger in court papers only as “Recipient A.” After Mr. Leibowitz pleaded guilty, even the judge said he did not know exactly what Mr. Leibowitz had disclosed.
Now the reason for the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the Obama administration’s first prosecution for leaking information to the news media seems clear: Mr. Leibowitz, a contract Hebrew translator, passed on secret transcripts of conversations caught on F.B.I. wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Those overheard by the eavesdroppers included American supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress, according to the blogger, Richard Silverstein.
In his first interview about the case, Mr. Silverstein offered a rare glimpse of American spying on a close ally.
He said he had burned the secret documents in his Seattle backyard after Mr. Leibowitz came under investigation in mid-2009, but he recalled that there were about 200 pages of verbatim records of telephone calls and what seemed to be embassy conversations. He said that in one transcript, Israeli officials discussed their worry that their exchanges might be monitored.
Now Leibowitz has broken his silence, claiming Silverstein lied.
It’s been nearly a year since I was released from FCI Petersburg after spending there one year. When I was released I did not feel that I regained my freedom because I never lost my freedom in the first place. Although physically confined to a set of buildings and great sports facilities, I maintained the mindset of a free person: I chose what to read, what to eat in the dining room and what to prepare in the “underground cooking”, who to associate with and who to stay away from, when to walk and exercise and when to spend time in the library.
I joined my Jewish friends in organizing services during our Shabbatot and Jewish holidays, and in doing so, we experienced further a sense of freedom: We added to our service meditations and songs that you would not find in any shul on the outside. We stopped and discussed certain sections in the siddur or in the parasha – and I challenge anyone to find a shul where you can do that! In a sense, this experience provided me the opportunity to find new insights in my rituals and habits that have become a rote. The interesting people I met in this unique situation allowed me to find new meanings in old prayers, and we also had the freedom to adapt certain customs and traditions to make them more meaningful. Although I did face challenges, I cannot say they took away my freedom because I always retained my mental state of freedom.
But not only did I have the freedom to act, I learned the importance of the Freedom to Ignore. There are certain types of people and behavior that you learn to ignore, and that freedom is an essential asset not only in prison, but also “on the street.” When the New York Times published an article on me claiming I was eavesdropping on the Israeli Embassy, I was shocked to the point of amusement – how could a serious newspaper publish such utter nonsense! A fascinating story, to be honest, but completely false! I faced a dilemma: Reply or ignore? I chose the Freedom to Ignore.
We live in an age when anyone can publish anything, and fabrication get published without any scrutiny. The proliferation of blogs and websites has created a state of constant “noise”, in which anyone can say anything, including statements without any merit, and the story will be copied and multiplied. A blogger named Richard Silverstein made up a story, and that became “fact”. People assume that the New York Times would not carry a story unless it’s true; well, this shows how much you can trust what you read in newspapers. Faced with a story lies spread all over the newspaper, I decided to apply the important freedom that I mastered in prison – the Freedom to Ignore – and simply ignored this complete fabrication.
Unfortunately, many people consider whatever they read on the web or in the newspapers as the truth set in stone. What can you do against it? Not much! All I can say is that my work had nothing to do with the Israeli Embassy and I certainly never listened to wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy. How do people make up such stuff???
To think that the FBI would ask me to eavesdrop on the Israeli Embasy is beyond comprehension. I would never agree to do that. First, it doesn’t seem to me they would ever ask (because I am rather known in Israel, and so I am not exactly someone “under the radar” who would be the perfect target to do such a thing). Second, even if they would ask, I would never do it; I would never do something that can be interpreted as working against the State of Israel.
I am a proud Israeli citizen (even in prison I made sure we always included a prayer for the State of Israel, and also organized a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, albeit without the great-tasting Israeli wines:) I have no problem – as was falsely alleged – with Israelis lobbying Congress. Doesn’t everyone in this country – from the NRA all the way to the ACLU, from NGOs to international energy companies – lobby Congress?! The last time I read the Constitution I saw nothing in it suggesting there’s anything wrong with Israelis meeting with Members of Congress. Rather, my actions involved a situation when I came across documents that showed the FBI is committing illegal and unconstitutional acts, and instead of following the chain of command, I showed it to a journalist. And for that mistake I paid a price, but I also learned a great deal: That not only do we have the Freedom to Act, we have something no less valuable – the Freedom to Ignore.
Given Silverstein’s abusive relationship with the truth and overwhelming desire to be in the limelight, I could believe Leibowitz, although he also does not seem to be the most trusthworthy person. After all, he did plead guilty to the charges.
I’ll endeavor to contact Leibowitz to see what else he’s willing to say about this.
About the AuthorAn Australian immigrant to Israel, Aussie Dave has been blogging since early 2003.
Filed Under: Aussie Dave