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US Spied on Israel Embassy in Washington

New details emerge about American eavesdropping on Israel Embassy, US supporters of Israel. NIF Fellow involved.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 9/6/2011, 11:16 AM

The United States spied on Israel's Washington Embassy and pressed charges against an FBI employee who leaked details from information thus acquired. The Obama Administration has also been trying to keep a lid on the entire matter – but details emerged in The New York Times Monday.

The fact that a leak of some kind from the FBI had taken place is not news: Shamai Leibovich, a radical Israeli leftist, a New Israel Fund fellow and an FBI translator, was convicted last year of leaking information to a blogger and sentenced to 20 months in jail. However, the content of the leak was not publicly known until now, because of what the paper says was the "extraordinary secrecy" that surrounded the case. Even the judge – Judge Alexander Williams Jr., of the U.S. District Court in Maryland – did not know what content was divulged and to whom.

It now turns out that as FBI translator, Leibovich saw – and probably wrote – transcripts of telephone conversations made from the Israeli Embassy and monitored by the U.S. agency. He leaked the information to a radical left-wing blog called Tikkun Olam, owned by Richard Silverstein.  

The people overheard by the FBI eavesdroppers included American supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress, according to Silverstein. He told the NYT he had burned the secret documents he received from Leibovich 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."

According to Silverstein, Leibovich leaked the documents because of concerns about Israel’s "aggressive efforts to influence Congress and public opinion" and fears that Israel might strike nuclear facilities in Iran.

Silverstein, 59, said he had decided to speak out to make clear that Leibovich, though charged under the Espionage Act, was acting out of noble motives. 

One of the posts in Silverstein's blog that were allegedly based on Leibovich's information describes calls involving Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Chicago and Washington to discuss the views of members of Congress on Israel. Another describes a call between an unnamed Jewish activist in Minnesota and the Israeli Embassy about an embassy official’s meeting with Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota and a Muslim, who was planning an official trip to Gaza.

The NYT reported, "Mr. Silverstein said he remembered that embassy officials talked about drafting opinion articles to be published under the names of American supporters. He said the transcripts also included a three-way conversation between a congressman from Texas, an American supporter of the congressman and an embassy official; Mr. Silverstein said he could not recall any of the names."

While the US routinely spies on its ally Israel, it is also extraordinarily harsh in its treatment of Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel on the US.