Secrecy News

Leibowitz Leak Case Said to be Unrelated to Israeli Embassy

Shamai Leibowitz was the first person in the Obama Administration to be charged under the Espionage Act with leaking classified information to the press.  He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a jail term that he completed last year. (“Jail Sentence Imposed in Leak Case,” Secrecy News, May 25, 2010).

Leibowitz, an Israel-American who has been a vocal, even radical critic of Israeli government policies, was employed as a contract linguist and translator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He was charged with disclosing secret documents concerning “communication intelligence activities of the United States.”  The precise nature of those documents was not disclosed even to the judge who sentenced Mr. Leibowitz.

Last September, the New York Times reported that Mr. Leibowitz had “passed on secret transcripts of conversations caught on FBI wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.  Those overheard by the eavesdroppers included American supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress,” the Times reported, based on information from blogger Richard Silverstein.  See “Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel” by Scott Shane, New York Times, September 6, 2011.

But that’s not true, Mr. Leibowitz wrote in his blog today.

“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!” he wrote. By the terms of his plea agreement, he is not permitted to publicly discuss the contents of the leaked documents.

“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.”

“I never did anything against the State of Israel, as I am a proud Israeli citizen… I have no problem – as was falsely alleged – with Israelis lobbying 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…,” he wrote.

In other respects, Mr. Leibowitz seems to have endured the ordeal of prison with extraordinary equanimity.

“It’s been nearly a year since I was released from a minimum-security prison after spending there one year,” Mr. Leibowitz wrote. “When I was released I did not feel that I regained my freedom because I never lost my freedom in the first place.”