A friend writes to comment on today’s New York Times story by Scott Shane. Shane reports that the FBI eavesdrops on the Israeli embassy; FBI contract translator Shamai Leibowitz (pictured at the left on the home page) pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act. The facts underlying the plea are not entirely clear. We do know that Leibowitz’s plea was based on his having leaked transcripts of intercepted conversations to an unidentified blogger. Shane identifies the blogger as Richard Silverstein. Leibowitz is currently serving a 20-month sentence on his conviction.
Now I always enjoy Times stories that bear on the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act is the law under which Shane’s fellow Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau should be charged for their exposure of the NSA terrorist eavesdropping program. (See, for example, my Weekly Standard column “Exposure.”) Whenever the Times covers a story related to the Espionage Act, an element of weirdness enters the mix.
Shane does not disappoint in this respect. There are a few weird things about his story. Among them is the fact that it is essentially based on the word of Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein. Shane reports that Silverstein had copies of the transcripts that Leibowitz improperly disclosed, but something funny happened to them: “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.” Shades of Bill Burkett and Mary Mapes, but, well, okay.
Another funny thing about the article is that Shane does not appear to have a clue who Silverstein is. Shane describes Silverstein as the proprietor of a blog giving “a liberal perspective on Israel and Israeli-American relations.” My friend (a liberal) begs to differ. He describes Silverstein as “an absolute and total crackpot.” He adds: “While I am sure the FBI listens to foreign embassies in town of friends and foes alike, Silverstein sounds like he wears tinfoil on his head and believes he can hear those broadcasts in his molars. That’s how big a nut case this guy is.”
The Times appears to equate “a liberal perspective” with unrelenting criticism of Israel and backhanded support for Hamas, an approach not unlike that of the Times editorial board itself. Perhaps Silverstein’s perspective is “liberal” in that sense. In any event, CiF Watch has rounded up Silverstein’s greatest hits. They provide an interesting backdrop to Shane’s story.