The Persecution of Shamai Leibowitz

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Recently by Justin Raimondo: Is America a Force for Good in the World?

What if you had information that foreign government officials, utilizing their resources in the United States, were plotting to drag America into a ruinous war, using their connections with key American lawmakers and the media to get members of Congress and the public on board — what would you do?

Unless you’re either a traitor or a coward, you’d expose the scheme to the light of day — and you’d be a hero, at least in my book. From the perspective of the Obama administration, however, you’re a criminal — and the sentence could be severe.

In a secret trial in which not even the judge was allowed to look at the evidence, FBI translator and human rights blogger Shamai Leibowitz, an Israeli-American lawyer, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for the u201Ccrimeu201D of exposing Israel’s extensive efforts to influence American policymakers to support a strike against Iran.

Leibowitz, hired to translate documents for US government agencies monitoring the Israeli embassy in Washington, was shocked by what he read. According to blogger Richard Silverstein, who has seen the transcripts:

u201C[Israeli diplomats] were talking about things that weren’t necessarily illegal, but would be shocking to American people. They target key opinion shapers and key players in society and use long-term plans to sponsor conferences, ghost-author op/ed pieces, and jawbone members of Congress. All together is this image that they really want America to go to war with Iran, or okay Israel going to war with Iran.u201D

They u201Ctargetu201D opinion shapers — with what?

Sponsoring conferences is one thing — but this u201Ctargetingu201D business has more than a few ominous implications. Are the Israelis going after opinion shapers and u201Ckey playersu201D who might not favor their war agenda — and, if so, in what way?

Leibowtiz handed the transcripts over to Silverstein, who wrote about them on his blog: that post has since been deleted, and I can’t find it utilizing Google cache (although it’s go to be there somewhere). Silverstein has since burned the materials given to him by Leibowitz, out of a quite justifiable fear that he’ll be prosecuted, too.

However, it isn’t hard to imagine what was in them: to call Israel’s propaganda campaign in the US aggressive would be an understatement. There are plenty of u201CAmericanu201D organizations that act as unregistered agents of the Israeli state, and I’m not just talking about AIPAC. The Israel lobby, as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have shown, is a powerful force in our politics, and this force often crosses the line that separates propaganda from espionage — the case of Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC top honcho busted [.pdf] for pilfering secret information from the Pentagon’s chief Iran analyst, Larry Franklin, is just one example. Effective propaganda requires information, preferably inside information — including highly classified secrets — which is what Rosen and his AIPAC cohorts were after.

That Israel and its American amen corner have long been trying to provoke a US attack on Iran is hardly a secret. On the other hand, the lengths to which the Israelis will go in order to accomplish this goal are deemed so sensitive by our government that it will go after anyone who tries to reveal it. That should tell us something.

Yes, the US routinely spies on everyone, including its ostensible allies, but this case ought to set off alarm bells: clearly our spooks are very concerned about what the Israelis are up to in this country, and have been for quite some time. Add to this the vindictive nature of Leibowitz’s prosecution, and it’s not stretching the truth to say the government is clearly panicked Israel’s covert activities in the US could become public knowledge. While Silverstein is being extra careful to avoid saying anything that could motivate the Justice Department to put him away in a cell next to Leibowitz’s, his opinion that the activities described in the transcripts u201Cweren’t necessarily illegalu201D leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

I don’t blame Silverstein for his reticence. As the Seattle Weekly reports:

u201CSilverstein isn’t currently facing any legal repercussions for posting the documents that Leibowitz gave him. But he says the fact that the Obama administration has no qualms with jailing federal employees for leaking info means that he takes nothing for granted.

u2018I’m expecting that my status as a journalist gives me protection under the First Amendment,’ he says, a tinge of uncertainty creeping into his voice.u201D

I’ll bet it was more than a u201Ctinge.u201D

What apparently triggered the FBI monitoring and investigation of Antiwar.com, including myself, was our extensive coverage of Israeli covert activities in the US, particularly a number of my columns on the subject. They were so concerned that a memo from FBI counter-terrorism headquarters in Newark instructs area offices to conduct a preliminary u201Cinvestigationu201D on the grounds that we represent a u201Cthreat to National Securityu201D and are, without a doubt, u201Cagents of a foreign power.u201D

Why would my articles on Israeli spying provoke such an off-the-wall assessment? After all, here I am trying to expose a threat to national security — and the FBI considers that to be in itself a threat. So who’s the u201Cagent of a foreign power,u201D in this case — me, or them?

The FBI apparently stumbled on our treason when researching how their infamous u201Cterrorist suspect listu201D [.pdf], in its several forms, came to be public knowledge. The answer was easily discernible to anyone with half a brain: they had given it away quite freely, including to one Italian bank and a Finnish financial institution, who promptly posted it online.

That’s how I came across it in my research into the activities of one Dominick Suter, the owner of a New Jersey moving company whose five employees were arrested on 9/11 under highly suspicious circumstances. Their demeanor and activities on observing the World Trade Center fall from a park overlooking the Hudson river provoked a police response, and they were hauled in for questioning. Held for months, and harshly interrogated, the five were among over 200 Israelis rounded up, along with thousands of Arabs, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Suter owned and operated Urban Movers, Inc., and the name of his company was emblazoned on the truck the u201Chigh fiversu201D stood on as they reportedly videotaped the downing of the towers — and seemed to be celebrating. The Forward later reported that this crew was u201Calmost certainlyu201D an operation directed by Israeli intelligence, although Israeli and US officials deny it.

In any case, it was while I was on Suter’s internet trail that I came across the watch list — with Suter’s name, address, and Social Security clearly listed, along with similar information on his wife, Ornit.

So the FBI was looking for them, too.

Our counterintelligence guys (and gals!) no doubt have their hands full with the Israelis. Security experts testify that, in the related fields of industrial and other forms of espionage, they’re right up there with the Chinese and the Russians. However, one has to wonder if, ten years later, they’ve managed to find Mr. Suter. Or maybe they aren’t looking all that hard.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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