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Wednesday, September 28, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

FBI bugged Israel's embassy in Washington, leaked transcripts show

WASHINGTON — FBI intercepts leaked by an Israeli employee of the agency has provided evidence of intensive monitoring of the Jewish state by the U.S. intelligence community.


The U.S. intelligence campaign against Israel was highlighted by intercepts supplied by an FBI translator to U.S. blogger Richard Silverstein who said the FBI bugged the Israeli embassy in Washington and intercepted discussions with members of Congress and the pro-Israel lobby.

Silverstein acknowledged that he received 200 pages of transcripts of telephone calls to and conversations in the Israeli embassy. Later, Silverstein said he burned the transcripts.

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"There was a lot of material there," Silverstein said.

This marked the first time that the U.S. spy campaign against Israel has been documented. In May 2010, the FBI translator, Shamai Liebowitz, was sentenced to 20 months for leaking information of the intercepts he processed and relayed to somebody identified as "Recipient A."

"I don't know what was divulged other than some documents, and how it compromised things," U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams said in sentencing Liebowitz. "I have no idea."

Silverstein said he was the unidentified recipient of Liebowitz's FBI intercepts of the Israeli embassy. Silverstein, who administers a Web site critical of Israel, said the FBI tapped conversations of Americans with the Israeli embassy, including a member of Congress.

At one point, the intercepts included a discussion by Israeli officials who expressed concern that the embassy was bugged. Silverstein, who said he first met Liebowitz in 2008, did not elaborate.

As an attorney with dual citizenship, the 40-year-old Liebowitz, the grandson of the late Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Liebowitz, spent years defending Hamas and Hizbullah operatives in Israel. The circumstances of the FBI hiring an Israeli national for national security operations were not disclosed in the prosecution of Liebowitz, now completing his term in a federal halfway house in Maryland. Liebowitz was also said to have worked for the State Department and the Defense Department as a Hebrew linguist.

Silverstein said Liebowitz, charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, leaked the FBI transcripts because the latter was angered by Israeli lobbying in Washington. Liebowitz, whose sentence was regarded as light for an Israeli convicted of relaying classified information, was said to have been concerned that Israeli officials were persuading Congress that Iran's nuclear facilities should be attacked.

"I think he [Liebowitz] chose me because he knew something about me and trusted my political instincts," Silverstein said in interviews with U.S. news Web sites.

The FBI has refused to discuss its employment of Liebowitz, who held top-secret clearance and worked under contract in the agency's office in Calverton, Md. from January to August 2009. But analysts said he was probably working for the FBI's Operational Technology Division, which intercepts telephone, fax and e-mails from such countries as China, France, Israel and Russia, deemed the leading targets of U.S. intelligence.

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