Local Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein says that the "real story" buried in yesterday's New York Times piece headlined "Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel" isn't that the U.S. government routinely spies on communication through the Israeli embassy.
What's more important, he says, is what the U.S.' spying actually uncovered.
Silverstein runs the progressive Jewish blog Tikun Olam (Hebrew for "repairing the world"). Long a critic of Israel's aggressive stance in dealing with Iran and other Arab neighbors, Silverstein became friends with former FBI translator Shamai K. Leibowitz, who ran a similarly progressive blog and shared a lot of the same views on Israel.
Eventually Leibowitz trusted Silverstein enough to give him something that could put both the men at great risk (Leibowitz most of all).
The FBI translator provided transcripts from secret recordings that the U.S. government made of conversations at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.
"I think he chose me because he knew something about me and trusted my political instincts," Silverstein tells Seattle Weekly today. "In hindsight we might have done this a little different. But we did what did."
What they did eventually got Leibowitz charged and convicted of espionage-related crimes and sentenced to 20 months in federal prison--an unprecedented response to the leaking of classified documents to the media.
Shamai K. Leibowitz was sent to prison for 20 months for leaking spy transcrips to Silverstein.
Reports about the case have so far focused on the fact that the U.S. was spying on Israel. In the Times' own reporting, however, it's clear that the U.S. government spies on just about every country it feels is worth spying on.
What's more shocking, Silverstein says, is how the transcripts shed light on the aggressive opinion-shaping activities of the Israeli government and its ultimate goal: war with Iran.
"The most concerning thing in the transcripts perhaps was the level of intensity that Israeli gives to tracking members of Congress," Silverstein says. "They track their committee assignments, their travel schedules, they evaluate how good and bad for Israel Congress members are, and then bad mouth the ones they don't like and talk up the ones that are favorable."
Throughout many of the transcripts (which Silverstein has since burned) efforts at convincing Congressmembers to either support a U.S. war on Iran or at least to not oppose an Israeli war on Iran, are hinted at, though not voiced specifically.
"[Israeli diplomats] were talking about things that weren't necessarily illegal, but would be shocking to American people," Silverstein says. "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 OK Israel going to war with Iran."
Silverstein 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.
"I'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.