Slideshow: Eight Whistleblowers Charged Under the Espionage Act

  • submit to reddit

Shamai Leibowitz

Shamai Leibowitz at a Jerusalem hotel in 2002. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Shamai K. Leibowitz, a former FBI Hebrew translator and the grandson of Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, pleaded guilty to leaking classified information before a judge who later said he did not know exactly what Leibowitz had disclosed — just that it was a “very, very serious offense.” Leibowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Leibowitz had leaked 200 pages of transcribed conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps of the Israeli embassy in Washington. They documented discussions embassy officials had with American supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress — and a discussion among Israeli officials in which they worry that their exchanges might be monitored. The leak was to a blogger, Richard Silverstein, who writes the blog Tikun Olam promoting peace between Israel and Palestine and monitoring US government overreach. Silverstein burned the transcripts when Leibowitz came under investigation.

In an interview with The New York Times, Silverstein said that Leibowitz released the transcripts because of Israel’s aggressive attempts to influence public opinion in the US, and because Leibowitz worried that Israel would take what he saw as the potentially disastrous step of bombing nuclear facilities in Iran.

In 2010, Leibowitz agreed to 20 months in prison as part of a plea deal. “As Martin Luther King pointed out, we should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal,'” he wrote in The Guardian in 2013, after the Snowden revelations had begun to trickle out. “Technically, we whistleblowers broke the law, but we felt, as many have felt before, that the obligation to our consciences and basic human rights is stronger than our obligation to obey the law.”

John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
Lauren Feeney is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist whose work has appeared on air and online at PBS, Al Jazeera English and other outlets. A former producer for Moyers & Company, she was a contributor for PBS' Need to Know and led web teams for Wide Angle and Women, War & Peace. She is a graduate of Bard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
  • submit to reddit