A major scandal involving a top Democrat, the Israeli lobby-shop AIPAC and charges that former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sought congressional help to suppress media reports of systematic, illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) broke on Sunday.
Congressional Quarterly revealed that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) “was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department [to] reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.”
The former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Harman is the co-sponsor of the shameful “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” (H.R.1955) and its mutant relative in the Senate (S.1959). In other words, Harman’s “liberal” veneer is the perfect cover for currying favor with politically well-connected corporate grifters, major beneficiaries of the national security state’s largesse.
Harman was among the most vociferous defenders of the Bush regime’s warrantless wiretapping program. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reminds us, during an appearance on “Meet the Press” with Republicans Pat Roberts and Peter Hoekstra, Harman said that “the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she ‘deplored the leak,’ that ‘it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers,’ and that the whistleblowers were ‘despicable’.”
Jeff Stein reported that the southern California Democrat, in an apparent quid pro quo, was recorded as saying she would “‘waddle into'” the AIPAC case ‘if you think it’ll make a difference,’ according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.”
In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” (Jeff Stein, “Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC,” Congressional Quarterly, April 19, 2009)
AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby shop with the power to make or break politicians who don’t tow the line, have long been accused by critics of engaging in espionage in Washington on behalf of the settler-colonial state, America’s stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East.
Two AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weismann were indicted in 2005 for trafficking classified information on Iraq and Iran obtained from government officials. Lawrence Franklin, a policy analyst with a top secret classification, worked for Under Secretary for Defense Policy Douglas Feith and Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and was AIPAC’s conduit.
According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top secret information to Rosen, then AIPAC’s policy director and Weismann, a senior Iran analyst with the lobby group. The New York Times reported in 2004 that Franklin was one of two U.S. officials that held meetings with Paris-based Iranian dissidents, including Iran-Contra figure, the arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar.
The Pentagon-endorsed meetings were apparently brokered by the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen, another key Iran-Contra figure, identified by Italian journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzano in their book Collusion, as a key facilitator of the bogus “yellow cake” dossier during the run-up to the 2003 American invasion and occupation of Iraq.
One purpose of the Paris meetings according to The Jerusalem Post was to “undermine a pending deal that the White House had been negotiating with the Iranian government,” involving the exchange of top al-Qaeda operatives in Iranian custody in return for an American promise to halt its support of the anti-Iranian cult group, Mujahideen al-Khalq, whose fighters were based in Iraq.
Classified information obtained by Franklin was allegedly passed to Naor Gilon, the head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. As with America’s CIA, Israel’s embassy political officers are often drawn from the ranks of their secret service, Mossad.
As the World Socialist Web Site points out, “No doubt AIPAC found Harman ‘well-qualified’ because she was prepared to promote the policies of the Israeli state, including the attempt to steer Washington toward a military confrontation with Iran, precisely the aim of the espionage of which Franklin, Rosen and Weissman are accused.”
Franklin pled guilty and was sentenced in 2006 to 12 years and 7 months in prison. After multiple delays, the pair are scheduled to go on trial in June in Alexandria, Virginia.
But as The New York Times reported April 21, administration officials regard the case as a “problem child” and that “senior Justice Department officials” are conducting a “final review” that will determine whether the case goes forward or the charges against the alleged spies are dismissed.
Unlike the vast majority of Americans targeted by NSA’s driftnet surveillance of their electronic communications, the Harman intercept was part of a lawful warrant obtained by the FBI during the course of its investigation of AIPAC officials.
The New York Times reported April 21, “that someone seeking help for the employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group, was recorded asking Ms. Harman, a longtime supporter of its efforts, to intervene with the Justice Department. She responded, the official recounted, by saying she would have more influence with a White House official she did not identify.”
According to Congressional Quarterly, that official was none other than Bush crime family capo, Alberto Gonzales.
CQ reports that charges that AIPAC lobbied on Harman’s behalf so that she could obtain the plum chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee “aren’t new,” they were first reported by Time Magazine in 2006. It was then alleged that an FBI investigation of Harman was dropped “for lack of evidence.” Stein reveals:
What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.
And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.
Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.
As for there being “no evidence” to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that “bull****.” (Congressional Quarterly, op. cit.)
The Times reveals that “in return” for her intervention in the AIPAC affair, “a wealthy California donor,” identified as “media mogul Haim Saban” would threaten “to withhold campaign contributions to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post.”
Harman however, isn’t the only Democrat accused by critics of currying favor with corporate grifters. As I reported last June, top Democratic Party representatives raked-in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the telecom industry in return for their support of the odious FISA Amendments Act passed last July by Congress.
In addition to handing the telecommunications industry retroactive immunity and thus, protection from prosecution for aiding and abetting NSA’s warrantless wiretapping programs, the law greatly expanding the agency’s driftnet spying.
The whistleblowing website MAPLight revealed that the 94 Democrats who changed their positions on telecom immunity “received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008. As I wrote at the time:
Despite congressional bromides about “national security” and “keeping America safe,” what it all comes down too is cold, hard cash. Considering that legislation passed last week by the House will effectively quash some 40 lawsuits pending against telecom giants–with potential savings for these corporate grifters running into the billions–it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude its a rigged game. (“‘Fighting Democrats’ Rake-in Big Telecom Bucks,” Antifascist Calling, June 25, 2008)
Among the largest recipients of telecom largesse were James Clyburn, (SC-6), $29,500; Steny Hoyer (MD-5), $29,000; Rahm Emanuel (IL-5), $28,000; Nancy Pelosi (CA-8), $24,500. Harman clocked-in with some $7,000 from the industry.
On Sunday Emanuel, now White House chief of staff told ABC News that “those who devised policy” … “should not be prosecuted,” handing senior Bush administration officials a get-out-of-jail free card for their role in ordering American torture policies.
Harman was quick to denounce the CQ report. According to Stein, the California Democrat said in a prepared statement: “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”
CQ’s sources however, told the Washington insider publication that “Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a ‘completed crime,’ a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, three former officials said.”
When Porter J. Goss, the former CIA Director and no slouch when it came to corruption in his own agency (paging Dusty Foggo!), signed off on DoJ’s FISA warrant after a review of the transcript, he notified then House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “of the FBI’s impending national security investigation of a member of Congress–to wit, Harman.”
“But that’s when,” CQ reports, “Attorney General Gonzales intervened.”
Top officials interviewed by Stein said Gonzales “needed Jane” to carry water for the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales picked the right person for the job. “And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead,” Stein reports.
Despite evidence that Harman was enmeshed in a “pay for play” scheme to secure the top post at the Intelligence Committee, a highly-politicized–and criminal–Justice Department did nothing.
One official involved in the AIPAC investigation told CQ: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government–not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.”
While top Democrats such as Harman, Pelosi and Hoyer assert that the Obama regime should be looking “forward” and not “backwards,” and do everything in their power to sabotage criminal investigations of lawbreaking by officials in the former administration, and actively engage in an on-going cover-up of everything from warrantless wiretapping and torture, to the waging of preemptive wars of aggression and conquest, why is Harman now screaming for an investigation of the leaking of private conversations obtained by a legal warrant?
This is nothing but the boldest, most shamefaced hypocrisy writ large. Some liberal commentators have suggested that breaking the Harman story is an attempt by elements within the national security establishment to “change the story” following last week’s release of previously classified Office of Legal Counsel memos. Those documents revealed the Bush regime’s monstrous authorization of–and justification–for torture; Stein however, denies this. As the World Socialist Web Site reports,
The reality, however, is that the revelations demonstrate the intimate and indispensable collaboration and complicity of the Democrats in all of the criminal actions of the Bush administration, from launching a war of aggression based upon lies against Iraq, to the systematic use of torture, to the unconstitutional and illegal spying on American citizens.
Harman personally played a prominent role in all of these crimes. She promoted the lies about “weapons of mass destruction” and supposed ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda before the war. She, along with Pelosi, was among the four members of Congress to be fully briefed on the CIA’s torture–including waterboarding–of detainees in “black sites” scattered around the world. Neither she nor anyone else made the slightest protest over these criminal actions, while they kept them secret from the American people. (Bill Van Auken, “Democratic defender of NSA spying was wiretapped in Israeli spy probe,” World Socialist Web Site, April 22, 2009)
What’s that old adage about the justice of roosting chickens…