AIPAC, NSA Spying and the Corruption of Congress

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…

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Wallace said on April 23rd, 2009 at 4:24pm #

    The American people are being imprisoned and surveilled in a very gradual but definite way. It looks like we will be the frog who got caught in boiling water and couldn’t get out because it was too late.

  2. Andy Kirk & the Nuances of Joy said on April 23rd, 2009 at 5:53pm #

    Wallace, I don’t know how you arrived at your view of things, but it’s pretty close to how I see the USiano predicament.

    They have us surrounded and infiltrated to the point where I don’t even believe what I think.

    AIPAC is just tip of the iceberg. Besides all the other lobbying/influencing outfits like the Council of Presidents, don’t overlook the JCRC’s, the ADL, the Fed, the campus orgs, Stand With Us, the presence in all your local “progressive” or Liberal ecumenical activities, the stranglehold on the News Media incl. nearly all of the “left” same, the control of Organized Labor, of the “Civil Rights” organizations whose annual budgets are dependent on Zionist Power Network support, of all the local Democratic party clubs, candidates, campaigns & minor office holders.
    Not even the far-left ANSWER Coalition will countenance suggestions that it might be worthwhile to investigate the role of US Jewish Zionist figures and organizations in the contemporary US political/economic process.

  3. bozh said on April 24th, 2009 at 7:38pm #

    why do people say on and on that aggression against iraqi people was based on lies? This implies that the war against iraq wld have been justified if it was based on truth!

    but on whose truth wld have beeen the aggressions against afhgh’n, pak’n, and iraq justified? On american? Yes, of course! And a truth can be manufactured with equal ease as a lie.

    so, what is the difference? None, since we wld have had the three wars as long as we say that US has no rigth to wage wars based on lies but only based on truth.

    in short, it appears lot better to object to all wars based on words and justify them solely on deeds.
    in case of iraq, war against it cld have been waged only by UN and only after we saw a smoking bomb.
    but only after a severe demand iraq’s WMD be destroyed.
    but US had taken the law into its own hands; its words [lies/truth] suffice as a justification to attack any land.

  4. beverly said on April 24th, 2009 at 9:34pm #

    No wonder the President wants to “move forward” and not investigate or prosecute BushCo’s high crimes and misdemeanors. Such might result in a few indictments and prison terms for the crooks in his own party – not to mention later on, he may be subject to an independent prosecutor inquiry since he’s continuing many of BushCo’s questionable and downright illegal tactics.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:36am #

    Don’t forget how the Zionists were crowing that Obama was the ‘first Jewish President’, so complete is the Judaic Lobby’s control over him. Don’t be too shamefaced about it ‘though. We here in Australia, and in the UK and increasingly in Europe, are also controlled by Judaic money power. Certainly the media here runs like a bad issue of the ‘Jerusalem Post’, and politicians gouge each other in the scrabble to throw themselves in supplication before the local ‘Lobby’. Naturally, pointing the influence out brings down the reflex vilification of ‘anti-Semite’. And the Chosen foot-soldiers clearly have a lot of spare time on their hands, as every blog is soon infested with them and their hasbara delivered with consummate chutzpah. Inevitably, one must, at some stage, once one has garnered sufficient experience to face the facts, and girded one’s loins to repel the abuse that descends on one’s head for speaking the plain facts, begin to contemplate the ‘for what purpose’, and ‘where does this all end’ questions. After all, Israel is inviolable, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and in total control of the US media and politics. It has been offered comprehensive peace treaties by the Arabs, led by Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians are worn out, if not defeated, and the Lebanese Shia just wish to be left in peace. Withdrawal from the Occupied Territories almost certainly would bring peace and quiet, if that was really what Zionism desired.Yet Zionist belligerence and murderousness only grows, as witnessed by the psychopathic sadism of Gaza, and the still ongoing blockade. What really is the final objective of the unparalleled lust and drive for power and control of Zionism?

  6. bozh said on April 25th, 2009 at 7:32am #

    mulga,
    the ‘settlers’ of americas and australia had not ever declared what it was they wanted.

    most of the ‘settlers’ in palestine also have never stated what their final solution is. This is a taboo topic among christians.
    by silence, the judeo-christian ad hoc bloc tacitly say, Well, we’ll see! We don’t know how much, but as much as we can, and by any means until we are fully sated. tnx

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on April 25th, 2009 at 4:30pm #

    Actually bozh, the Zionists, like Herzl and Ben-Gurion used to be more candid. Eretz Yisrael was to be from the Nile to the Euphrates, and it does not take much Googling to find maps where various Zionist ultras have most of Lebanon, Jordan, parts of Syria, Iraq and the Sinai ‘redeemed’ . I believe some even have parts of Turkey and Cyprus too. Whether there exist real plans to eventually seize these lands , I have no idea. Such theft could only occur amidst some generalised Middle Eastern war, with great destruction, so I tend to dismiss it as nothing but the lunatic pipe-dreams of ultra-chauvinistic racists, but that type is emphatically on the ascendant in Israel, so the chances of it occurring or being attempted are not, alas, zero. And while the Palestinians are constantly screeched at that they must jump through an endless series of rhetorical hoops, obediently ‘recognising Israel’s ‘Right to Exist”, while they have none, or recognise ‘Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish State’ ie agreeing to the apartheid state keeping its Arab second-class citizens perpetually at the bottom of the social order, no-one dares make any demands of the ‘Holy State’. To demand that Israel actually refute Eretz Yisrael, and delineate its eventual borders, is certain to be met by howls of ‘anti-Semitism’, but these days, just about everything does.

  8. Denis Foley said on April 26th, 2009 at 8:12am #

    Today in the U.S.A. there is a young person who will join the army soon.Somewhere in the near future he or she will be tortured to death in case he or she knows anything about the U.S. plans to attack another persons country.This will be justified as a ‘hidden bomb’ situation as the U.S. does actually attack other countries whenever they feel the need. Americans are now ‘fair game’ anywhere in the world and some will die in the most grotesque manner.Most of this insanity can be directly linked to the depradations of Israel in Palestine and the thirst for other peoples wealth/assets/oil etc. How is it that the Jewish people.respected and admired for their creative intellect,can be so stupid.The retribution for all these gross crimes against innocent people will eventually be paid with interest and many Jews will be killed. The survivors,if any,will curse the day that Zionism was thought up. Sad,isn’t it that they can’t tell the difference between Hubris and chutzpah.Regards to all those that love peace among the nations.DF

  9. mary said on April 27th, 2009 at 12:13pm #

    Could anyone give their view on the level of awareness of the Zionist lobby by the average American and whether the extent of the US financial support for Israel is known.

  10. Andy Kirk & the Nuances of Joy said on April 27th, 2009 at 1:53pm #

    Mary, re your second question, the answer is yes, different writers and organizations publish well researched/documented surveys of transfers of US Government and also of private funds to the State of Israel and to Israeli institutions/agencies/organizations. Sorry I don’t have time to supply you with more info so you’ll have to do your own research. You could start with Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and the Institute for Palestine Studies. The Washington Monthly on Middle East Affairs includes a lot of sources. Ask Jeff Blankfort, he remembers everything while I tend to forget. One helpful book is “American Jewish Organizations and Israel” by Lee O’Brien, out of print but available.

    First question calls for speculation since nobody knows for sure, but IMO most folks out there, including (or especially?) most of the “progressives” don’t have much idea what’s going on. Even those who are reputed to be pro-Palestine leaders usually avoid the touchiest questions, whether out of lack of knowledge or abundance of “prudence” is not to me clear.

  11. mary said on April 29th, 2009 at 2:30pm #

    Andy – This from Mondoweiss is a case in point of the Zionist lobby at work. No criticism of the massive US financial support for the Israel miitary is being tolerated in Albuquerque NM.

    http://www.philipweiss.org/mondoweiss/2009/04/billboards-criticizing-us-aid-to-israel-taken-down-under-pressure.html

    Billboards criticizing US aid to Israel taken down under pressure
    (photo of one of the billboards on the link)

    A few weeks ago we posted about ten billboards going up around Albuquerque, NM calling for congress to cut off aid to Israel. They were put up by The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition working to “end to the ten year commitment of $30 billion in U.S. taxpayer-funded military aid pledged to Israel in 2007 by the Bush administration.” Today, the coalition sent out a press release saying that although Lamar Outdoor Advertising had signed a contract to run the billboards for eight weeks, they are coming down after three. From the press release:

    On April 8th, the Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel erected the billboards throughout the Albuquerque area in order to inform the public about the misuse of their tax dollars, denominated in human lives. The group was motivated by concern for the Palestinian people who had recently been subjected to a massive invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military. Over 1,400 Palestinians – mostly civilian, including three hundred children – were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In 2007 the Bush administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Israel over a ten year period beginning in 2008. The majority of these dollars will be used to purchase American-made weapons.

    The design of the billboard had been approved by Lamar and the billboards’ wording and final image were suggested by Lamar’s graphics designer.

    According to information from Lamar, it appears groups claiming to be pro-Israel have conducted a campaign to pressure Lamar to remove the billboards. The Coalition believes this is a deliberate attempt to silence its right to free speech because the humanitarian message of the billboards supports equal rights for the Palestinian people, thereby necessitating criticism of Israel.

    Members of the Coalition will be meeting with Lamar on Friday. We’ll be sure to post an update.

    Posted by Adam Horowitz at 02:11 PM in Adam Horowitz, Gaza, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, U.S. Policy in the Mideast | Permalink

  12. Suthiano said on April 29th, 2009 at 2:48pm #

    Mary,

    thank you for that info. That is absurd.

    In line with that:

    Another professor has been attacked by the zionist lobby

    “I included some material which was highly critical of the Israeli invasion of Gaza as part of the reading material for a course on globalization and global affairs, and this was in January. And I am now facing charges, here at the university, of anti-semitism and violating the faculty code of conduct.”

    http://www.counterpunch.org/henwood04292009.html

  13. Tom Burghardt said on April 29th, 2009 at 3:55pm #

    The censorship of advertising is certainly disturbing, though unsurprising, given the grip over political discourse in the United States by AIPAC and their minions in Congress.

    Kill 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza with U.S. supplied and manufactured weapons? What’s the big deal, eh, another sterling example of Israel “defending” itself from a population hemmed-in on all sides from a nuclear-armed state, America’s stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East.

    Oh yes, let’s talk about the “peace process” while we’re at it!

  14. mary said on May 3rd, 2009 at 8:39am #

    Well I never! No surprise here then.

    US DISMISSES ISRAEL LOBBYIST CASE

    Prosecutors said they no longer felt they were able to win the case

    The US has moved to dismiss a case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused of conspiring to pass defence secrets to unauthorised persons.

    Prosecutors had said Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman intended to disclose the details to Israel and to the media.

    But the government said it was unlikely to win the case and that trial could exposed classified information.

    Critics said the case had been a bid to criminalise commonplace exchanges between journalists and politicians.

    Mr Rosen and Mr Weissman, formerly working for the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), were the first lobbyists to be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.

    Acting US attorney Dana Boente said that when the charges were first filed, “the government believed it could prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt based on the statute”.

    But he said that after the Judge TS Ellis demanded that prosecutors proved the men intended to harm the US with their actions, there was now a “diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial”.

    In the statement to the court, Mr Boente asked that they dismiss the indictment given the “inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter”.

    ‘Hardship’

    Lawyers for the two men said the decision was “a huge victory for the First Amendment”, which constitutionally guarantees the right to free speech in the US.

    The Associated Press reported Baruch Weiss as saying that a prosecution victory would have set a precedent for journalists seeking sensitive information to face possible prosecution.

    But Mr Weiss said the four-year process had been a “tremendous hardship” for the two men, who were dismissed by Aipac in 2005.

    Former defence analyst Lawrence Franklin was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in jail in 2006 for disclosing classified information to Mr Rosen and Mr Weissman.

    Story from BBC NEWS:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/americas/8029884.stm