Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Explosive and (Possible) Game Changing Revelations on Warrantless Wiretapping, Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales, and AIPAC!

Every once in awhile there's a moment when the entire course of a debate changes. Two weeks ago I had next to NO HOPE that A. there would be any accountability for the widespread Constitutional violations perpetrated by the Bush Administration - and ratified by Congress by weakening the FISA Law - against the American people, B. That we had any hope to revisit that privacy eviscerating "bi-partisan" FISA legislation that essentially gave a wink and a nod to the government to wiretap Americans whenever they saw fit with little or no oversight, or C. that I would ever receive a decent answer as to why leading Democrats seemed to cave so fast on such an important principle to their own party's base?

Then, in the last week, new revelations are leaked that the wiretapping program and the violations therein were far more comprehensive and illegal than formerly thought (at least in terms of what the "establishment" thought). You can check out four recent posts about these revelations - and Obama's crushing silence on the matter - here, here, here, and here.

But none of those developments compared to what is coming out now! Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com covers the newly breaking scandal that poses a legitimate threat to those that have fought so hard - and successfully - to expand government power and invade the privacy of Americans.

These revelations couldn’t have come at a better time too, because Obama had seemingly fallen in line on this issue so totally and completely, that it was difficult to reconcile the "pre-election" candidate and the newly elected President on the issue.

Before I get to Greenwald's outstanding commentary, some more backdrop on this GIANT STORY:

In 2005 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 Committe." In exchange, Harman asked for help lobbying Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to "appoint her chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win."

Jeff Stein - the investigative reporter that broke this story in Congressional Quarterly - also noted that contrary to previous reports that an FBI probe into Harman had been dropped due to "lack of evidence," it was actually then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who intervened on Harman's behalf in mid-2005 to stop the FBI's investigation because he needed her help selling the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program.


According to Stein, Gonzales told then-CIA Director Porter Goss that Harman had helped persuade the New York Times to hold a story on the wiretapping program before the 2004 elections. In an initial statement to The Plum Line's Greg Sargent yesterday, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said "Ms. Harman did not influence my decision. I don't recall that she even spoke to me."

But in a second statement yesterday, Keller acknowledged that "Harman called Philip Taubman, then the Washington bureau chief of The Times, in October or November of 2004" and "urged that The Times not publish the article."

Suddenly the silence of Pelosi and Harman on the wiretap issue is becoming clearer, as the word was that they DID KNOW about the program but for some reason they kept quiet. First, look at this little tidbit from the LA Times:

An “official with access to the transcripts said 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,” the paper wrote. “She responded, the official recounted, by saying she would have more influence with a White House official she did not identify.

“In return, the caller promised her that a wealthy California donor -- the 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,” the paper added.

Now to Greenwald's piece entitled "Major Scandal Erupts involving Rep. Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales and AIPAC":

Back in October, 2006, Time reported that the DOJ and FBI were investigating whether Harman and AIPAC "violated the law in a scheme to get Harman reappointed as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee" and "the probe also involves whether, in exchange for the help from AIPAC, Harman agreed to help try to persuade the Administration to go lighter on the AIPAC officials caught up in the ongoing investigation." So that part has been known since 2006.


Indeed, as I've noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as "the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee" to repeatedly praise the NSA program as "essential to U.S. national security" and "both necessary and legal." She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested 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." And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

Stein's entire story should be read. It's a model of excellent reporting, as it relies on numerous sources with first-hand knowledge of the NSA transcripts (and what sweet justice it would be if Harman's guilt were established by government eavesdropping). It should be noted that Harman has issued a general denial of wrongdoing (but does not appear to deny that she had the discussion Stein reports), and the sources in Stein's story are anonymous (though because they're disclosing classified information and exposing government wrongdoing, it's a classic case of when anonymity is justifiable; and note Stein's efforts to provide as much information as possible about his sources and why they are anonymous).

Click here to read more from Glenn Greenwald.

More good news - from a privacy advocates perspective anyway - is this little tidbit of news:

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday that the panel would hold a hearing to get to the bottom of reports that the National Security Agency improperly tapped into the domestic communications of American citizens.


The Senate hearing will be closed to the public. It will delve into questions raised by The New York Times story that have not been covered in closed-door informal briefings, a committee official said. The official would not say what those issues are.


Kevin Bankston, an attorney with the privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the revelation shows the "NSA surveillance program is not narrowly targeted against international terrorist communications as the government has claimed, but actually sweeps in masses of domestic communications from telecommunications companies fiber optic networks."

Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national security project, said it shows safeguards built into the current surveillance law do not necessarily work. The ACLU opposed the current law. "It appears that the NSA has disregarded even what minimal limits existed," Jaffer said.

Click here to read the rest of the article. Needless to say: stay tuned and come back here for more as this story develops!

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