Behind the headlines
THE LOBBY WANTS WAR
By Justin Raimondo
** With Iran **
April 30, 2009
The Israel lobby has been running into a few problems lately, but it’s nothing they don’t think they can handle: a charge of treason, a strong suspicion of obstructing justice, and a gathering storm of criticism from a few dissident intellectuals and policy types. Nothing to get too exercised about. Having felled Charles "Chas" Freeman, smitten Gen. Zinni, and sidelined those in the Obama administration who question the nature and utility of America’s "special relationship" with Israel, the Lobby’s flagship organization, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is primed to hold their national conference in Washington next week, with Jane "This Conversation Doesn’t Exist" Harman slated to address the gathering.
The focus of the conference, and the legislative centerpiece of the event, will be passage of the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act, which would ban U.S. companies from providing Iran with refined petroleum products, and seeks to punish European companies -- particularly the Swiss, who come in for two specific mentions in the text of the bill -- for doing so.
To begin with, the name affixed to this piece of legislative legerdemain is a prime example of congressional doublethink: will it really enhance diplomatic relations with Iran to impose draconian sanctions, the equivalent of an economic chokehold and a prelude to a military blockade? Hardly, and that is very far from its clear intent.
This bill is all about provoking the Iranians, effectively sabotaging efforts to engage in a mutual dialogue with Tehran. Why the egregious packaging? Well, it seems the American people are sick and tired of war, and preparations for war, and so it is far less incriminating if a member of Congress can say he (or she) voted for "the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act" than it is to admit they supported isolating Iran economically.
While it’s true that the Swiss provide up to 80 percent of the Iranians’ refined petroleum imports, as stated in the bill, what’s really at stake here is a spat between the Israelis and the government of Switzerland over a recent meeting between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the U.N.’s recent anti-racism conference held in Geneva.
Reflecting the new hysteria that’s been injected into the Jewish state’s relations with the rest of the world, Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland in protest. Even talking to the Iranians, in any context, is considered by the Israelis to be an "existential" threat to the Jewish state, and anyone who engages in such conversation is considered an enemy -- thus the clauses of the bill that target the Swiss. The message this is sending is clear: if you cross the Israelis, you cross the Americans, too -- yes, even under the Obama administration.
Speaking of Obama, this campaign to isolate Iran is aimed at him just as much as it is at the Iranians, and the Swiss -- it is a shot across the bow, a flexing of legislative muscle on the part of the Lobby that shows the newly-elected American president even he can’t stand up to the Lobby’s power. If he tries to reach out to the Iranians, and short-circuit the march to war, he’ll be subverted, opposed, and reined in by the American Congress, which is, as Pat Buchanan famously -- and accurately -- observed, "Israeli-occupied territory."
The main "argument" in favor of this bill, which enjoys wide bipartisan support, is that it will supposedly be an aid to the diplomatic initiative promised by President Obama, and it quotes the President during the campaign when he said: "Iran right now imports gasoline . . . if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need . . . that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them."
With the introduction of this bill in the House, and a similar one introduced in the Senate by (who else?) Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republican John Kyl, the Lobby is putting the squeeze on Obama, displaying its power over the legislative branch and daring the American president to step out of line. In the months leading up to the election, and since, the Obamaites have been eager to avoid an early confrontation with the Lobby, which would use up a good deal of political capital and split the Democrats at a crucial time. Unless he’s agreeable to signing on to a war with Iran, however, Obama can only put this fight off for so long. Eventually, and inevitably, it will come to a showdown, and the Lobby will come to that fight well-prepared -- albeit a bit nervous in light of recent developments.
That nervousness is manifested in a new, more aggressive tone and tactics. The leering arrogance of the Lobby and its public spokespersons in the face of mounting public criticism and organized opposition really is a sight to behold: exhibit "A" is their latest response to the recent scandal involving Rep. Jane Harman.
The California Democrat was overheard on an FBI eavesdropping tape offering to help get the charges against two AIPAC officials accused of espionage reduced, in exchange for piles of Haim Saban’s money and lobbying by AIPAC to get Harman appointed chair of the House intelligence committee. When Jeff Stein of the Congressional Quarterly exposed this fact, Harman went on a one-day media blitz, appearing on cable news outlets and National Public Radio, hysterically (and ineffectively) denying her obvious guilt. The next day she hired Lanny Davis, the well-connected Clintonite lawyer and public relations flack whose specialty is bailing out Democrats in hot water. From that point, the Harman camp’s pushback went from Harman’s screeching denials and her comically self-contradictory "explanations," to dismissive "humor," as *Congressional Quarterly* reports: "Embattled California Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., shrugged off woes over a wiretapping controversy Wednesday and claimed ‘Best Team Name Honors’ for this year’s Capital Challenge mini-marathon race.
"’Tapped Out,’ an obvious reference to revelations that Harman was overheard by government wiretappers in conversations with a suspected Israeli intelligence agent in 2005, evidently won the judges’ hearts as best team moniker."
It’s all a joke, nothing to get too excited about -- that’s how the Lobby thumbs its nose at the American people, and, with the collusion of our elected officials, continues to get away with fatally distorting American foreign policy and taking us down the road to war.
Whether this strategy will work, or whether the American people will wake up in time to arrest the ongoing corruption of their government and social institutions by a foreign entity, remains to be seen. It is an indication, however, of the deep contempt with which the Lobby views American law and institutions, and, as such, is utterly reprehensible. These are the same people, by the way, who yelp about the alleged increase in anti-Semitism, here as well as in Europe -- and then do everything in their power to ensure that their worst fears and direst prophecies are fulfilled.
Harman’s chutzpah knows no bounds. "I am challenging CQ’s Jeff Stein," she brayed in a press release, "who got my age wrong and denigrated my previous race time in a recent blog post, to a road race. Bring it on, Jeff!" She smugly adds: "Clearly, our sense of humor is intact."
Yes, Jane, even if your credibility isn’t. I liked Jeff Stein’s counter-challenge, however: "To race Harman from her Capitol Hill office to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), on May 3 at the Washington Convention Center, where Harman is giving an address."
Speaking of chutzpah, isn’t that what AIPAC is displaying a surfeit of by not rescinding their invitation to Harman? After all, she stands exposed as having colluded in a corrupt deal to let off two of their top employees who are charged with spying for Israel. Yes, we know they’re a fifth column working on behalf of a foreign power, but do they have to flaunt their disloyalty as if it were a badge of honor?
Chutzpah is one word for it, hubris is another. In any case, the Lobby is riding for a fall, in spite of its political power, its financial resources, its stranglehold on Capitol Hill and the policymaking apparatus of the U.S. government. If the U.S. is drawn into yet another war with the Lobby’s fingerprints all over it, the American people -- after having voted for a presidential candidate many thought was intent on reversing the relentless warmongering of the past eight years -- are bound to react. As the Lobby jeers at and otherwise disrespects our laws and our nation’s security, sooner or later popular revulsion against this faction of brazen fifth columnists is bound to give AIPAC and its allies a monumental slapping down.
SOURCES: WIRETAP RECORDED REP. HARMAN PROMISING TO INTERVENE FOR AIPAC
By Jeff Stein
April 19, 2009
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat long involved in intelligence issues, was overheard on a 2005 National Security Agency wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two former officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
In return, the Israeli agent pledged to help lobby for Harman to become chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Two former senior national security officials, one who has read a transcript of the wiretap and a second who was briefed on its contents, said Harman agreed during the conversation to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” Their accounts were confirmed by a third source with knowledge of the wiretapped conversation and subsequent events.
AIPAC is the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.
In exchange, the sources reported, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to lobby Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was then the House minority leader, to appoint Harman chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if Democrats won control of the House in the 2006 elections.
Harman hung up the phone after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” according to the former officials.
The sources, who discussed the matter only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of domestic NSA eavesdropping, said Justice Department officials decided there was sufficient evidence to initiate and FBI investigation of Harman. But at the last minute, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales aborted the plan, saying that he needed Harman’s help defending the administration’s warrantless wiretap program.
A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked Monday for an investigation of Harman by the Office of Congressional Ethics and for a Justice Department probe of why a case against the congresswoman was not pursued.
Harman declined to discuss the allegation, instead issuing a denial through a spokesman. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she said in a prepared statement. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”
Allegations that pro-Israel lobbyists tried to help Harman get the chairmanship by lobbying Pelosi and raising money for the future Speaker are not new. They were widely reported in 2006, as was an FBI investigation that was reportedly dropped for lack of evidence.
What is new is that Harman is said by the former national security officials to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA wiretap directed at alleged Israel covert action in Washington.
Another piece of news is that contrary to reports the Harman investigation was dropped for lack of evidence, the former national security officials and a former high-ranking law enforcement source say that it was Gonzales, President George W. Bush’s top counsel before becoming attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe because the administration wanted Harman to be able to defend the warrantless wiretapping program the New York Times was about to disclose.
As for there being no evidence to support the FBI probe, the source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretap transcript called that “bull****.”
Gonzales said through a spokesman he would have no comment.
Pelosi passed over Harman for the Intelligence Committee chairmanship, eventually appointing Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. Although she was frequently said to be a candidate for a high post at the CIA or Homeland Security Department, she failed to win a spot in the Obama administration.
CASE IS DROPPED
According to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.
The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and the former national security officials would not discuss other aspects of the highly classified NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets.
Former AIPAC official Steve Rosen was charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and communicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Keith Weissman, who had also left AIPAC over the scandal, was charged with conspiracy. AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before Harman’s intercepted conversation.
Harman responded that influencing Gonzales would be a difficult task, because he “just follows White House orders,” but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.
Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a crime, according to the national security and law enforcement sources.
The Justice Department attorneys were prepared to pursue a case against Harman, which would include electronic surveillance approved by the so-called FISA Court, the secret panel established by the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to hear government wiretap requests. First, however, they needed the certification of top intelligence officials that Harman’s wiretapped conversations justified a national security investigation.
Then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss reviewed the Harman transcript and signed off on the Justice Department’s FISA application, two sources said. He also decided that, under a protocol involving the separation of powers, it was time to notify then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Pelosi, of the FBI’s impending national security investigation of a member of Congress -- to wit, Harman.
Goss, a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, deemed the matter particularly urgent because of the high rank of Harman, a Democrat, on the Intelligence panel.
But according to the two former national security officials, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the *Times*. Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the *Times* from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.
On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the *Times*, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”
Pelosi and Hastert were never notified and the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.
Goss declined an interview request, and the CIA did not respond to a request to interview former Director Michael V. Hayden, who, the sources said, was informed of the Harman transcript.
The first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, opposed an FBI investigation of Harman, according to officials familiar with his thinking, and left it to Goss or FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, to decide what to do. Negroponte was traveling last week and did not respond to questions relayed to him through an assistant.
“It’s the deepest kind of corruption,” said one of the sources, recently retired law enforcement official who was involved in the AIPAC investigation. “It’s a story about the corruption of government -- not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.”
The two former AIPAC officials are scheduled to stand trial in June.
Spy talk: intelligence for thinking people
SOURCE: WIRETAP CAUGHT HARMAN DISCUSSING PELOSI FUNDRAISING FLAP
By Jeff Stein
April 22, 2009
California Democrat Jane Harman, battling a controversy over her interactions with a suspected Israeli spy, was overheard on a 2005 wiretap discussing a failed fundraising ploy designed to get her named chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, according to a former national security official who has read the transcript.
Harman was heard lamenting to the suspected Israeli agent how the tactics of a major Jewish fundraiser to use the threat of withholding political donations to California Democrat Nancy Pelosi to win Harman the gavel of the House Select Committee on Intelligence had badly backfired, the former official said.
Harman's conversation with the suspected spy was picked up by federal counterintelligence eavesdroppers as part of an investigation into the activities of the alleged Israeli agent.
The New York Times on Tuesday identified the California donor as Haim Saban, "a vocal supporter of Israel" who made a fortune on his Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Harman and the target of the NSA intercept mutually rued the tactics of Saban, a major Democratic donor, to influence Pelosi, said the former national security official.
The former official, who has provided accurate information on Harman's intercepted conversations, did so only on the condition of anonymity because the material remains highly classified.
In the wiretapped conversation, the target was heard telling Harman that "Pelosi went ballistic" when Saban allegedly warned her that if Harman were not made chairman of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections "'you'll get no more contributions from me,'" according to the former official's paraphrase of the conversation.
At the time, with Democrats already optimistic about retaking Congress in the 2006 elections, Harman was eager to trade in her status as the committee's ranking Democrat for the chairman's gavel.
Pro-Israel operatives, meanwhile, were equally eager to get one of their own, the committee's lone Jewish member, appointed chairman, a former intelligence official involved in the case said.
Congressional Quarterly reported April 19 that NSA eavesdroppers heard Harman agreeing to an appeal from the suspected Israeli agent to intervene in an effort to reduce espionage-related charges lodged against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel organization.
The Washington Post reported today that the taps were being run by the FBI, not NSA, as part of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation of suspected Israeli covert action agents in the United States.
The FBI raided the homes of AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in August 2004. Initially, the organization stood by the two, but in March 2005 they were fired. Five months later they were indicted on charges of illegally receiving classified information and passing it to Israeli officials.
The two former officials are scheduled to stand trial in June, after several delays in the case.
Yesterday afternoon, however, the Washington Post's Jerry Markon reported that the Justice Department is now considering dropping all charges against the two.
For her part, Harman unleashed a media offensive Tuesday, appearing on CNN and MSNBC and other news outlets after the New York Times published a front-page story adding new details to the story and independently confirming most of CQ's initial report.
She appeared to run into trouble under tough questioning by National Public Radio's Robert Siegel, co-host of "All Things Considered."
One observer called Harman's defensive, sometimes contradictory answers "a train wreck."
After denying to CQ days ago that any of the alleged conversations had taken place, Harman began qualifying her answer under Siegel's interrogation.
"We don't know if there was a phone call," Harman said, backtracking.
When Siegel pressed her on the nature of the phone call in question, Harman said she couldn't "recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago."
Earlier in the day, NBC's Andrea Mitchell drew similar answers from Harman about the reported telephone calls.
"Well, I -- I'm not sure what the chronology is, Andrea, but I think all these allegations occurred after these AIPAC people were indicted. I read in the newspaper that they were indicted in March of 2005, and I don't think anyone is claiming that I somehow did any of this stuff before that," Harman said.
She added: "So I really don't know what I might have said to good friends. If there are tapes out there, bring it on. I don't know whether they were legally made or not -- of my conversations about this matter."
Harman also announced that she had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder "to release any transcripts that he has that involve wiretaps of me." The likelihood that the transcripts would be released is an unlikely possibility, observers say, since they may be at the center of highly classified counterintelligence investigation.
On NPR, Siegel also challenged Harman's suggestion that she had been the target of an illegal Bush administration wiretap while she was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee -- and that more members of Congress might have been targeted.
In the exchange, Harman told Siegel, "I was talking to was an American citizen," prompting Siegel to attempt to question how she could know that.
"Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen. I didn't talk to some foreigner about it," Harman replied.
CQ and the New York Times have reported that the wiretap which picked up Harman's alleged conversation with a suspected Israeli agent was authorized by the FISA court.
U.S. MIGHT NOT TRY PRO-ISRAEL LOBBYISTS
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Walter Pincus, and Jerry Markon
April 22, 2009
The U.S. government may abandon espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, officials said yesterday, as a prominent House lawmaker denied new allegations that she offered to use her influence in their behalf.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) accused the government of an "abuse of power" in wiretapping her conversations, following news reports that she had been recorded in 2006 on FBI wiretaps that officials at the time said raised questions of possible illegal conduct.
Harman's expression of outrage added a political dimension to the prosecution of the two former lobbyists, who were charged in 2005 under a World War I-era espionage law with conspiring to give national defense information to journalists and Israeli Embassy officials.
With the trial set to begin June 2, the Justice Department is reviewing whether to proceed as planned or withdraw the indictments after a series of adverse court rulings, according to law enforcement sources and lawyers close to the case.
Defense attorneys recently subpoenaed a number of senior Bush administration officials, including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, and former high-level Defense Department officials Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith.
Transcripts of the FBI wiretaps depict a possible trade of favors in which Harman expressed willingness to discuss the American Israel Public Affairs Committee prosecution with senior administration officials and, in return, backers of Israel would provide Democrats with additional campaign contributions and support Harman's efforts to become chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In that job, Harman -- who was already the panel's senior Democrat -- would have maintained access to some of the nation's most sensitive secrets, through intelligence briefings typically reserved for just four to eight top lawmakers.
After the 2006 election, Harman's promotion was shouldered aside by a fellow Californian with whom she has long had difficult relations, newly chosen House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D). And the Justice Department, after prolonged internal discussions, dropped its investigation of Harman without briefing congressional leaders, who are normally notified whenever a lawmaker is implicated in a national security investigation, according to two additional sources.
Although the government's probe of Harman was disclosed in 2006, the existence of transcripts depicting what she said in the phone calls surfaced this week on the Congressional Quarterly Web site. She told reporters yesterday that as far as she knows, the calls in question were conversations with U.S. citizens that took place within the country.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Harman said she never contacted the Justice Department or the White House to "seek favorable treatment regarding the national security cases on which I was briefed, or any other cases." She also said that "it is entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups," and expressed concern that the allegations about what she said in her conversations might have "a chilling effect on other elected officials who may find themselves in my situation."
Harman further called on the department to release in full any transcripts and other material involving her that were collected during the federal probe, so she could make them public.
Matthew A. Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said: "We are reviewing the congresswoman's letter," adding that the department had no further comment.
The two former lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked until 2005 for AIPAC, an influential advocacy group. They were fired after government officials told the group's officers about recordings and video in which the lobbyists discussed classified information with journalists and Israeli Embassy officials. One of the journalists is a Washington Post reporter.
The government's case sparked controversy because it was the first effort to apply the law to people who did not work for the government and who were engaged in an exchange of information that many consider routine in Washington.
Harman came to the attention of the FBI when she was heard conversing with someone whom the FBI was wiretapping under a law permitting domestic surveillance of suspected foreign intelligence agents, according to the sources with knowledge of the wiretaps. In that conversation, her supporter, who was the target of the wiretap, allegedly discussed speaking to Pelosi about additional contributions to Democrats if Harman was appointed committee chairman, the sources said. That development prompted a preliminary FBI investigation of Harman herself.
A friend of Harman's who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid a clash with her said that some of the congresswoman's friends advised her at the time to scale back her effort to become chairman because it was clearly not working. "Jane was pulling every lever -- the Hill, downtown -- everything," said the friend. "It got to the point that you wanted to head the other way when you saw her coming. She wouldn't let it go."
Harman has repeatedly described herself as a friend of AIPAC, and the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics says that she has received $347,688 in campaign contributions since 1989 from groups that take a pro-Israel stance. She is slated to appear on a panel to discuss "an insider's look at the Middle East" at AIPAC's May 3 policy conference.
Pelosi decided not to give Harman the chairmanship "for ideological reasons," including Harman's decision not to oppose the war in Iraq, according to a Pelosi aide. Pelosi denied that any pro-Israel donors to the Democratic Party threatened to withhold donations if she appointed someone other than Harman to lead the committee. "Everybody knows that I don't respond to threats so it wouldn't be useful to use them, but it isn't true, no," she said.
The Justice Department decided not to proceed with a criminal case against Harman or to notify congressional leaders of the preliminary investigation because the evidence was at best murky and such cases are hard to prove, one former government official said yesterday.
The Justice Department's decision to review the case against the former lobbyists was triggered by recent court rulings that make it harder for the government to win such convictions, according to the law enforcement sources and lawyers close to the case. Those decisions included an appeals court ruling that allowed the defense to use classified information at trial. A lower-court judge also said prosecutors must show that the two men knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the United States or aid a foreign government and that they knew what they were doing was illegal.
The review is a legal analysis examining the recent court rulings and whether prosecutors can meet their burden of proof, the sources said. They said the review was not begun by political appointees from the Obama administration and would have been undertaken even if Republicans had retained the presidency. They also said it is unrelated to the revelations about Harman.
"It's not because 'Oh, this is getting ink, it's getting too hot, we need to drop it,'" said one law enforcement source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. "We would never do it for that reason."
Any decision to seek to drop the charges would require approval from a federal judge.
--Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu, Paul Kane and Lois Romano; research editor Alice Crites; and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.