Tuesday, April 21, 2009
We know that Jane Harman was blackmailed by the Bush Administration into supporting illegal spying on Americans.
But Dave Lindorff asks a really good question: was Harman the only Congress person blackmailed by the Bush Administration? Or were others blackmailed as well?
It is worth quoting Lindorff at some length:
According to reports in CQ and in the New York Times, which ran a story on the scandal as its lead news item on Tuesday, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales subsequently intervened with the FBI to prevent any prosecution of Harman, a key member of Congress on whom the administration was relying to help it persuade the Times to withhold its NSA wiretapping exposé until after the 2006 election. In the event, Rep. Harman did later make calls to a Times, editor, the paper did hold its story until after the election, and Harman later was a leading backer of the administration’s controversial (and, according to a federal district judge, illegal) NSA spying program.
There are several serious issues here. One is the extraordinary glimpse it offers into the extent to which Israel has penetrated the centers of power in Washington. It is illegal for foreign governments to directly lobby and to offer to arrange financial contributions for members of the US government, but here, clearly, Israeli agents were doing just that. The role of AIPAC as a front for the Israeli government in Washington, as exposed here, is simply stomach-turning, and should make it a toxic organization to politicians. Instead, they flock enmasse to its annual meetings, as President Obama did almost immediately upon winning the November election, and a large proportion of both houses from both parties happily accept its campaign largesse.
A second, even bigger, issue is the NSA’s spying activities themselves. According to CQ, the particular wiretap that caught Rep. Harman inflagrante with an Israeli agent was a court-approved tap—part of an investigation into Israeli government spying activities. But even if this is true—and at this point, we’re relying on what the government is telling us about it—it shows how dangerous the broader unwarranted monitoring program of the NSA has been, and remains. Back in 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA) in direct response to the disclosure during the Watergate hearings and subsequent investigations that the Nixon Administration had been using the NSA to conduct illegal monitoring of the communications of anti-war activists, and of members of Congress. To prevent such police-state outrages in the future, Congress passed the FISA legislation, establishing a secret court staffed by a panel of top-security-cleared federal judges, whose sole responsibility was to consider and grant requests from the NSA for warrants to conduct secret electronic surveillance within the US or involving American citizens abroad.
President Bush used the pretext of the 9-11 attacks to secretly order the NSA to begin a massive compaign of surveillance without going through the FISA Court for warrants, even secretly soliciting the cooperation of the nation’s several telecom companies in splicing in routers at their switching hubs to make it possible to monitor all conversations moving across the wires and the internet. It seemed to some observers, myself included, that the only reason the administration could have had for bypassing the FISA court (which over 30 years of operation has been incredibly accommodating of government spying requests) was that it was planning to engage in spying that would outrage the public and the Congress and even the FISA judges. It also seemed likely, given the Bush/Cheney administration’s public stance that everyone was either “with us or against us,” and that critics of the administration’s “War on Terror” or of its plans to invade Iraq, were “unpatriotic” or “soft on terror,” that congressional opponents of the administration would be obvious—and indeed irresistible--targets of that surveillance.
Now that we have seen proof that the administration was not above using its NSA-acquired knowledge to pressure a member of Congress, it becomes absolutely essential that Congress and the Justice Department investigate to see whether other members of Congress were also victims of agency spying, and whether others besides Rep. Harmon were similarly extorted or otherwise compromised.
The American public can, at this point, have zero confidence in the integrity of the Congress or of their own representatives, knowing that politicians and government officials may be acting not in the public interest but rather under duress in the interest of those who control the National Security Agency. We can have zero confidence either in the integrity of the president, who likewise may well have been compromised by NSA surveillance conducted on him before he became president.
The only possible position for the public to adopt as of today is to be suspicious of any politician who opposes a full and public investigation into the NSA’s seven-year-long campaign of sweeping, warrantless electronic eavesdropping, since opposition to such an investigation, in the wake of the Harman episode, could well be an indication that the political figure in question is afraid she or he has been monitored, or worse, that she or he has been threatened by those who have the records. Every citizen concerned about the fate of American democracy should demand that his or her senators and representative promptly call for such a public probe.