Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Updated: The Harman Story: A Silly Conspiracy Tale Full of Holes

Update: Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times has an analysis almost identical to what I wrote below:

Newsflash: As suggested in this article, a Washington Post article just published states that prosecutors are considering dropping the case against two former AIPAC staffers.

Perhaps it isn't even worth mentioning but it is a sign of a wider failing. A story in Congressional Quarterly claims that a National Security Agency (NSA) tap heard Rep. Jane Harman talking to an "Israeli agent" about appealing for leniency in the trumped-up case against two AIPAC employees in exchange for AIPAC helping her get the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.

On the face of it this story is so ridiculous that in saner times it would be laughed about. All it requires is the simplest examination of the logic of the alleged story.

First, the entire story is that a person unknown told something to a reporter hungry for scoops. No one knows how credible the story is. The NSA is far more secret than the CIA and hardly ever leaks and its information is closely held. This alone makes the story suspicious.

But two more points make it ridiculous. First, anyone who knows anything about how Washington works knows that a telephone call from one member of Congress (or even a dozen) is not going to change the course of this case. This is an FBI investigation which the Bureau for some reason is passionate about. No Israeli or AIPAC official is going to be so silly as to think intervention from Harman would have made the slightest bit of difference.

Second, it is well-known that AIPAC abandoned the two employees and was completely out of the case. Indeed, the FBI seems to have blackmailed AIPAC--an action of questionable legality in its own right--that unless it fired the employees and stopped paying their salaries, it would go after the lobbying group. (This was a government attempt to deny people income to pay their lawyers which may be against the law.) So AIPAC has no stake whatsoever in intervening in the case.

In short, the whole story is almost certainly fraudulent.

Here is probably the worst thing that could have happened: some silly pro-Israel advocate, speaking for himself, made a hare-brained suggestion to Harman. She spoke politely, thinking this was absurd, and then did nothing. Note that even the leaker does not say this was an Israeli official or an AIPAC employee.

Now for a bit of speculation. The government has made a fool of itself in this case which should never have been pursued in the first place. The judge has practically made fun of the agency. It has no legal precedent. The defendents will almost certainly be found not guilty.

Certain government officials, not Obama appointees by the way, have a strong vested interest in making it appear that they were on the right track. For their own personal reasons a few seem to have a desire to get AIPAC. That is far more likely to be accurate reading of this story.

Here's another interesting viewpoint which suggests that an ordinary citizen who was trying to help the defendents could call Harman and then be portrayed--not by the NSA, remember but only by the reporter's source--as an agent without any real proof. Unfortunately, media accounts don't deal with obvious points like these but make it sound like some serious accusation. Yet this how easy does this make to smear Israel, Jews, and just about anyone else today?


Imagine how this could be used against anyone. I am only thinking out loud but note that Charles Freeman, a personal friend of the head of U.S. intelligence, Dennis Blair, just had to withdraw his name because of alleged criticism by pro-Israel people. Could this be in any way Blair trying to seek revenge? I'm not saying this is true but that's the kind of question this kind of behavior can suggest.

Ironically, Freeman was very close to both the Saudi and Chinese governments. How about some leaks of Freeman's conversations with Saudi and Chinese officials or with members of Congress?

(If you want to see why Freeman should have been rejected just read what former Secretary of State James Baker, a man very hostile to Israel, has to say in his memoirs about Freeman acting like an advocate for the Saudis while ambassador to that country.)

Finally, there has supposedly been a high-level U.S. intelligence leak targeting a member of Congress who has clearly done nothing wrong, since no one claims Harman did anything regarding the investigation. Whoever leaked this material--assuming it was an official with access to intelligence--is guilty of a crime. But, in a way more important, they are guilty of creating a huge new threat.

What if a member of Congress won't vote the way Executive branch officials--career or appointed--want them to? What if someone in the Executive branch wanted to sabotage someone's future in politics? Can you imagine how easy it would be to stage a provocative phone call and then, even if the legislator did absolutely nothing, it could be used to damage them?

Will Congress now be subject to blackmail on the basis of made-up, distorted, or even true accusations about what someone said to them on the phone by intelligence sources who face no risk of punishment or even know their superiors will approve of what they've done?


  1. Of course there are factions in the US government hostile to Israel or who use anti-Israel sentiment as an ax to grind in a bureaucratic power struggle. That's a constant regardless of what Administration happens to be in office at a given time. AIPAC just happened to be the target of choice for them this time around. Next time, who knows?

  2. From FOXnews.com

    A former member of the House Intelligence Committee is asking the Justice Department to release transcripts of her recorded conversations involving two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of espionage.

    Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., wrote Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday, saying she wants to make public all materials involving her.

    She asked Holder to investigate why federal authorities were recording her conversations and why the conversations were leaked to the media. Harman denied any wrongdoing.

    News reports said that the National Security Agency intercepted phone calls between Harman and a supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She reportedly was overheard agreeing to seek favorable treatment from the Bush administration for the two AIPAC lobbyists.

  3. Yeah- we're supposed to believe that the very hush-hush NSA would leak *raw source intel*???? I'm not buying.

  4. The problem with stories like this doesn't lie in their veracity but with the proclivity so many have to simply accept what they are fed.

    That is part of why I think that it is so important that we pay attention to what people say so that we might correct it sooner rather than later.


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