OpEdNews » Are Members of Congress (and Maybe Even the President) Being Blackmailed?
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April 21, 2009
Are Members of Congress (and Maybe Even the President) Being Blackmailed?
By Dave Lindorff
By Dave Lindorff
For some time now, many Americans have wondered how Congress, the elected body that the nation’s Founding Fathers saw as the bulwark of liberty, could have been so thoroughly unwilling to, or incapable of challenging the dictatorial power-grabs and the eight-year Constitution wrecking campaign of the Bush/Cheney administration.
There has been speculation on both the far left and the far right, and even among some in the apolitical, cynical middle of the political spectrum, that somehow the Bush/Cheney administration must have been blackmailing at least the key members of the Congressional leadership, most likely through the use of electronic monitoring by the National Security Agency (NSA).
I’ll admit that I considered the idea of blackmail a bit far out. But now suddenly there is at least some evidence that such seemingly wild speculation may not have been off the mark, with reports that the NSA was indeed monitoring Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and that the Bush Administration used the evidence it had obtained of her improper conversations with and promises to assist agents of the Israeli government and its lobby here in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to blackmail her into supporting the NSA’s warrantless spying program—the very kind of spying that led to her being caught on tape plotting with an agent of a foreign power.
At the time of the taping of Harman’s incriminating phone conversations, the administration was trying desperately (and ultimately successfully) to get the New York Times to hold off on publishing a shocking investigative report by journalist James Risen about a massive campaign of warrantless tapping of Americans’ phone and internet communications.
According to a report by Jeff Stein, published in the latest issue of Congressional Quarterly, the NSA in 2006 recorded Rep. Harman negotiating with an alleged Israeli agent about helping Israel win a reduction in the espionage charges filed by the US in 2005 against two members of the AIPAC lobby accused of providing US intelligence information to the Israeli government (the case against AIPAC’s Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman is still waiting to go to trial). According to the transcript, a copy of which was obtained by CQ, the Israeli agent offered to have AIPAC lobby, and more specifically to have a it arrange for a wealthy Jewish pro-Israel donor in California donate money to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in order to get her, once she became House Speaker, to name Harman as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. At the end of the phone conversation, Rep. Harman, who offered to help, was heard to say, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”
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.