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April 20, 2009 7:44 AM   Subscribe


 
Just when you thought you had finally reached maximum Gonzales-disgust...
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:46 AM on April 20, 2009


This thread doesn’t exist.
posted by hermitosis at 7:51 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by netbros at 7:51 AM on April 20, 2009


Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade [The New York Times] to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections.

Remind me again why I'm supposed to be upset that newspapers are dying?
posted by Joe Beese at 7:54 AM on April 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


This is an historic day. Michelle Malkin agrees with Glenn Greenwald.

Kudos to CQ's Jeff Stein for the excellent reporting.
posted by grounded at 7:55 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to take a moment to point out that the suspected Israeli agent she is alleged to have communicated with is likely to be the creator of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Yes.

OK, carry on.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:57 AM on April 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


does that mean rita repulsa is a terrist?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2009


Harman is my rep, and unfortunately unless she is convicted and locked up, this won't hurt her election chances. For some reason, the Democratic party can't be bothered with putting up a decent primary challenger for her (the last one was-- even though I voted for her-- a bit of a flake) and the Republican nominee is always some Minuteman-type whackjob.
posted by mark242 at 8:03 AM on April 20, 2009


In the 2008 election, Obama won Harman's district by 30+ points, meaning that pretty much any competent Democrat would win an election for that congressional seat. Now, if one were relatively liberal, as I am, one would hope that a member of California's strong community of progressives would fill that seat. Harman, however, is a conservative Blue Dog Democrat and a member of the DLC. She's also one of the five wealthiest members of Congress.

So it gives me no pain to say, "Buh-bye, Jane. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, you scheming sack of fail."
posted by billysumday at 8:04 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If anything, the NY Times enabled the Bush administration more than Fox News did since they actually had some (not necessarily deserved) credibility. The fact that they spent at least the first six years of the Bush years as defacto palace stenographers did tons more damage to this country than all the blathering that the acknowledged right wing media did. If Fox or the Washington Times said something supporting the administration people could just say, well that's expected but when the NY Times did it, everyone could point at it and say "look, look, it's in the Times, it must be true." They burned through their credibility worse than Colin Powell did.
posted by octothorpe at 8:04 AM on April 20, 2009 [22 favorites]


Harman is my rep, and unfortunately unless she is convicted and locked up, this won't hurt her election chances.

I sure hope that's not true. What's interesting in the age of the interwebs is that a small primary challenger can raise money from citizens all over the country. So I have no doubt that a progressive group will set their sights on Harman in '10 and fundraise aggressively for a strong challenger. Also, Harman's problems may be more than just bad PR - if there is an official investigation, who knows what else will turn up.
posted by billysumday at 8:07 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alberto Gonzalez now speaks through a 'spokesman'? The unemployed and unemployable Gonzalez needs to put on his big boy pants and start issuing his own statements of denial and I-don't-recall, just like he used to when he was under oath before Congress.
posted by grounded at 8:12 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is likely a deliberate leak by Obama to weaken the position of Israeli PM Netanyahu and Netanyahu's ability to appeal to the American populace. Nothing pisses people off more than a "friend" who spies on you and pulls sneaky stuff against you.

Think of it this way--if it was designed to hurt Dems it is too late and too early. Bushies would never leak this--it only hurts. The only people this benefits is the Obama Administration.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 AM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


The story was the first thing I read this morning and my first thought really was that this must be a summary of a Glenn Greenwald written screenplay about Washington. All we need is the Joe Klein character to step in and say something stupid and it's all there.
-- Artrios

By the way, Joe Klein is actually friends with Harmon.

This whole thing is just hilarious, I mean. I mean everyone involved is a bad actor. On the one hand you have a member of congress, one who is actually on the intelligence committee trying to intercede on behalf of Israeli spies, which is pretty bad. On the other hand you have an actual sitting member of congress illegally wiretapped, which is also pretty bad.

But then the illegal wiretapping catches the congressperson who is trying to peddle influence with foreign spies to help reduce their charges in exchange for lobbying by AIPAC to help her out with a committee chairmanship. And then it explodes in an paroxysm of malfeasance as the illegal wiretappers blackmail her into supporting the very illegal program that caught her.

It does seem like some kind of movie plot.
posted by delmoi at 8:20 AM on April 20, 2009 [7 favorites]



This is likely a deliberate leak by Obama to weaken the position of Israeli PM Netanyahu and Netanyahu's ability to appeal to the American populace.

Tell me what moment you think would have been an appropriate, non-politically motivated point in time to disclose this information.

Nothing pisses people off more than a "friend" who spies on you and pulls sneaky stuff against you

The way you framed your post makes it sound as if this an afterthought. Americans should know the kinds of shenanigans AIPAC and the Israeli government are pulling while giving us the constant tap-dancing about how Israel is our greatest ally.

The fact that this was suppressed by Gonzales to ensure smooth sailing for the warrantless wiretapping program makes the disclosure all the more significant, since it does a teeny tiny bit to help us understand how, exactly, the last eight years of American history became a "Shit Happens" t-shirt.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wait, so now we're applauding when the NSA listens in on the conversations of two American citizens (assuming it's Saban)?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2009


and of course, there's a copy of this tape we can listen to, right?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:29 AM on April 20, 2009


Wait, so now we're applauding when the NSA listens in on the conversations of two American citizens (assuming it's Saban)?

Not at all. From the link:

"What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington."

Italics mine.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:30 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


She wasn't illegally wiretapped. There was a warrant.
posted by unSane at 8:31 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why was everyone in the pocket of the Bush administration? He read all the emails and listened to all your phone conversations.

Speakup and you'll find your dirty laundry aired everywhere.
posted by Freen at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Israeli spying" is always a sexy angle. [Thank goodness we would never stoop to such a thing.] And there could be few people more fun to kick while they're down than Alberto Gonzales.

But am I alone in thinking that "spooks bugging Congress" dwarfs in importance everything else about this story? That's the kind of thing that could undermine a democracy, amirite?

And before you come back with "court-approved tap", which court are we talking about? The secret rubber-stamp FISA court?
posted by Joe Beese at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2009


Joe, I'm not a fan of wiretapping either, but the question here is whether Harman was wiretapped under Gonzales' warrantless wiretapping program, or if the wiretap on her was approved within the existing, **legal** system of evaluating and approving such surveillance. Yeah, FISA court was basically a rubber stamp, but it was the legal way to get approval for a wiretap. As far as I can tell from the articles, Harman wasn't tapped under Gonzales' program.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:41 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we're going to have FISA, I'd ratter that it applies to the weak and the powerful alike.
posted by Richard Daly at 8:41 AM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Remind me again why I'm supposed to be upset that newspapers are dying?

You are not. Others will be, and they will attempt to use the power of the state to dig into your pockets.

This whole thing is just hilarious, I mean. I mean everyone involved is a bad actor.

What level of reaction would be enough to prevent such in the future? Tar/Feather applications? Prison? Death? Death of everyone you know? Mocking on a series of tubes?

Would an open and transparent government be enough?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:48 AM on April 20, 2009


grounded: "Michelle Malkin agre"


Michelle Malkin could shit ponies, rainbows and buttercups while fellating Harry Reid and I'd still hate her.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:53 AM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]



Michelle Malkin could shit ponies, rainbows and buttercups while fellating Harry Reid and I'd still hate her.

Thanks for that image. I can honestly say I never would have come up with it on my own.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think it's likely that the court-approved wiretap wasn't targeting Rep. Harman specifically, rather, it was targeting the Israeli agent.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:02 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Matt Yglesias makes an intresting point:
However, the substance of what was recorded really does look damning. Which reminds me of something I was thinking about during the Blago Era, namely how many politicians’ reputations could really stand up to serious surveillance? It seems very likely to me that if you picked a member of congress at random, decided you had probably cause to suspect him of corruption, and thus starting wiretapping all his calls with donors and key political supporters that you would find a ton of dubious quid-pro-quos and backscratching arrangements.

Thinking about that further reenforces the point that selective, unaccountable surveillance is very dangerous. A president could do a great deal to gin up pretexts to wiretap members of congress and blackmail them even without the members doing anything unusually egregious. But it’s also a reminder that we have a political system that’s substantially powered by a kind of systematic, quasi-legalized bribery.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 AM on April 20, 2009


It would have been so much cooler had she said, "This conversation will self destruct in ten seconds. Good luck Mr. Phelps."
posted by digsrus at 9:15 AM on April 20, 2009


This could really go anywhere. It seems to me that Josh Marshall makes a pretty good argument that the whole case hangs on what the justice department has on Haim Saban. If that doesn't pan out Harman is going to be looking pretty good and the justice department will look like anti-Semites and civil rights abusers.

I also have no idea where this is going politically. Will the right support Harman because of her position as a defender of is real or will they play the Democrat is a spy angle? The left could focus on any number of facets of the case. Should be an interesting week ahead of us.
posted by afu at 9:31 AM on April 20, 2009


Oh, here's the link to the TPM post.
posted by afu at 9:32 AM on April 20, 2009


"What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington."

Sure, but I'd be a lot happier if the executive branch couldn't spy on a member of another branch without specific approval to spy on that specific member of another branch, granted by a real court for probable cause for a specific crime, and without clear, defensible firewalls between the civil servants doing the tapping and any appointed or otherwise policy-making member of the agency.

And I'd be really happy if the same were true of any American citizens. Target has a call that's not from another target or relevant person? HANG THE FUCK UP, STOP LISTENING, DO NOT MAKE TRANSCRIPTS.

(I'm assuming that the tap was for Saban's-or-whoever's phone, and Harman got caught on tape that way).

If we're going to have FISA, I'd ratter that it applies to the weak and the powerful alike.

The difference is that if NSA listens to you or me, there's nothing there for them to act on. There's nothing there they'd give a crap about, and nothing that's going to give the President a leg up on his interactions with me, because we don't have any because I am utterly irrelevant. This is emphatically not the case when the executive branch spies on members of Congress, and doubly so when they're spying on a member of Congress of the opposite party. To be clear, trying to spy on the other party is what got Nixon in trouble.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


They burned through their credibility worse than Colin Powell did.

At least Powell had the decency to resign.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:54 AM on April 20, 2009


This is just the tip of the iceberg, methinks.
posted by ornate insect at 10:15 AM on April 20, 2009


KevinSkomsvold : Michelle Malkin could shit ponies, rainbows and buttercups while fellating Harry Reid and I'd still hate her.

Yeah, but at least she would suddenly and unexpectedly become watchable. That'd be a new experience for everyone involved.
posted by quin at 10:21 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This conversation doesn't exist.

Umm...you want that on 8-track or cassette?
posted by darkstar at 10:31 AM on April 20, 2009


Sure, but I'd be a lot happier if the executive branch couldn't spy on a member of another branch without specific approval to spy on that specific member of another branch, granted by a real court for probable cause for a specific crime, and without clear, defensible firewalls between the civil servants doing the tapping and any appointed or otherwise policy-making member of the agency.

If they're tapping someone, how exactly would they know a member of congress was on the other end?
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on April 20, 2009


It's pretty clear from the article that the wiretap was not about Harmon, but was about Israeli espionage in the US. Harmon just happened to get caught on tape talking to someone who had a wiretap. This is clear not only from this quote already pointed out, but also this (emphasis mine):

The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.

It was only after this conversation was taped that there was FISA action taken to put a warrant on Harmon, also. Gonzales killed that action in order to keep Harmon on his side, because Pelosi would have to be informed that one of "her team" was going to be wiretapped.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on April 20, 2009


Here's the thing--there was an AIPAC case into spying and influence peddling. The prosecutors sought a FISA wiretap to investigate the allegations of Israeli spying. They got their wiretap. Then one of the objects of the wiretap called Rep. Harman.

In other words, the NSA was not snooping on AIPAC, DOJ was. We have no evidence from this case that people were spying on Congresspeople.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2009


aaaaaaaaand... Joe Klein says something stupid:
Harman: It is being reported that Jane Harman was caught on an NSA wiretap, offering to try to obtain easier treatment of two Jewish-American lobbyists who had been caught in a minor espionage case in return for support (from AIPAC, presumably) for appointment as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. I'm not sure that's illegal--sounds like the sort of horse-trading that goes on all time, but--if true--it is disgraceful.
posted by delmoi at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2009


In other words, the NSA was not snooping on AIPAC, DOJ was. We have no evidence from this case that people were spying on Congresspeople.

The article clearly says the NSA was doing the wiretapping, but seemingly with a FISA court order.
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2009


If they're tapping someone, how exactly would they know a member of congress was on the other end?

Not meaning to be a smartass, but by listening to the conversation. Noting the name and number of the person calling or being called. Noting the subject of the call. Realizing that you're intercepting a call to/from a member of another branch of government, who you haven't been specifically authorized to spy on, with no reported safeguards to keep the contents of the conversation from the President and other political actors, and which branch controls your authorization and funding, and ceasing to listen. Then deleting any file or transcript that had been started.

We have no evidence from this case that people were spying on Congresspeople.

If you're talking with someone the NSA is spying on, and they don't stop listening to your conversation, you're being spied upon too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:34 PM on April 20, 2009


"If you're talking with someone the NSA is spying on, and they don't stop listening to your conversation, you're being spied upon too."

Maybe I am not understanding something correctly, but as far as I understand, the very act of wiretapping involves listening to conversations between the target and other people. I don't see how they could wiretap and have a rule where, when someone else talks, you have to stop. That doesn't make a lot of sense. You'd only get to the greeting and you'd have to hang up.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:27 PM on April 20, 2009


In other words, in a drug sting, for instance, let's say a dealer is getting tapped. And Harman calls up for her weekly smack buy. And they discuss pretty clearly what's going to happen, and she's really jonesing, so she needs it pretty quick. You think they're going to stop or otherwise ignore this information because a member of Congress is tied up in it?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:31 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they're tapping someone, how exactly would they know a member of congress was on the other end?

Through the call metadata. This isn't the old days of reel-to-reel tapes and funny looking earphones. Information such as the caller's telephone number, callee's telephone number, routing information, etc. And all of that information can be linked to phone ownership records to identify the callers. Scary thing is, several court cases have determined that any of the message routing information is fair game, no warrant required.

Throw in some cheap speaker recognition software and you can identify participants with high likelihood who the caller is. And if it was identified as someone with say immunity, they could drop the call. I don't think congresspeople should be immune, but it might make sense for diplomats. Remember, gentlemen don't read each other's mail.

People need to stop thinking in terms of the old paradigm of men in shiny shoes personally listening in to each call. Computers are putting everyone out of work.
posted by formless at 8:51 PM on April 20, 2009


"Throw in some cheap speaker recognition software and you can identify participants with high likelihood who the caller is. And if it was identified as someone with say immunity, they could drop the call. I don't think congresspeople should be immune, but it might make sense for diplomats.

What would be the purpose of that, other than to spare the occasional diplomat? Sounds overly elaborate for very little benefit gained. I don't think anyone who is tied up in illegal activity who is exposing themselves on a legitimately tapped line is immune. Well, maybe a diplomat, but I rather imagine if it were incriminating evidence pointing to the diplomat then it would just mean there would be no indictment of that person, not that we'd have to keep a list of immune people and program it into active taps.

Remember, gentlemen don't read each other's mail."

What does that mean? Is this about manners or the law?
posted by krinklyfig at 9:04 PM on April 20, 2009


I don't see how they could wiretap and have a rule where, when someone else talks, you have to stop.

They can't. But they can have a wiretap and they flag a conversation as nonrelevant and stop listening and stop transcripting.

Which they should do when the executive branch of a government inadvertently listens to a member of another branch of the same government, because they're not supposed to be spying on each other. Unless, of course, the member of the other branch is him or herself the target of a wiretap, in which case there need to be deep and stringent protections around the information.

You think they're going to stop or otherwise ignore this information because a member of Congress is tied up in it?

They certainly ought to, because they're not investigating the member of Congress. They're investigating a drug dealer, not using a drug dealer as a dragnet to gather information about whoever important or interesting calls so that they can make them do what they want.

Let's look at what happened here: the NSA was spying on people. They listened to a conversation with Harman. Then, instead of protecting that information in any way, they handed it right over to the highest political levels of the executive branch so that Bush and Gonzalez could use that information to apply political pressure. The vast information gathering capacities of the NSA weren't just turned on the US, they were turned on the US for, ultimately, no greater purpose than learning how to effectively blackmail a member of Congress. That should chill you.

Is this about manners or the law?

It's about maintaining separation of powers and checks-and-balances as something other than a quaint fiction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:28 PM on April 20, 2009


What does that mean? Is this about manners or the law?

It was meant as a sarcastic reference to Henry L. Stimson's statement, pointing out that when it comes to mass surveillance, manners (and respect for privacy) seem to have a habit of falling by the wayside. The amount of information and power gained is just too great.
posted by formless at 9:56 PM on April 20, 2009


Looks like Harman is complaining right now to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
posted by oaf at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2009


Somebody was a little flustered on NPR today:
Rep. Jane Harman: We don't know if there was a phone call. These are three unnamed sources, former and present national security officials, who are allegedly selectively leaking information about a phone call or phone calls that may or may not have taken place.
then
I'm saying that, No. 1, I don't know that there was a phone conversation.
and ta-da
Well, let's find out. I mean, the person I was talking to was an American citizen. I know something about the law and wiretaps.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:41 PM on April 21, 2009


Glenn Greenwald on Harman's newfound love of civil liberties after years of being a huge supporter of warrantless wiretapping.
posted by delmoi at 10:13 PM on April 21, 2009


"They certainly ought to, because they're not investigating the member of Congress. They're investigating a drug dealer, not using a drug dealer as a dragnet to gather information about whoever important or interesting calls so that they can make them do what they want."

The point is that, in a drug sting, for instance, anyone who calls a tapped phone is going to be tapped themselves, whenever they call that phone. That's just how it works. You don't get absolved of any wrongdoing just because you weren't the specific target. If you call the target and present evidence of a crime, you're now caught up in it.

I'm no fan of FISA or overreaching wiretaps and other covert surveillance, but I don't think evidence of a crime on a wiretap is going to be ignored if the other party is a member of Congress. Ordinary citizens don't enjoy such protections, and nobody is above the law.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:50 PM on April 22, 2009


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