Harman’s Magic Act
By a twist of fate, Jane Harman actually appeared at the AIPAC convention over the weekend, bringing full circle the recent controversy over her comments picked up on a wiretap offering help to get AIPAC staffers out of a Justice Department probe in exchange for help getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. She vowed to begin a crusade against illegal wiretapping and overreach from the surveillance state.
Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.
“I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else,” Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having “a chilling effect” on members of Congress who “care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups.”
Later, she called herself a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power”. Which, coming from Harman, is utterly absurd, a magic act where she transforms herself from a vigorous defender of executive prerogatives on wiretapping to a civil liberties zealot who wants to take down the surveillance state.
Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be “legal and necessary” once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers “despicable”, who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind.
That is who is a self-proclaimed “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”
As Atrios notes, Jane Harman is primarily concerned about wiretapping of People Named Jane Harman. And her point that this represented a potential abuse of government power, which by the way is
entirely plausible, was the entire point of people like me when we decried an illegal wiretapping program that would be ripe for abuse. You know, the one Jane Harman defended.
Worse, in the “Fact Sheet” Harman is sending around to supporters in the district, she characterizes herself as, among other things, a longtime critic of warrantless wiretapping in the most fantastical way possible:
• Harman has never supported so-called “warrantless wiretaps” on Americans. “We must use all lawful tools to detect and disrupt the plans of our enemies; signals intelligence and the work of the NSA are vital to that mission. But in doing so, it is also vital that we protect the American people’s constitutional rights.” (Press release of Dec. 21, 2005 — four days after the President declassified the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).
• Harman introduced the LISTEN Act (H.R. 5371) with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to add resources to the Justice Department to ensure the issuance of individualized warrants under FISA. (Press release of May 11, 2006).
• Harman, Senator Obama, and Speaker Pelosi supported amendments to FISA to expand protections to US citizens, and give limited court-reviewed immunity to telecommunications firms that prove they relied in good faith on what they believed was a valid order to produce records. (Vote date of June 20, 2008).
She must think we’re all idiots. That vote of June 20, 2008, the amendments to FISA to “expand protections to US citizens,” in addition to providing retroactive immunity for the telecoms for breaking the law, actually granted sweeping new powers to the federal government, including the ability to “conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.” The fact that this lack of oversight or judicial review could lead to abuses of surveillance power has been confirmed by reports that the NSA overstepped its legal authority to wiretap by intercepting the private emails and phone calls of Americans, problems which grew “out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers.” The fact that Barack Obama supported that bill, considering that he was massively criticized by progressives for that FISA vote, doesn’t exactly help the cause.
Harman’s record on wiretapping is well-known and her efforts to wiggle out of it are frankly laughable. And the rest of her record, as demonstrated by Swing State Project today, shows her to be among the top 20 Democrats voting less liberal than what their districts would support. That, more than this hypocrisy on civil liberties, is why she’ll draw a primary challenge next year, should she choose to run again.
Government opts for secrecy in wiretap suit
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
(04-06) 15:26 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — The Obama administration is again invoking government secrecy in defending the Bush administration’s wiretapping program, this time against a lawsuit by AT&T customers who claim federal agents illegally intercepted their phone calls and gained access to their records.
Disclosure of the information sought by the customers, “which concerns how the United States seeks to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” Justice Department lawyers said in papers filed Friday in San Francisco.
Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lawyer for the customers, said Monday the filing was disappointing in light of the Obama presidential campaign’s “unceasing criticism of Bush-era secrecy and promise for more transparency.”
In a 2006 lawsuit, the AT&T plaintiffs accused the company of allowing the National Security Agency to intercept calls and e-mails and inspect records of millions of customers without warrants or evidence of wrongdoing.
The suit followed President George W. Bush’s acknowledgement in 2005 that he had secretly authorized the NSA in 2001 to monitor messages between U.S. residents and suspected foreign terrorists without seeking court approval, as required by a 1978 law.
Congress passed a new law last summer permitting the surveillance after Bush allowed some court supervision, the extent of which has not been made public. The law also sought to grant immunity to AT&T and other telecommunications companies from suits by customers accusing them of helping the government spy on them.
Nearly 40 such suits from around the nation, all filed after Bush’s 2005 disclosure, have been transferred to San Francisco and are pending before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. He is now reviewing a constitutional challenge to last year’s immunity law, which the Obama administration is defending.
Walker is also considering a challenge to the surveillance program by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct charity that was inadvertently given a government document in 2004, reportedly showing that its lawyers had been wiretapped during an investigation that landed the group on the government’s terrorist list.
The Obama administration is also opposing that suit and has challenged Walker’s order to let Al-Haramain’s lawyers examine the still-classified surveillance document.
The administration’s new filing asks Walker to dismiss a second suit filed in September by AT&T customers that sought to sidestep the telecommunications immunity law by naming only the government, Bush and other top officials as defendants.
Like the earlier suit, the September case relies on a former AT&T technician’s declaration that he saw equipment installed at the company’s San Francisco office to allow NSA agents to copy all incoming e-mails. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the declaration, and public statements by government officials, revealed a “dragnet” surveillance program that indiscriminately scooped up messages and customer records.
The Justice Department said Friday that government agents monitored only communications in which “a participant was reasonably believed to be associated with al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.” But proving that the surveillance program did not sweep in ordinary phone customers would require “disclosure of highly classified NSA intelligence sources and methods,” the department said.
Individual customers cannot show their messages were intercepted, and thus have no right to sue, because all such information is secret, government lawyers said. They also said disclosure of whether AT&T took part in the program would tell the nation’s enemies “which channels of communication may or may not be secure.”
E-mail Bob Egelko at email@example.com.
Kicking Ass and Taking Names: Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald Call Bullshit on the White House Stenographers
The Grand Dame of Blogs, Jane Hamsher and the Tough, Smart Glenn Greenwald Are Getting it Done
Glenn Greenwald has been rightfully indignant about the Obama DoJ’s use of Bush’s “state secrets” argument to cover up charges of rendition and torture. The NY Times this morning says “It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred…..Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court.”
But Bush’s “state secrets” claims aren’t the only White House holdovers. Glenn also singles out Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic today for being a DC stenographer whose idea of “reporting” is calling up administration sources, granting them anonymity without cause, and then writing it up mindlessly without critique or context:
What possible justification is there for granting administration officials anonymity to explain why they are embracing a Bush-era weapon that they have long criticized? And why does an administration swearing great levels of transparency and accountability — and vowing to use secrecy only when absolutely necessary — need to hide behind a wall of anonymity in order to explain why they did what they did here? Why can’t they attach their names to this explanation, so that they can be questioned about it and held accountable?
Why would he do that? Well, possibly because that’s the only way they’ll talk to him — or anyone else. New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston has also written about this “business as usual” quality of White House press relations:
My questions to LaBolt and Singh prompted a return phone call the next day from Nick Shapiro, who spelled his name, but had to be prodded several times to give his job title: assistant press secretary.
During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.”
The reportorial practice of letting government officials speak without taking responsibility for their words has been an issue with the public and is being questioned now by some journalists, as shown by this article from Slate’s Jack Shafer.
Questions about whether Shapiro knows the difference between off-the-record, background, deep background, and on-the-record did not get asked, because Shapiro made it clear he had no interest in answering anything about how the Obama press secretary’s office is operating and what its tone will be. He said questions should be submitted in writing by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I sent Shapiro an e-mail outlining the contours of what would be covered in an interview, but have not received a response as of this writing, the following day.
Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter whose book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense [and Stick You with the Bill] is indispensible for anyone wanting to understand how the taxation and legislative system has been gamed to favor the rich. He’s a superb journalist and sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s still employed at the Times. (note: Johnston has left the NYT.) An administration interested in transparency should be ecstatic about working with him.
But what is going on right now in the world of DC journalism finds its most naked expression in Ambinder’s piece, though I’ve seen other glaring examples of late — journalists are scrambling for who gets “access” to the White House. So there’s no end to the bullshit they’ll write to ingratiate themselves to potential sources, or the inconvenient facts they’ll edit out in order to be the new Bob Woodward. (Though Ambinder does deserve some praise on this front — he wrote what everyone else knows but isn’t saying about White House plans: “encouragement of moderate Democrats,” “entitlement reform” and “standing up to Speaker Pelosi.”)
You can see it in the horror with which the traditional media is responding to Sam Stein getting called on at the President’s press conference — there are rules, there is a pecking order, and This Is Not How It’s Done. While it’s great Sam got recognized — he’s a really good journalist and he asked a critical question — it’s not much more than “window dressing” if the day-to-day interaction with the press stays the same as it did during the Bush years. And with Rahm managing the relations between the White House and the media these days, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.
Update: And the stenography continues: Ambinder calls back his “administration sources” so they can respond to Glenn but neither names him nor links to him. “They’re sensitive to the politics of the case, but they’re not motivated by what civil libertarians may write on their blogs.” The administration people don’t want you at the slumber party Glenn Greenwald, and they don’t give anonymous quotes to you, Glenn Greenwald, and they certainly aren’t going to RESPOND to you, Glenn Greenwald, well okay they DID and Ambinder just wrote PARAGRAPHS about it but they are going to just turn their backs and pretend you’re not there. Feh.