Reports in Congressional Quarterly and the New York Times indicate that a National Security Agency (NSA) wiretap authorized by the FISA Court recorded Rep. Jane Harman trading political favors with a suspected Israeli agent. When the FBI attempted to open a criminal investigation into the matter, Attorney General Gonzales allegedly intervened because he "'needed Jane' to help support the administration's warrantless wiretapping program."

Here was EFF's initial reaction to the scandal, as reported by ABC News:

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been fighting legal battles against the Bush administration and now the Obama administration related to NSA wiretapping, called the story "a textbook case of political abuse of surveillance powers, but in reverse."

Instead of the Bush administration spying on its enemies for political ends, "this is an instance of them directing surveillance away from their allies for political ends," observed EFF's Kevin Bankston.

"What other insider deals it may have struck to gather support for its policies? What other political allies has it protected against criminal or intelligence investigations for political reasons?" he asked. "This raises serious questions about how the Bush administration conducted itself."

Now, in the wake of the scandal, Rep. Harman has pulled an abrupt about-face in her position on NSA wiretapping. Speaking to MSNBC this morning she said:

I'm just very disappointed that my country — I'm an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I'm one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit, and I can fight back. I'm thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, and may not be aware — as I was not — that right now, somewhere, someone's listening in on their conversations, and they're innocent Americans.

This is a real change of tune for Rep. Harman. Over the past few years, she has been one of the warrantless wiretapping program's most relentless cheerleaders. Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald aptly summarized her efforts:

Indeed, as I've noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as "the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee" to repeatedly praise the NSA program as "essential to U.S. national security" and "both necessary and legal."  She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she "deplored the leak," that "it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers," and that the whistleblowers were "despicable."  And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

So, when countless ordinary Americans are being wiretapped without warrants, Harman declares the program "both necessary and legal." But when Harman herself is victim to a court-approved wiretap, she decides it's "a gross abuse of power"? You can draw your own conclusions, but to us this seems the height of hypocrisy.

These latest revelations shed new light on the underhanded tactics that the Bush Administration was willing to employ to conceal its illegal spying operation and protect it from oversight. It raises serious questions about what other efforts the Bush Administration undertook to shore up Congressional support for its illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This is yet another demonstration of why Congress must strengthen its oversight of the NSA’s spying operations and reconsider the broad expansions to the government’s surveillance authority that it passed last summer as part of the FISA Amendments Act.

Related Issues