Jane Harman ’69 at center of NSA wiretapping / AIPAC espionage controversy

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Editor’s Note: This article compiles reports which have recently been published by other news outlets. The Harvard Law Record has published this story only to bring to light a current media controversy.

Representative Jane Harman ’69 (D-CA) has come to be at the center of a controversy regarding an inquiry into National Security Agency wiretaps of American citizens and allegations that members of the powerful American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby group served as spies for Israel. The connection between the two incidents came as a media source indicated that a conversation of Harman’s with the alleged spies was listened in on by the NSA. They asserted that she ended the call with the assertion that “this conversation doesn’t exist”.

The source added the information about the NSA wiretap to existing knowledge dating to 2006 of an FBI investigation into Harman. The FBI’s concern was allegations that AIPAC officials who faced outing as possible Israeli spies asked her to intervene on their behalf with White House officials in exchange for the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, which they claimed they could lobby House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to deliver to Harman.

The potential fallout of the allegations may be extremely damaging to Harman, who is a relatively conservative “Blue Dog Democrat” associated with favoring wiretapping, although never explicitly for using it on American citizens on American soil. Before revelations that wiretapping had potentially exceeded its legal boundaries under the direction of the Bush administration, Harman had been an advocate of wiretapping within the boundaries of Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) legislation. At least one commentator has gone so far as to claim that the allegations that are currently circulating could have “career-ending” implications for the California representative, who entered office in 2001.

Harman’s support for wiretapping was valuable to the Bush administration, which may have been what gave her leverage with the White House to begin with. Sources have also indicated that Alberto Gonzales ’82, the then-Attorney General, pressed CIA director Porter Goss to drop its own investigation of Harman during a period of controversy over the wiretapping program.

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