Some Might Call It Treason

One dictionary defines treason as "disloyalty or treachery to one’s country or its government," but Article III of the U.S. Constitution takes a narrower view, specifically limiting charges of treason to time of war "in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." The Federalist Papers reveal that this definition of treason was crafted deliberately to avoid politically motivated ex post facto exploitation of the only crime named as a capital offense in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers knew full well from their own personal experience that English kings had played fast and loose with the concept of treason, frequently trying and executing opponents without any actual evidence that a crime had been committed. Charges of treason intended to destroy political rivals would not be permitted in the new republic.

Treason trials have been rare in the United States. Elected officials and government employees with access to classified information are bound by statutes authorizing severe penalties lest they betray that confidence. Congressmen are elected to represent the best interests of the voters in their districts and, in a broader sense, the citizens of the United States, a trust that they frequently betray when they give in to the importunities of lobbyists and vote for pork or laws that help only special interest groups. That is generally referred to as corruption. But what does one call it when a senior elected official tells a citizen of a foreign country that he or she is willing to interfere in a judicial process in exchange for that country’s support to obtain a more senior position in the government? A single word appears to be lacking, though "betrayal" and "treachery" seem to come close. Some have resorted to "obstruction of justice" or "influence peddling," both of which are actually crimes when committed by a government official. If the U.S. Constitution had not limited treasonous activity to wartime, the word "treason" might well be considered.

Until the transcripts of Rep. Jane Harman’s telephone conversations are made public, if they ever are, her transgression can only be assessed secondhand. It appears to have consisted of talking with someone who may be an Israeli citizen regarding influencing the outcome of the ongoing trial of ex-American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. The conversation took place in late 2005, when it appeared that the two men might well be convicted. The Israeli citizen appears to have been on the receiving end of an FBI wiretap because he was an associate of a known Israeli intelligence officer based in Israel’s Washington embassy, possibly station chief Naor Gilon, who was responsible for running influence operations in the United States, or Uzi Arad. Both Gilon and Arad were involved in the FBI investigation of AIPAC that led to the imprisonment of Larry Franklin and the indictment of Weissman and Rosen. Both now hold senior positions in the Israeli government.

Intelligence officers refer to influence operations as covert actions because they are designed to manipulate the activity of a foreign government without that manipulation being attributable to any outside source. In this case, Israel wanted the men to go free to minimize any public perception that it was engaged in spying on the United States, which is what the AIPAC trial was all about, but it did not wish to be seen as directly interfering.

Harman reportedly was receptive. She agreed to do what she could on the AIPAC trial in exchange for the powerful Israel Lobby’s support for her bid to become chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence. Harman’s contact suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be informed that contributions from Israeli billionaire Haim Saban and others of a like mind to the Democratic Party war chest might diminish if Harman were not given the chairmanship. The conversation might well be dismissed as a congressional version of phone sex but for the fact that Israel and its lobby were well positioned to deliver what they had promised. Their influence over key congressmen and, most particularly, the Democratic Party leadership meant that Harman could act with confidence that she would be rewarded. Did Harman know what she was getting into? She reportedly concluded the phone call by saying "this conversation doesn’t exist."

Harman has called for the transcripts of her conversations to be released, a demand that she knows will not be acceded to because it would blow an entire FBI operation. She has decried the "abuse of power" involved in tapping her phone, even though she is on record supporting the tapping of the phones of millions of American citizens. She has appeared on National Public Radio and CNN in interviews that have been described as "train wrecks" in which she rambled and alternatively admitted and denied the charges against her. Her salvage operation continues.

Even friends of Harman describe her as intensely ambitious. She has long been an outspoken friend of Israel and has benefited from pro-Israeli PACs to the tune of $104,000, the most given to any California congressman. She is also a strong supporter of AIPAC and is scheduled be a keynote speaker at its annual conference in Washington next month. Less well known is her enthusiasm for the more questionable practices of the Bush administration, positions that many of her constituents in liberal Los Angeles would most likely find troublesome if they had bothered to look at her record before pulling the ballot-box lever. Harman was a proponent of various infringements on civil liberties, including the warrantless NSA wiretap program, the FISA Amendment Act of 2008, the PATRIOT Acts, and the Military Commissions Act. She actively supported congressional motions to effectively declare war on Iran, and she sponsored the truly horrific Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, which fortunately never passed into law. Her bill, described by one critic as an "unconstitutional, Orwellian throwback," mandated the creation of a congressional commission empowered to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and propose new legislation to deal with the threat posed by the various groups designated as "homegrown terrorists." Like the House Un-American Activities Committee in the past, the Violent Radicalization bill would have empowered congressmen to travel around the United States to hold hearings and identify "homegrown terrorists."

Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reportedly intervened to stop the ongoing FBI investigation of Harman because the administration needed her to intercede with the New York Times to suspend its story on the illegal NSA wiretaps. She did so, twice, though the Times denies that she was a decisive factor in delaying the story. If the report had come out on time, it might have influenced the outcome of the 2004 presidential elections, and John Kerry, a member of Harman’s own party, might have become president.

Harman may or may not have attempted to intervene in the AIPAC case, which apparently is about to be dismissed for reasons unrelated to her, but the FBI investigation did not slow her down a bit. She made an aggressive bid to obtain the position of chairman of the Intelligence Committee, obtaining the promised support from pro-Israeli donors, though she was eventually turned down because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been secretly briefed on the FBI investigation and had become nervous about endorsing her. Harman then made a run at the position of President Barack Obama’s intelligence director and was even reported to be on the short list for the job when similar concerns derailed her bid. The two aborted promotions might have been the only times the Democratic Party has ever hesitated to appoint anyone to a senior position because they were too close to Israel.

The real Harman story is about Israel intelligence operations directed against the United States which have brought about the systematic corruption of the America’s political system by a foreign power aided and abetted by friends strategically placed throughout the government and the media. Just imagine if Harman had obtained either senior intelligence position that she sought. She would have had access to every sort of top secret intelligence possessed by the US government and would have been in a good position to influence policy. From the Israeli perspective, she would have been their spy, a highly placed agent of influence who could also provide every bit of sensitive intelligence in the CIA cupboard. The apparent fact that she agreed to help an agent of a foreign government and was to be rewarded with advancement makes her something like Kim Philby, the British spy of the 1960s who progressed through his own system while secretly working for another country, Russia. Philby was a whole lot smarter, but the essential betrayal was the same. Those who argue that Israel is no Cold War Russia miss the point, as the national interests of the U.S. and Israel are far from identical, particularly after a series of right-wing governments in Tel Aviv has culminated in the current monstrosity of Netanyahu-Lieberman.

Once you are on the hook in an intelligence relationship, there is no getting off it. Had Harman done a favor for the Israelis and been rewarded in return, it would have been a skeleton in her closet forever. The Israelis might also have taped the incriminating conversations, presumably unaware that the FBI was also on the line. The Israelis would surely remind her of her crime whenever they need a favor, and she would be forced to pay the piper whenever called upon. What could have been better for Israel than owning the director of central intelligence or the head of the House Intelligence Committee? What could have been worse for the United States?

To describe Harman’s actions as unacceptable would be an understatement. Unless the contents of her telephone conversation have been totally misconstrued, she should salvage what self-respect she has left and resign her office. But one suspects that she is yet another politician on the make with no sense of country or dignity. Don’t expect her to do the right thing.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.