Jane Harman and Israeli Spying

It is astounding to find that one of the handful of prospects being floated to become CIA director following the fall of General David Petraeus is a person reportedly implicated in a 2005 Israeli spy scandal.

CNNPolitico, and others have all listed former Congresswoman Jane Harman as a potential new CIA head. Oddly, however, none have mentioned reports in 2006 and again in 2009 that an NSA wiretap in 2005 had picked up Harman promising a suspected Israeli agent that she would aid people indicted for espionage on behalf of Israel.

According to reports, Harman allegedly told the Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two top officials for the powerful Israel lobby organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In return, the suspected Israeli agent (who may have been a dual-citizen American) reportedly pledged to help lobby for Harman to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman was already the ranking Democrat on the committee.

At the end of the conversation, Harman reportedly said: “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

The two AIPAC officials had been indicted for illegally obtaining classified documents about Iran and passing these on to Israel. They also gave them to prominent Washington Post journalist Glenn Kessler, whose speaker bio lists three topics: “Global Affairs, Jewish Interest, Middle East Issues.”

One of the indicted AIPAC officials has since defended himself by stating that his actions were routine for AIPAC – that AIPAC staffers regularly obtain and hand on classified U.S. information to Israel and others.

AIPAC, worried at public exposure caused by the indictments, fired the two men. Subsequent lawsuits over their firing provided considerable information, from sleazy details about AIPAC high officials to the fact that dozens of AIPAC donors had provided monetary assistance to the two men, despite evidence that they had leaked classified U.S. documents to a foreign country.

Among these donors were Slim-Fast billionaire Daniel Abraham, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, and Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who is one of the major donors to Democratic candidates. Saban, who is close to Harman, says his “greatest concern is to protect Israel.”  (His wife was recently nominated to be US ambassador to the UN.)

Harman, who frequently speaks at AIPAC events, is widely known for her strong advocacy for Israel and of Middle East wars on behalf of it.

She backed the attack on Iraq and now similarly maintains that Iran is a threat to Americans, despite the fact that Iraqquickly turned into a tragic, unnecessary, and disastrously costly debacle; that Iraq had none of the weapons of mass destruction that had been claimed; and that current claims against Iran are similarly tenuous.

The Jewish Forward calls her a “pro-Israel stalwart,” and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports, “Harman is beloved by the pro-Israel lobby and is a sure-bet appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.”

According to Open Secrets, Harman was one of the top recipients of pro-Israel campaign donations.

 JTA reported that her departure from Congress in 20011, “earned her an unusually effusive statement of regret from AIPAC director Howard Kohr.”

Like AIPAC, Harman currently pushes the alleged need, often promoted by flawed media reports, for the U.S. to address what she claims is Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies continue to find that Iran is actually not developing them. (She also neglects to mention that Israel has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty).

In her nine terms in Congress, Harman focused on military and security affairs and served on all the major security committees: six years on Armed Services, eight years on Intelligence, and four on Homeland Security.

Harman, who was married to billionaire Sidney Harman, owner of Newsweek, until his death last year, was listed as the second-richest member in congress.

Harman resigned from Congress in 20011 to head up the Washington DC Woodrow Wilson Center, part of theSmithsonian. The Wilson Center is listed as the 16th most powerful think tank in the world.

Like Harman, the longtime chair of the Wilson Center, Joseph B. Gildenhorn, is extremely close to Israel. He endowed theInstitute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and may at one point have been an AIPAC board member. Wilson Co-chair Sander R. Gerber has been an AIPAC board member for many years.

In explaining her decision to leave Congress in order to direct the Wilson Center, Harman said: “Serving at its helm provides unique opportunities to involve the House and Senate, top experts and world leaders in ‘great debates’ about the most pressing foreign and domestic policy matters.”

While Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call contains an article in which Harman denies the espionage-related reports, the publication seems to have taken down the report to which Harman was responding and to which numerous other articleslink: “Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC,” by Jeff Stein, Congressional Quarterly, April 19, 2009. (It’s unclear whether the removal of Stein’s article is related to the fact that three months after the story broke, Congressional Quarterly was bought by the Economist Group.)

In the report, investigative journalist Jeff Stein provided additional details about the incident and explained that whether or not Harman delivered on her promise (she did not attain her desired chairmanship), the making of the promise was sufficient to constitute, in legal terms, a “completed crime.”

Despite considerable outcry and calls for a Justice Department investigation, Harman eluded prosecution, the expected full investigation of the powerful southern California Democrat never happened, and Harman’s allegedly subversive actions seem to have dropped from sight.

While former Petraeus deputy (and currently acting director) Michael J. Morell seems to be the current frontrunner for CIA head, Harman and others are reported to still be in the running.  Also, Morell could prove to be a temporary choice to prevent a lapse in leadership while the long-term director is chosen.

If Harman does becomes CIA director, her appointment would no doubt be greeted with glee by the Israeli government. Whether or not Harman made treasonous promises to an Israeli agent, there is no doubt that she is a committed advocate for the Israeli regime.

Americans, on the other hand, might have less reason for joy.

* * *

For more information on the incident, see TPMSalonTimeStephen Walt, the New York TimesAntiwar.com and C&L.

For more information on the AIPAC case, see the investigative work by Grant Smith at the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy – IRmep.

For more information on the pro-Israel lobby, see Introduction to the Israel Lobby by the Council for the National Interest.


Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest.



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Alison Weir is executive director of  If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. An excerpt of her book was published in the March 21-23, 2014 issue of CounterPunch. Upcoming book talks can be seen on the book’s website.

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