Prominent Democrat Rep. sought influence for AIPAC in Rosen affair

Great story from Congressional Quarterly on a secret probe into Congresswoman Jane Harman, a Democrat with longstanding interests in intelligence issues, who promised a suspected Israeli agent involved in the Steve Rosen AIPAC scandal that she would try to intervene on AIPAC’s behalf:

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

. . .

But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.

Rosen had been charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and commnicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Weissman was charged with conspiracy.

AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before the events here unfolded.

. . .

But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened.

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program

He was right.

On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”

Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing.

And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.

Many people want to keep it that way.

. . .

Harman dodged a bullet, say disgusted former officials who have pursued the AIPAC case for years. She was protected by an administration desperate for help.

“It’s the deepest kind of corruption,” said a recently retired longtime national security official who was closely involved in AIPAC investigation, “which was years in the making.

“It’s a story about the corruption of government — not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.”

In other words, deep infiltration of the US political system by Israel and a supine Bush administration who could not take this on because it needed the AIPAC bunch’s support.

Now not only Hizbullah, but Iranian Revolutionary Guards?

I haven’t really had time to weigh in on the Hizbullah-in-Egypt scandal, but the story continues to develop with more allegations and charges made against the Hizbullah cell, including another Shorouk scoop this morning that four Iranian Revolutionary Guards were arrested by Egyptian authorities last December, apparently entering on the country using Shia Iraqi IDs and networking with Iraqi Shia refugees in Cairo. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that the public prosecutor is preparing a “surprise” when more charges are formally filed, which some think will include charges against Hassan Nasrallah himself.

The informed consensus among Egyptian commentators is that Hizbullah made a mistake in toying with Egypt’s sovereignty, but that Egypt should not exaggerate in its response either. Most center around the accusation, confirmed by Nasrallah, that Hizbullah was setting up a logistics support network for Hamas’ weapons supply line. It would be naive to assume that this is strictly all they were doing, some level of spying should also be assumed. Most commentators reject the accusation that Hizbullah was planning attacks against Israeli tourists in retaliation for the assassination of its military chief Emad Mughniyeh, although some recent information has surfaced that there may have been parallel networks operating: in addition to the ones helping Hamas, there might have also been one concentrating on the Iraqi Shia community and what one might call general purpose espionage, for instance on the Suez Canal (rather, as some newspapers have alleged, a plan to fire shoulder-launched missiles at passing ships.)

Although the brouhaha over this affair will probably have the intended effect of turning part of Egyptian public opinion against Hizbullah on nationalist grounds — and I would certainly agree that any country should be concerned about arms smuggling and espionage operations taking place — it is also highlighting Egypt’s strangehold on Hamas supply lines (financial and military) which the likes of columnists Fahmy Howeidy, the Muslim Brothers’ General Guide Mahdi Akef and others are condemning. Nasrallah, in his unusual confession that Hizbullah does have operatives in Egypt, also reiterated the helping-Hamas-as-a-duty line that has some resonance here, and not just among Islamists.

Perhaps more details on the accusations to date later…

Update: I wanted to ask readers who are more familiar with Hizbullah than I am the following: the Egyptian press reported in the last couple of days that the name of the Hizbullah handler for their Egypt operation is called Muhammad Qabalan, alleged to be the head of intelligence for Hizbullah. And that Emad Mughniyeh’s replacement as head of military operations is called Talal Hamiyeh. Anyone familiar with those names?