On Sunday, CQ reported that the NSA had wiretapped Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), listening in on a call in which she apparently offered a quid pro quo to a lobbyist group. Harman has vigorously denied the reports. Today, she appeared on MSNBC to express her shock and outrage that her phone calls were listened to, saying she was “disappointed” that the U.S. could have allowed such “a gross abuse of power”:
HARMAN: 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.
Harman’s anger seems a bit disingenuous, considering that she was one of the earliest supporters of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. When the practice was revealed by the New York Times in 2005, she defended it as “essential,” though admitted she was “concerned” about its scope:
“I have been briefed since 2003 on a highly classified NSA foreign collection program that targeted Al Qaeda. I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities,” Harman said. “Like many Americans, I am deeply concerned by reports that this program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed.”
In fact, in 2004 she “urged that The [New York] Times not publish the article” revealing Bush’s program.
Indeed, she issued a press release in 2007 specifically highlighting that the updated FISA bill she approved of would fully allow warrantless wiretapping:
This bill does a good job — a far better job than the bill reported last month by the Senate Intelligence Committee. … This legislation arms our intelligence professionals with the ability to listen to foreign targets — without a warrant — to uncover plots that threaten US national security. The bill also protects the Constitutional rights of Americans by requiring the FISA court, an Article III Court, to approve procedures to ensure that Americans are not targeted for warrantless surveillance.
To her credit, Harman warned against “a slippery legal slope to potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy” and stated her opposition to granting telecommunications companies retroactive immunity. Perhaps her outrage at being a target of wiretapping herself will force her to realize that the program she deemed “essential” invaded the privacy of untold millions of Americans.