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Dear Jane: Time to Look Forward, Not Backward in Anger and Retribution

Poor Jane Harman. I feel her pain:

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) raised the possibility today that more members of Congress could have been wiretapped by the NSA or FBI.

Defending herself against reports that she was caught on tape offering to intervene in the espionage-related case of two former employees of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Harman said other members are worried that they were taped as well.

"And let’s see who else was wiretapped," Harman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. "I mean lots of members of Congress talk to advocacy organizations. My phone is ringing off the hook in my office from worried members who are asking whether I think it could have happened to them. I think this is an abuse of power, Wolf."

Lordy, that’s horrible. Who could ever have imagined that anyone with the ability to spy on people without consequence would do so with members of Congress? Well, anybody who ever read the Church Committee report, but let’s not quibble.

It’s understandable that ordinary Americans like Harman and other members of Congress would be horrified and want an immediate investigation, which is actually what happened when the ACLU and the EFF filed suit and demonstrated that millions of innocent Americans had been the victims of illegal surveillance. But Jane Harman thought that their right to know was trumped by the demands of national security, and voted to give retroactive immunity to the telecoms.

I may be late to the party here, but I. . . I think she may have been right. I’m worried that such a program might be essential to national security, and that its disclosure might damage critical intelligence capabilities. After all, the program under which Harman was spied upon was legal and necessary, as opposed to the people in the ACLU and EFF cases, who were the victims of illegal surveillance. I’m — well, I’m afraid that if we start looking too closely at these things, gosh darn it, the terrorists are gonna know what we’re up to, and then they win.

I know because a wise woman once said so herself:

"You should not be talking about that here," she scolded me in a whisper. "They don’t even know about that," she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. "The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story," she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew — namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldn’t bite. "This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,’ she said. I tried to get into some of the details of the program and get a better understanding of why the administration asserted that it couldn’t be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldn’t go there either. "This is a valuable program," she repeated.

We have ever so many problems before us right now. Why do we want to look back in anger and retribution? As Glenn Greenwald says, the last thing we want to do is look shrill and unhinged. Besides, we might start wondering what the world would look like today if people on the Intelligence Committee hadn’t abused their positions and lobbied the New York Times to spike the wiretapping story before the 2004 election, citing "national security."

I mean, do we really want to go there?

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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