Democratic Intel Leader Charges NY Times Eavesdropping Story Was “Inaccurate”

In an interview conducted in her office, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told FNC’s Jim Angle that the “very valuable” terrorist surveillance program “fits within” the FISA law. In the session excerpted on Friday’s Special Report with Brit Hume, she deplored how leaks are hurting intelligence efforts and scolded the news media for “not extremely accurate” characterizations of the program. Zeroing in on the New York Times, which first revealed the program, Harman asserted their story was “inaccurate” because they reported it included a “domestic-to-domestic” surveillance effort. She also charged that “these leaks are compromising some core capability of the United States,” regretting how “it's tragic that this whole thing is being aired in the newspapers.” As to who is the blame, however, she bore in on the Bush administration for how “this can't be handled in normal channels because this administration refuses to share the information with Congress." (Transcript follows.)

UPDATE: Harman will be a guest on Sunday's Meet the Press.

The relevant portion of the excerpt of the interview with Harman, who represents the coastal West side of the City of Los Angeles south from Marina del Ray to San Pedro, through the independent cities in between of El Segundo and Manhattan Beach, as aired on the February 10 Special Report with Brit Hume:
Asked by Angle whether the law or the program needs to be changed, Harman replied: “We need to assess whether or not this program fits within FISA. I say it does. I have seen no reason why it doesn't. If it fits within FISA, the administration, in my view, has to follow the law. If it doesn't fit within FISA for some reason that I have not yet understood, then we need to consider whether we change the program or change the law. But bottom line here is this very valuable program -- and I insist, you know, I won't back off that for a minute, at least the one on which I was briefed, there may be something else out there -- but the valuable program on which I was briefed must comply with the law and can.”

Jim Angles: “To clarify here, you're saying that what you know about the program actually is legal under existing law?”

Harman: “Would be legal under existing law. The administration has admitted it’s not getting FISA warrants on U.S. persons who are part of the chain of-”

Angle: “Who might be called by foreign terrorists.”

Harman: “Right. Of people involved in what they think is plots spearheaded by al-Qaeda to attack Americans. And let me be clear about this: If U.S. persons are part of those plots, I surely want to know what they’re up to. I absolutely believe, however, there would be probable cause, through the FISA court and through the, you know, under FISA, to get court warrants. And the law applies and the law should be complied with and I have not heard any compelling arguments why we shouldn’t use the law. ”

Angle: “The media reporting on this has talked about the program, there have been a lot of public discussion, more perhaps than about any other highly classified program in my memory.”

Harman: “Right.”

Angle: “How accurate is the public understanding? You actually know what the program is. How accurate is the public understanding?”

Harman: “Not extremely accurate. The most early -- you know now it can be said, now that Attorney General Gonzalez has said this is not a domestic-to-domestic program. The early reports by the New York Times, to which this program, the facts of this program or the existence was leaked, were inaccurate because that's what they claimed it was. And, that is, according to our Attorney General, not what it was. So there’s one.”

Angle: “And you're comfortable with that?”

Harman: “I'm comfortable with that. As I've said, I support the foreign collection program on which I have been briefed and I don't want to amplify that comment, but I think you get the point of my comment. So I'm comfortable with that. But there are ongoing leaks and I felt then and I feel now that these leaks are compromising some core capability of the United States. It's tragic that this whole thing is being aired in the newspapers. Why is it happening? I think it relates in part to this notion that we cannot do congressional oversight. This can't be handled in normal channels because this administration refuses to share the information with Congress.”

Harman’s Web site features a February 1 press release, “HARMAN: FISA WARRANTS CAN COVER ALL ACTIVITIES OF THE NSA PROGRAM: Letter to President Highlights Eight Specific Changes Made After 9/11 to Modernize FISA”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center