I approached Harman with notepad in hand and told her that Iâd been involved in our reporting the year before on the NSA eavesdropping program. âIâm trying to square what I heard in there,â I said, âwith what we know about that program.â Harmanâs golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor.
âYou should not be talking about that here,â she scolded me in a whisper. âThey donât even know about that,â she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. âThe Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,â she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew â namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldnât bite. âThis is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,â 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 couldnât be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldnât go there either. âThis is a valuable program,â she repeated. This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didnât speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harmanâs position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administrationâs handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.
Harman did say in an appearance on Meet The Press in 2006, after the story broke, that she "deplored" the leak that led to the Times story. But she said that the president's public confirmation of the program's existence after the Times story had allowed her to consult with "constitutional experts, the former general counsel of the CIA, some of the excellent staff on the House Intelligence Committee." She continued: "then I learned, although Iâm a trained lawyer, about some of the serious legal issues that I have been raising ever since."