Another Key Question

April 20, 2009 4:53 a.m.

Swirling between Jeff Stein’s blockbuster reporting on the Harman story is another question: Jeff’s reporting refers to an unnamed “suspected Israeli agent”, as the person Harman made the alleged deal with. Stein uses that phrase in quotations and says he was not able to determine the identity of the person. So presumably that was the description provided to him by one or more of his sources.

So my question is: what’s the nationality of that person? In spy talk, an ‘agent’ doesn’t necessarily mean a formal agent of the foreign power in question, as in a member of Israeli intelligence or a diplomat. In this context it just as likely — in some ways, given the nature of the underlying investigation, perhaps even more likely — means an American citizen who the investigators believed was acting as an Israeli agent — a complicated evidentiary and legal question.

And here’s where it gets sticky. The whole legal question would then depend largely, perhaps entirely, on whether that suspicion was legally provable.

To see what I mean, let’s come at this from another hypothetical read of the facts. What if US citizen A comes to Harman and says, this AIPAC spy case is a total set up, an end-run around the first amendment (the argument the defenders have subsequently made, with some legal success). US citizen A asks Harman to weigh in with Gonzales (who she has lots of pull with) in exchange for help lobbying Pelosi to make her head of the intelligence committee.

To be clear, I’m not speaking to the wisdom, ethics or morality of such a deal. But if the person on the other end of the call is a US Citizen and the government can’t sustain the charge that they were acting as the agent of a foreign power, it’s really hard for me to see what criminal statutes that agreement would violate.

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