NSA spying on foreign leaders: one more thing Obama didn’t know about
The long, long list of things President Obama supposedly didn’t know about his own Administration grew longer with the revelation that the NSA was spying on foreign leaders (including a very angry German Chancellor Angela Merkel) for five years without Obama’s knowledge. The Wall Street Journal reports on the hasty cancellation of the programs after an internal review:
Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.
The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.
The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.
Evidently the federal government consists of five thousand rogue agencies that do whatever they please, while the President gives speeches, plays golf, attends fundraisers, and occasional spits out his morning coffee upon reading the latest astounding revelation from a media that tries to break as few astounding revelations about this particular Administration as possible. This “President Bystander” model of irresponsible government would work somewhat better if there was a truly adversarial press rattling the White House’s cage more frequently.
Obama certainly didn’t sell himself to voters as a disengaged, out-of-his-depth spectator who can’t be held responsible for the actions of a titanic government he desperately wants to make bigger. At some point, one would think True Believers in the superior managerial power and accountability of Big Government would find it very difficult to reconcile that belief with Obama’s model of the renegade State, and his constant professions of ignorance about every single scandal that comes along.
What’s the “I didn’t know” list up to these days? The IRS scandal, Operation Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the ObamaCare rollout, NSA spying… It’s hard to come up with an example of something he’s taken responsibility for. More commonly, he portrays himself as an innocent, hapless outsider who is every bit as stunned and angry as you are. He feels your pain, but don’t ask him any tough questions about who caused it.
In fact, as related by Politico, the Administration is trying to claim some credit for cleaning up its own mess – a long-running comedy act in which Obama pretends he just rolled into the Oval Office yesterday and can’t believe what he found there:
The disclosure that Merkel’s communications had been spied on upset European allies, especially the Germans, who are sending intelligence officials to the United States to discuss the NSA’s programs.
In response to the Journal’s report, the administration said it is reviewing its surveillance of foreign partners.
“Through this review, led by the White House, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly account for the security concerns of our citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people share, and to ensure that our intelligence resources most effectively support our foreign policy and national security objectives,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
This is an effort to salvage Obama’s reputation at the expense of the United States, which comes off looking unprofessional and chaotic. The damage is even greater because the idea that Obama was wholly ignorant of these programs for five years is so incredible. It’s the kind of fib that claws at the ears of the listener, leaving the sort of nasty scratches that can only come from a deliberate insult. Obama is still pining for that First Citizen of the World job he really wants, and he doesn’t mind throwing the U.S. national security apparatus under the bus to get it.
This also makes us look bad because all of the foreign leaders Obama is trying to schmooze are perfectly well aware of their intel agencies spying on us, and one another. Tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone is a bit rich, but it’s not as if allied nations aren’t constantly conducting surveillance and analysis on each other’s leaders. (Side question: are any of you “War on Women” enthusiasts annoyed at Obama crashing the privacy of a high-profile female head of state?) It’s hard to imagine who Obama could be either fooling or buttering up with this story, except for the U.S. media and a few of his jittery followers.
As related by CNN, the German media doesn’t accept Obama’s protestations of clueless innocence:
Separately, the NSA on Sunday denied a report by the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that NSA Director Keith Alexander told Obama about the surveillance of Merkel in 2010.
“Gen. Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines told CNN.
German intelligence officials are scheduled to meet with their American counterparts in Washington this week to ask about surveillance programs.
The Spanish are also beside themselves after a report in the El Mundo newspaper that huge amounts of cell phone data had been harvested by the NSA, along with a bit of the Merkel treatment for their officials:
The El Mundo article cited what it said was an NSA report titled, “Spain — last 30 days.” The 60 million calls were not recorded, but the NSA collected serial numbers of devices, phone numbers, locations and durations of calls, the newspaper said.
Even before the latest report, the Spanish government had summoned U.S. Ambassador James Costos to a meeting Monday in Madrid. That followed a report by another Spanish newspaper, El Pais, that quoted unnamed sources as saying the NSA spied on Spanish officials and politicians.
A Spanish Foreign Ministry statement said Monday that the government “conveyed to the United States the importance of preserving a climate of confidence” in bilateral relations. It’s important to know that “some practices, which if they are true, are inappropriate and unacceptable between partners and friendly nations,” the statement said.
The French newspaper Le Monde reports something similar happening in France, where “the NSA intercepted more than 70 million phone calls in France in 30 days.” The surveillance state is hard enough to justify without the White House claiming it doesn’t know what’s going on, as a defense against scandal. How much tread remains on the tires of the Obama Administration’s trusty Incompetence Defense?