The Snowden revelations keep coming

The NSA revelations seems to be steadily making relations between the US and Germany worse. Yesterday Der Spiegel had another blockbuster report based on the Snowden documents that the US was spying on chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone for over ten years, even before she became chancellor, and that president Obama has known about it for some time and has lied about it.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Obama had told Merkel during a phone conversation on Wednesday that he had not known of the bugging. However, a report in Bild am Sonntag published Sunday cites an unnamed NSA official who said that the US leader instead ordered the program be escalated.

The newspaper reports that Obama knew that the NSA had been spying on Merkel’s mobile phone since at least 2010, when NSA chief Keith Alexander personally informed him of the operation.

In addition to Merkel’s mobile phone provided by her conservative political party, the NSA also listened in on a supposedly secure phone that Merkel received during the summer, according to Bild am Sonntag.

Only a special, secure landline phone in her office was reportedly not accessible to electronic tapping.

The NSA’s findings, including the contents of SMS messages and phone calls, were reported directly to the White House and evidence indicates the operation continued until the “immediate past”, according to Bild am Sonntag.

The US has categorically denied spying on British prime minister David Cameron, a blanket assurance they were unwilling to give about Merkel. This is only going to exacerbate things, even assuming that the statement is true which given the administration’s record of lying cannot be taken for granted. Why her and not him? Do they think she has terrorist ties? The fact that president Obama knew about this and was briefed about her calls before his meetings with her makes it worse, making him look like a creepy voyeur in the tradition of the odious J. Edgar Hoover.

No wonder that the head of the NSA and another well-known liar Keith Alexander is demanding that newspapers should stop publishing the Snowden revelations.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000—whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these—you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.

“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics-MS]

Don’t you get the sense that Alexander would just love to order the seizure of all the computers and documents, and arrest, torture, and maybe even kill the reporters if not for the fact that the pesky courts and the rule of law (or whatever we have left of them anyway) are getting in the way?

I am pretty sure that after he and his chief deputy leave the NSA early next year, their replacements will likely be as bad. But still, it will be good to see the exit of this odious man even if he almost certainly ends up with a lucrative position in the defense industry.


  1. colnago80 says

    However, a report in Bild am Sonntag published Sunday cites an unnamed NSA official who said that the US leader instead ordered the program be escalated.

    A little caution is in order given the source of the information. This particular newspaper is, much like the Daily Mail in Great Britain, not generally considered a reliable source of information.

    I actually think it is possible that the president was not aware of the spying on Chancellor Merkel, probably because he chose not to know what the NSA was doing. It’s called plausible deniability.

  2. eigenperson says

    I could be wrong, but this does not appear to be part of the Snowden documents, but is rather a quote from an anonymous “NSA official”.

    Of course, it could still be accurate, but while the Snowden documents have proved to be trustworthy, this anonymous NSA official has no such track record. Also, if this information is accurate, then there is another leaker in the NSA, something which is newsworthy in and of itself.

    Overall, I’m inclined to believe it, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if this is an attempt by the administration to poison the well with an easily-discreditable leak. We’ll know in a couple of days.

  3. Alex says

    I think Germans are mostly pissed that the government didn’t seem to be very bothered at all about the spying on the people until a few days ago, but now that they found out that Merkel’s party cell phone was tapped, suddenly everyone in german politics is outraged. It strikes some people as a bit hypocritical.
    Concerning BAMS, Bild and Bild am Sonntag are despicable conservative tabloids, but they do tend to try and get their investigative journalism right.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I think that is right. We should not dismiss them just because of who they are. The National Inquirer in the US is looked down upon by the major media but they have broken some big stories, like the one that doomed John Edwards’s political career. We’ll need to see if there is confirmation.

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