Blowback from the NSA spying

The story about the NSA spying on the leaders of other governments is turning out to have legs and is causing some serious discomfort to the Obama administration. While governments and elites (including elite media) don’t care if the rights and privacy of ordinary people are trampled, they get up in arms if those of the elites are. This is why the story of the wiretapping of these national leaders is getting so much play. The suggestion that president Obama knew about the tapping of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone and her conversations is causing particularly acute discomfort.

Everyone is trying to distance themselves from this act. Even senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most stalwart defenders of the national security state and no friend at all of civil liberties, now says that spying on foreign leaders goes too far, though in her case, I think she is just going through the motions to avoid blame.

President Obama is also trying to distance himself from this fiasco by the usual tactic of suggesting that this was done by underlings and that he only learned about it in the summer and immediately ordered it to be stopped.

The White House claim that the tapping of Merkel’s and other leaders’ phones were done by underlings without Obama’s knowledge is just not plausible. These phones were not picked up incidentally as part of the NSA’s massive worldwide snooping set up and somebody suddenly noticed that Merkel’s phone was among them. Merkel’s phone was specifically targeted for snooping. Are we to believe that a lower-level official decided on their own initiative to tap the head of state of a close ally without clearing it with their superiors and that they did not ask for a decision at the highest levels? Some NSA officials are angry that Obama is trying to blame everything on them.

In addition, Obama has no credibility on this issue. His last shred of credibility was destroyed when his own Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was caught brazenly lying under oath and not only was he not prosecuted, Obama did not even ask for his resignation. He still has his job and was still invited to testify today on Capitol Hill along with fellow liar Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, amid signs that Congress might at last take some steps to curb these abuses.


  1. doublereed says

    It’s so ridiculous. At least tapping the phones of foreign leaders can be considered espionage. If we’re going to tap German phones, those are obviously the conversations we should try to get. At least tapping the phones of foreign leaders is targeted. That’s the kind of thing that we should expect from NSA. I’m not saying it isn’t ridiculous, but it’s an expected level of ridiculous.

    Tapping the phones of German citizens is far more ridiculous as it has far less value. It’s far more of an invasion of privacy. Why the hell is NSA doing that?

    Talk about wrong priorities. Absurd!

  2. says

    amid signs that Congress might at last take some steps to curb these abuses.

    They’ll probably make it illegal(er) to snoop on congress. That’s all they care about. After all, the intelligence oversight committee – in theory – knew about and approved the spying. By choosing not to act or to tell us, the people, they picked sides.

  3. invivoMark says

    “Even senator Diane Feinstein … now says that spying on foreign leaders goes too far[.]”

    Oh, sure, as soon as they’re in a position of power and privilege it’s no longer necessary to keep violating their privacy.

  4. maudell says

    I’m glad you’re bringing this up. I participate in a small weekly radio show on foreign policy, and the topic came up last week. I was the only person who thought that the spying of leaders was less important than the tapping of millions of people. I know American tend to have a hard time viewing international relations as completely asymmetric (it’s only ok if the US does it), but the show is in Canada, and none of us are Americans. Still, spying apologia flies all over the place.

    On the topic of Obama knowing or not, as far as I understand, he did not know, but he knew that he did not know (if that makes any sense). It is an old loophole to go in full-fledged denial if need be. In other words, the information is given to him, he may infer things, but as long as he doesn’t ask, he technically doesn’t know.

    Welcome to the greatest democracy on Earth, beacon of freedom and individual rights (*cough cough*).

  5. moarscienceplz says

    Even senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most stalwart defenders of the national security state and no friend at all of civil liberties

    Mr. Singham, I going to have to call you out on this one. While I much prefer Senator Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein has been a stalwart supporter of civil liberties throughout her career, especially gay rights and women’s rights. I grant you that she does seem to have an excessive and often unwarranted confidence in government as the guardian of those rights, but to write that she is “no friend at all of civil liberties” is a vile libel and I really think you should retract it.

  6. sailor1031 says

    We seem to have reached a point at which we are losing sight of the issues. Spying on Angela Merkel (and rest assured it’s not just listening to her phone calls) is political espionage. Arguably that’s what NSA should be doing. OK slc I wrote “arguably”…..But what does that have to do with spying on all of US in the name of antiterrorism? Or is Merkel, like all of us, suspected of terrorist activity? Another aspect is that NSA is also engaged in commercial espionage for the ultimate benefit of “american” transnational corporations. Most other nations are also engaged in this, certainly the outraged France and Germany…….so what does this have to do with protecting US from terrorism?

    So what are we to get upset about? IMHO it’s the spying on all of us, wherever we are, no matter which nation we live in. We are all subject to NSA spying because ostensibly any or all of us are terrorists. No probable cause needed. But we have already seen that NSA makes their databases available to police and other intelligence agencies in non-terrorism cases. Where does it stop? What information about you are they not allowed to reveal? Remember they have evidence of your private relationships, your travels, your business dealings, etc. To whom will they make that info available? under what circumstances? when?

    Let’s not forget that their leaders are proven liars and that their record shows they have no respect for law – especially the constitution, which they apparently violate on a continual basis. Just logging phone call content (whether or not they read it or listen to it) is a 4th amendment violation; and they do it millions of times a day.

    But the biggest problem with this accumulation of data is that it is all hackable. You can bet that right now the chinese and russians and iranians, to say nothing of the french, germans, saudis, indians, pakistanis and who knows who else, are all trying their best to hack into the NSA databases. And these are not stupid people!

  7. Mano Singham says

    Fair enough. It was too sweeping driven by my intense dislike of her strong defense of the national security state and her attacks on whistleblowers.

  8. Nick Gotts says

    Spying on Angela Merkel (and rest assured it’s not just listening to her phone calls) is political espionage. Arguably that’s what NSA should be doing.

    So what would be the reaction of the US government if it turned out the German equivalent was tapping Obama’s phone?

    As for the mass interception of European phone communications, the NSA claim to the House Committee, as reported on the BBC today, is that this was done by European agencies, who then gave the NSA specific material it asked for. This seems to me plausible – note that no European governments, AFAIK, made a fuss when the claim of spying on Europeans related only to ordinary citizens. However, as you say, the NSA leaders are proven and professional liars, so it will be interesting to see what Glenn Greenwald and others say about this.

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