On the heels of protests in Washington over an out of control surveillance state came a batch of new stories on NSA spying abroad. Spain and now Italy have been added to the list of friendly nations and governments the NSA spied on. One aspect of the controversy that remains unresolved is whether President Obama even knew what the NSA was doing.
The initial reaction might be to take for granted that he knew and is denying that fact to avoid responsibility. But claiming ignorance is not exactly a good idea if you are the president and want to defend a program using your authority as legitimacy. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post notes, in what surely will not be the last “what did he know, when did he know it” columns we see, President Obama being uninformed of such a massive, important, and consequential NSA program might actually make him look worse than if he did know about it.
For a smart man, President Obama professes to know very little about a great number of things going on in his administration. On Sunday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that he didn’t learn until this summer that the National Security Agency had been bugging the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for nearly five years…
Question: What did Obama know and when did he know it?
Answer: Not much, and about a minute ago.
Not exactly confidence inspiring. And riddle me this, how can President Obama give all these public assurances about what the NSA is and is not doing if he is “out of loop”?
Believe it or not, even stalwart NSA apologists like Senator Diane Feinstein claim that the latest NSA revelations demand a legislative response. Feinstein is signaling she is open to reviewing the NSA program.
One of the National Security Agency’s biggest defenders in Congress is suddenly at odds with the agency and calling for a top-to-bottom review of U.S. spy programs. And her long-time friends and allies are completely mystified by the switch…
In a pointed statement issued today, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein said she was “totally opposed” to gathering intelligence on foreign leaders and said it was “a big problem” if President Obama didn’t know the NSA was monitoring the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said the United States should only be spying on foreign leaders with hostile countries, or in an emergency, and even then the president should personally approve the surveillance.
If this is not Feinstein finally cracking to public opinion and indicative of a larger policy shift it is one of the more bizarre cognitive dissonances in DC. She opposes spying on foreign leaders but happily accepts spying on the American people?
This all, of course, relies on Obama not knowing about the program, or not knowing about it for very long. If Obama did know what the NSA was up to then this is all a rather moronic attempt at face saving that could likely make things worse. In any event, our foreign friends seem to be losing patience with the Obama Administration’s flaccid response to the NSA spying scandal – but unlike the American people, Obama can’t just ignore them.