Yesterday, the president was all like, "who? what? me?" about revelations that US intelligence agencies have been monitoring the phone calls of various world leaders for years. He pretended that he and his inner circle were unaware of this practice. In doing so, he angered and alienated the people who know better. Push-back:
The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping. Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies. The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice. France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Sweden have all publicly complained about the NSA surveillance operations, which reportedly captured private cellphone conversations by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among other foreign leaders.
"Restoring our image in the world" via infuriating close allies, then dishonestly throwing your own intel people under the bus in an act of fleeting damage control. Well played, champ. Smart power. There are conflicting accounts of who knew what, and when. The Washington Post says Obama was first briefed about this program over the summer, but wasn't upset by what he heard. The LA Times piece above quotes sources who say it would be inconceivable that Obama didn't know all along, unless he hasn't been reading his intelligence briefings -- a duty he's been known to routinely shirk. Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has pronounced herself outraged over this new revelation, but are there strong hints that she's been in the know, too? Collecting relevant information on friends and foes alike is what intelligence services do. I'm not especially interested in throwing rocks at the NSA et al over this, though it's obvious why the public disclosure of these actions is really embarrassing and could make for some awkward meetings. What I'm most interested in is the White House's claim that the Commander-in-Chief just found out about all of this. It's an all too familiar excuse. Last night -- prior to frustrated intelligence officials leaking the truth -- Jon Stewart quipped that "there appear to be very few loops Obama is in." President Bystander strikes again:
National Journal compiles a quick rundown of Obama's promiscuous use of the "I didn't know!" defense. Highlights include the White House claiming that the president wasn't aware that his signature healthcare law wasn't ready to launch, that US intelligence was snooping on friendly heads of state, that the IRS was wrongfully targeting Obama's political opponents, and that his Justice Department was spying on journalists. Additional items would include the insane 'Fast & Furious' gun-running fiasco, and Air Force One's bone-headed photo op over lower Manhattan. Is Obama willfully and aggressively ignorant -- or just lying? I'm sure some element of the former has helped shape the president's approach to the job, but the latter option is a pretty sure bet. He and his administration lie. Deliberately, breezily, and without remorse.