In January 2014, during the scandalous aftermath of Edward Snowden’s NSA snooping revelations, one which revealed the US had been spying on its closest allies for years, Obama banned U.S. eavesdropping on leaders of close friends and allies and promised he would begin reining in the vast collection of Americans’ phone data in a series of limited reforms.
Below are the key highlights from his January 17, 2014 speech:
Our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well. But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy, too. And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance. In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.
The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. This applies to foreign leaders as well.
The president lied, and the privacy concerns of “people around the world” have clearly never once been taken into account in Obama’s policies and procedures.
Just three days prior, on January 14 2014, Vermont Senator and current Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders had written an email to then NSA Chief Keith Alexander asking if the NSA has or is currently spying “on members of Congress or other American elected officials.” The letter went on to define spying as including “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”
The response: the National Security Agency’s director, responding to questions from independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, says the government is not spying on Congress…. “Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as ‘spying on members of Congress or other American elected officials.” Alexander wrote in the letter, dated Friday and released Tuesday.
The former NSA head also lied.
We know this because in the latest WSJ report on the NSA’s spying scandal from this evening, we find that even though Obama announced two years he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state, the spying continues and “behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The spying, or rather counterespionage, was in order to facilitate the US-Iran nuclear negotiations and deal which took place this summer over Netanyahu’s firm objection to scuttle any lifting of the Iran embargo (an embargo which Iran had skirted for years by importing billions of dollars worth of gold from Turkey via Dubai).
That in itself would not be quite so scandalous considering the frosty diplomatic relations between the two nations in recent years, if it didn’t also involve the direct and indirect spying by the NSA and the executive branch, on members of Congress.
The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said—that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.
White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
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The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.
Which explains why for the past two years the Obama administration, which knew this moment was inevitable, has been maintaining an attitude of abject incompetence, claiming it had no idea anything like this happened. In fact, as the Bezos Post reported in late 2013, “Obama didn’t know about surveillance of U.S.-allied world leaders until summer” of 2013. That too was a lie. Quote the WSJ:
After Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials gave his national-security team a one-page questionnaire on priorities. Included on the form was a box directing intelligence agencies to focus on “leadership intentions,” a category that relies on electronic spying to monitor world leaders. The NSA was so proficient at monitoring heads of state that it was common for the agency to deliver a visiting leader’s talking points to the president in advance. “Who’s going to look at that box and say, ‘No, I don’t want to know what world leaders are saying,’ ” a former Obama administration official said.
There is much more in the full WSJ article, but here are the salient points: Obama lied, again, and despite profuse promises that the NSA’s espionage machinery would be limited, nothing changed. It is safe to assume that nothing has changed to this day despite further lies from the administration to the contrary.
One thing that is different this time, however, from all previous administration lies is that now Congress may have no choice but to retaliate against the executive branch’s illegal snooping. Ironically, none other than Former Chairman House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, a person who had been most vocal in his support of the NSA’s spying on the American people, is most appalled as his recent tweet reveals.
NSA and Obama officials need to be investigated and prosecuted if any truth to WSJ reports. NSA loses all credibility. Scary.
— Pete Hoekstra (@petehoekstra) December 30, 2015
As for the official White House National Security Council, the response is “no comment”:
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) December 30, 2015
This may well be because Obama was on the golf course in Hawaii when the WSJ article hit.
Finally, while all of the above is at this point largely expected if anything, what is surprising is that as the WSJ notes, among the “allies” excluded from the protected list, were “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of NATO ally Turkey, which allowed the NSA to spy on their communications at the discretion of top officials.”
In other words the Obama administration has been fully aware Turkey has been providing not only training, weapons and supplies to ISIS, it is also Turkey, and especially people from Erdogan’s own family, who served as the source of financial support for the CIA-created Islamic State, whose only purpose from the beginning was to topple Bashar al Assad.
Actually scratch that: did we say “surprising”? We meant precisely the opposite.