The revelation from the Snowden Papers that the NSA had Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone under surveillance has produced a central fallout. Dueling leaks over the international embarrassment have forced the White House to a key admission: President Barack Obama did not know what the NSA was up to.
Ever since the Snowden revelations of the massive, world-girdling extent of NSA electronic surveillance surfaced, I have been wondering two things: Did they tell Obama about it when they took office in 2009? And, do they have something on Obama?
Outgoing NSA head Keith Alexander or his circle leaked to a German tabloid that Alexander told Obama about the tap on Merkel’s personal phone in 2010 and that Obama asked for more information on Merkel at that time.
That leak forced the White House (and the NSA) to deny the allegation and to see Alexander his leak and raise the ante.
The White House leaked that the Snowden revelations provoked a review of NSA programs and procedures, and the fact that the NSA had Merkel’s and 35 other world leaders’ personal phones under surveillance was revealed to the White House. Someone there then ordered this summer that the personal spying on Merkel and “some” other leaders be halted (the halt wasn’t ordered on all 35?).
In attempting to repair Obama’s reputation with his colleagues at the G-20, however, the White House counter-leakers have made an epochal and very serious revelation: The President wasn’t in the know. (Even in the best case scenario that he was told in 2010, he wasn’t in the know for the first 18 months of his presidency!)
Edward Snowden’s critics have alleged that he revealed classified US secrets to the enemies of the US. But it seems increasingly likely that he revealed them to . . . Barack Obama.
Excerpt from Juan Cole’s column in Informed Comment (October 28, 2013)