Surveillance on Merkel’s phone demands a scapegoat

NSA Director Keith Alexander. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

NSA Director Keith Alexander. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As you have no doubt heard by now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was informed by German intelligence that her phone was subjected to American surveillance. Predictably she reacted badly and called President Obama himself to ream him out. At the New York Times, Alison Smale reported:

About an hour after the news broke in Berlin, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, appeared before news media in Washington, reporting the Obama-Merkel phone call and saying that “the president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor.”

Left unaddressed, as has been pointed out, was whether her phone was monitored in the past. But, never fear. Ms. Smale reports: “ARD, Germany’s premier state television channel said without naming its sources that the supposed monitoring had targeted Ms. Merkel’s official cellphone, not her private one.”

Oh, it’s okay then.

In fact, it’s a nadir of sorts for the United States, an utter embarrassment. It would be a great time to scapegoat someone. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper? He disputed a Le Monde report of mass U.S. surveillance of the French – “70 million digital communications,” according to Ms. Smale – including diplomats. But, she reports

He did not address another report by Le Monde that monitoring by the United States had extended to “French diplomatic interests” at the United Nations and in Washington.

But he’s garnered praise in some quarters recently for certain initiatives. At the Washington Post on Wednesday, Oct. 23, David Ignatius explains.

Clapper has recently taken steps that forced the National Security Agency (NSA) to accept greater transparency and stopped the military agencies from wasteful spending on duplicative satellite imagery. [He has also] pushed more collaboration — something that’s easy to talk about but hard to do in an intelligence culture that rewards protection of secrets. … But at least someone is trying to manage this secret empire.

Speaking of empires, that still leaves NSA Director Keith Alexander as someone to take the blame. According to a June report in Wired by James Bamford reported on

… an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe.

After all, there’s no room in the modern United States for another J. Edgar Hoover.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Categories: War/Security

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