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Spy scandal spirals into diplomatic crisis Comment on this post ↓
October 28th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Question of cover-up

arises in European media

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: outraged over bugging of her phone. Click image to enlarge.

AS MEDIA IN the U.S. largely ignored it, the scandal over government spying on allies in Europe spiraled over the weekend in unexpected directions.
Allegations surfaced in German media that President Obama knew of the monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.
At first the administration refused to comment, according to The Guardian in the U.K., then it changed its mind and denied the president was informed.
The story seems to be taking a familiar route: what did the president know and when did he know it?
That narrative arc has often – since Watergate in the 1970s – concealed an attempt to distance the president from wrongdoing by underlings. Could it be happening again?

TO APPREICATE THE level of outrage in Europe versus the quiescence in America, one needs to know that privacy rights are far more advanced on the Continent.
We reported on it last week in EU far ahead in protecting private data.
Europeans since World War II have been far more sensitive about government intrusion into their private lives and the European Parliament is moving rapidly to ensure that U.S. multinationals play by a different set of rules in the EU.

The top story in Deutsche Welle on Sunday summarized the growing storm over spying. Click image to enlarge.

The headline in Deutsche Welle on Sunday afternoon was all one needed to pick up on the cover-up thread: Media reports suggest Obama knew NSA spied on Merkel
“There are new questions over how much President Obama knew about US spying on Angela Merkel. A newspaper report says that the US leader has been aware of NSA eavesdropping on the German chancellor since 2010,” said the top story on its web site Sunday.
The “media” quoted in this story are big and reputable.
“On Saturday, Spiegel magazine reported that the NSA’s Special Collection Service (SCS) had listed Merkel’s mobile telephone since 2002, beginning under the George W. Bush administration, and that it had remained on the list weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.”
Wow! So the U.S. has been monitoring Merkel’s phone for a decade – even before she was chancellor.
DW then quotes two other newspapers.
“According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Obama had told Merkel during a phone conversation on Wednesday that he had not known of the bugging. However, a report in Bild am Sonntag published Sunday cites an unnamed NSA official who said that the US leader instead ordered the program be escalated.”
The newspaper reports that Obama knew that the NSA had been spying on Merkel’s mobile phone since at least 2010, when NSA chief Keith Alexander personally informed him of the operation.

The story in The Guardian focused on the Obama administration’s response to new allegations. Click image to enlarge.

A flurry of trans-Atlantic phone calls followed with details appearing late Sunday in The Guardian in the story NSA denies discussing Merkel phone surveillance with Obama by Paul Lewis and Philip Oltermann.
“The US National Security Agency was forced on Sunday to deny that its director ever discussed a surveillance operation against the German chancellor with President Barack Obama, as the White House tried to contain a full-scale diplomatic crisis over espionage directed at allied countries,” the reporters wrote.
“The Obama administration appeared in disarray as it struggled with the fallout over the disclosure that the National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders, and that the phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had been monitored.”
Disarray? Not a good sign.
But even worse, the story had changed.
“Early on Sunday, the White House refused to comment on an overnight report in the German tabloid Bild, which alleged that Obama was personally briefed about by the operation to target Merkel’s phone by the NSA’s director, Keith Alexander, and allowed it to continue.”
Perhaps it was too early in the day to get someone to comment. They might have been sleeping in Washington, but they would not have been alone; most people missed the other spying-related event in the capital over the weekend that was also reported in The Guardian.
In the story Thousands gather in Washington for anti-NSA ‘Stop Watching Us’ rally Jim Newell reports from Washington:

The Guardian story about the anti-spying rally in Washington, D.C. over the weekend. Click image to enlarge.

“Thousands gathered by the Capitol reflection pool in Washington on Saturday to march, chant, and listen to speakers and performers as part of Stop Watching Us, a gathering to protest “mass surveillance” under NSA programs first disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“Billed by organizers as “the largest rally yet to protest mass surveillance”, Stop Watching Us was sponsored by an unusually broad coalition of left- and right-wing groups, including everything from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Green Party, Color of Change and Daily Kos to the Libertarian Party, FreedomWorks and Young Americans for Liberty.”
An important point: this is not a partisan issue. Conservatives and liberals feel the threat, and can look beyond party interests for a solution.
The attention this story is getting in Europe and the lack of attention it seems to be getting domestically is instructive in several ways.
Privacy rights are far more entrenched in the EU than in America, that is for certain. But Americans seem complacent about our government spying on others; only when the lens is turned on ourselves do we seem to be bothered.
It’s delusional to believe there is a difference.
The NSA has the tools at its disposal to use on U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike. How can it be justified to use them on foreigners while “trusting” the government not to spy on us?
We would be wise to take a cue from our democratic friends and allies across the pond and bring pressure to bear on our own representatives to end the spying abroad and at home.

 

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