President Obama announced two years ago that he would stop eavesdropping on leaders of U.S. allies, after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs. According to The Wall Street Journal, this meant an end to spying on French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders.
However, Israel apparently failed to make Obama’s list of true allies. The Journal reports that the NSA continued routinely to intercept the communications of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and send them to White House officials for dissection.
And that’s not all. Spying on Netanyahu reportedly led to eavesdropping on members of Congress and leaders of American Jewish organization with whom the Israeli prime minister and his government communicated.
Originally, the stated justification for spying on Netanyahu was fear that he would attack Iran without first warning the U.S. However, by 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies had determined that Israel wasn’t going to strike Iran, so the rationale shifted. Now, Team Obama wanted to know whether Israel had learned of secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.
As negotiations with Iran proceeded, Obama’s appetite for information about Netanyahu’s intentions grew. According to the Journal’s sources, the NSA tried to send updates to U.S. policy makers quickly, often in less than six hours after a notable communication was intercepted.
Obama also convinced himself that Israel was obtaining information about his negotiations with Iran by spying on the U.S. Israel has maintained that whatever it learned was the product of spying on the Iranians.
In early 2015, Israeli communications with members of Congress intensified. According to the Journal, the NSA apparently failed to learn about Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress. However, it did sweep up other conversations between lawmakers and Israeli officials.
At this point, according to the report, the Obama administration told the NSA, in effect, to decide for itself what information obtained from surveillance of conversations with members of Congress to deliver to the president. The White House apparently thought that this approach would give it cover.
“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ we didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it,’ a senior official told the Journal.
Spying from behind. Vintage Obama.
What are the rules that apply to U.S. surveillance that reaches members of Congress? The Journal says:
The rules were tightened in the early 1990s to require that intelligence agencies inform congressional committees when a lawmaker’s name was revealed to the executive branch in summaries of intercepted communications.
A 2011 NSA directive said direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress should be destroyed when they are intercepted. But the NSA director can issue a waiver if he determines the communications contain “significant foreign intelligence.”
The NSA has leeway to collect and disseminate intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress. . . .
The Journal’s sources say that Israeli officials in the U.S. prepared detailed messages to the government about their exchanges with lawmakers. If so, and to that extent, the NSA had leeway to disseminate the exchanges themselves.
Did the NSA inform the appropriate congressional committees when a lawmaker’s name was revealed to Team Obama in summaries of intercepted communications? It says that the names were removed before the information was passed on to the White House. It also claims to have removed “trash talk,” such as personal attacks on the executive branch.
Is all of this true? Who knows?
What’s clear is that President Obama’s determination to obtain a deal with the mullahs that neither our closest ally in the region (pre-Obama, anyway) nor the American people supported led him (1) to treat Israel as, in effect, an adversary, (2) knowingly to invade the privacy of American legislators and American citizens, and (3) to abuse his power by using the NSA to undermine legislative opposition. [Note: the third point did not appear in my original post]
Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/429111/obama-nsas-congress-spying.
Obama’s supporters would counter that the ends justified the means. So far, as Breitbart points out, the “ends” include Iran testing ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. sanctions; Iran sending Shiite mercenaries to fight the civil war in Syria; and Iran continuing overtly to support terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Nor will this by the “end” of similar “ends.”
In any case, it’s silly to talk about “ends justifying means” when Iran can pull out of the deal in short order as soon as it believes it has accomplished its ends.
A final thought. Obama desperately wanted to see Netanyahu and his party lose the 2015 election. Obama-tied operatives played a role in the anti-Netanyahu campaign in Israel. The U.S. State Department was also implicated.
To what extent, if any, was information that Obama obtained by spying on Netanyahu used in furtherance of the quest to see Netanyahu defeated?