So, last week, there was the report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had found out about the US NSA spying on her mobile phone and had made an angry call to President Obama. As we noted, US officials made perhaps the weakest response ever
, insisting that they weren't monitoring her phone today and promising that they wouldn't monitor it in the future -- but absolutely refusing to comment on whether or not the NSA had done so in the past. Of course, that just called much more attention to the obvious implication that they had -- and it took just a couple days before Spiegel revealed the details. Not only had the NSA been monitoring Merkel's mobile phone, but they'd been doing it for over a decade, since before she was in power
There are strong indications that it was the SCS that targeted the cell phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel. This is suggested by a document that apparently comes from an NSA database in which the agency records its targets. This document, which SPIEGEL has seen, is what set the cell phone scandal in motion.
The document contains Merkel's cell phone number. An inquiry to her team revealed that it is the number the chancellor uses mainly to communicate with party members, ministers and confidants, often by text message. The number is, in the language of the NSA, a "Selector Value." The next two fields determine the format ("raw phone number") and the "Subscriber," identified as "GE Chancellor Merkel."
[....] The time stamp is noteworthy. The order was transferred to the "National Sigint Requirements List," the list of national intelligence targets, in 2002. That was the year Germany held closely watched parliamentary elections and Merkel battled Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria's Christian Social Union to become the conservatives' chancellor candidate. It was also the year the Iraq crisis began heating up. The document also lists status: "A" for active. This status was apparently valid a few weeks before President Obama's Berlin visit in June 2013.
Spiegel has a lot more, including some revealing information about how the NSA uses the US embassy in Berlin to intercept all kinds of communications.
But then there's this incredible claim: President Obama insists he had no idea about it when he spoke to Merkel:
Merkel spoke with Obama on Wednesday afternoon, calling him from her secure landline in her Chancellery office. Both spoke English. According to the Chancellery, the president said that he had known nothing of possible monitoring, otherwise he would have stopped it. Obama also expressed his deepest regrets and apologized.
Now, remember, this is the very same President Obama, who just a couple months ago claimed that every time more Snowden news broke, it would be the first he'd heard about some of these programs, and he'd have to go ask the NSA what they were really doing
. Could this be one of those situations? It seems almost impossible to believe that the NSA would be spying on the head of state of one of our closest allies without the President being aware. As the Spiegel report notes, those kinds of orders would have to be renewed with approval from the top:
Among the politically decisive questions is whether the spying was authorized from the top: from the US president. If the data is accurate, the operation was authorized under former President George W. Bush and his NSA chief, Michael Hayden. But it would have had to be repeatedly approved, including after Obama took office and up to the present time. Is it conceivable that the NSA made the German chancellor a surveillance target without the president's knowledge?
However, after trying to avoid the question, over the weekend, the NSA admitted that Keith Alexander had never briefed the President
about spying on Merkel (though, it's possible he heard about it from others).
This makes it sound, again, like the NSA has gone rogue. How can President Obama seriously allow Keith Alexander and James Clapper to remain in charge when they've just made him look like a complete fool, supposedly totally unaware of what his own intelligence apparatus is up to -- especially when it concerns programs that, once revealed, can have a serious negative impact on a variety of diplomatic fronts?
And for what benefit? The Spiegel report makes it clear that the NSA saw little value in spying on Merkel. They just did it because... reasons.
Former NSA employee Thomas Drake does not see this as a contradiction. "After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Germany became intelligence target number one in Europe," he says. The US government did not trust Germany, because some of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots had lived in Hamburg. Evidence suggests that the NSA recorded Merkel once and then became intoxicated with success, says Drake. "It has always been the NSA's motto to conduct as much surveillance as possible," he adds.
The fact that President Obama hasn't yet fired Alexander in particular is fairly incredible, given this latest revelation.