NSA Officials Livid That White House Is Pretending It Didn't Know About Spying On Foreign Leaders

from the the-wheels-of-the-bus-are-that-way dept

Earlier this month, we noted that anonymous NSA officials had been whining about not getting strong enough support from the White House. In particular, they seemed upset that President Obama wasn’t front and center in the press defending their actions and that he hadn’t stopped by at Ft. Meade to give them a pep talk. We found the whole thing pretty silly. The President had made remarks in support of the NSA and there were a bunch of other things on his plate at the time that seemed more pressing politically. And, also, if you need a pep talk from the President to be happy in your job, you’re probably in the wrong job.

However, such talk is getting much louder now that the President has apparently told people he had no idea the NSA was spying on foreign leaders. The NSA itself confirmed that Keith Alexander had never spoken to President Obama about spying on Angela Merkel, though it’s possible that the President knew about it from other sources. And, of course, now Senator Dianne Feinstein is insisting she never knew about spying on foreign leaders either. To be honest, both claims seem ridiculous — and it seems like this kind of weak response is further pissing off NSA officials. We already noted how NSA people were freaking out about Feinstein’s statements (though, some believe this is just for show), but the grumbling over the President’s statements is getting much louder as NSA officials recognize that it appears the President is positioning the NSA as a rogue agency, rather than one carrying out his orders.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.

In particular, they say the claims that the President didn’t know about spying on foreign leaders is hogwash.

Precisely how the surveillance is conducted is unclear. But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports, said two former senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing classified information.

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

The ramifications here may be serious, as the intelligence community apparently views this as President Obama completely throwing them under the bus:

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

What that actually means in the long run is less certain. It’s still entirely possible that this is all for show. In fact, the White House has already said Feinstein’s claim that the US would stop spying on foreign leaders is simply not true.

That said, if this means more and more NSA employees are disgruntled, I would imagine there are plenty of reporters ready and willing to help them blow the whistle on more things happening within the intelligence community. I’m guessing they already know what Glenn Greenwald’s email is, for example…

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Comments on “NSA Officials Livid That White House Is Pretending It Didn't Know About Spying On Foreign Leaders”

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Nicholas Weaver (profile) says:

The real frustrating thing is this is exactly who the NSA is supposed to be spying on. Foreign leadership is specifically in-scope.

The problem I have is the methods: if its anything like how Belgicom was hacked (using “QUANTUM”, namely, packet injection to exploit a tech’s computer and then using the ‘lawfull’ intercept capability built into the phone switches), this would be something that the US would clearly call a criminal act, and possibly call an act-of-war.

If France, say, hacked AT&T using these techniques to monitor cellphones in Washington DC, “ballistic” wouldn’t even begin to describe the US response.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s really really stupid, though.

If Spain was spying on a bunch of American Senators and recording their phone calls and metadata there’d be calls to punish Spain.

Quite frankly, if there’s the remotest chance of being discovered and the country in question is not more or less a dysfunctional or totalitarian state, it’s just plain not in our national interest or all that worthwhile to spy on them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So naturally the NSA is unhappy, as they’re kind of limited in what they can do to minimize the damage to themselves.

Although quite a lot of that damage was self-inflicted. If the NSA’s talking heads (Clapper, etc.) didn’t blatantly lie and misrepresent when this all started coming out, their reputation wouldn’t be as tattered as it is.

Now, rightfully, there is literally nothing the NSA can say that holds any credibility.

Ben C says:

But they ARE a rouge agency

I mean how else do you describe an agency that hides from oversight, lies about what they are doing, and tries to gain as much power as possible without care for the public interest EXCEPT to call them “rouge”?
I mean short of actually running military Ops without oversight what the hell else would qualify you to be “rouge” but those things?

Anonymous Coward says:

Precisely how the surveillance is conducted is unclear. But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports, said two former senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing classified information.

Is this the same kind of “targeting” they do in the domestic cases?

“Yo prez, we are just going to do some ‘targeted’ surveillance on the leaders of our enemy countries. Ok?”

“Fine by me.”

And if they do then by “targeted” of course they mean every leader they talk two and every leader that leader talks to. Makes perfect sense to me.

out_of_the_blue says:

So we can expect NSA to crumble any day now!

Oooh! Mike sez they’re “livid”, “whining”, “pissed off”, and “disgruntled”!

Oh, wait: “It’s still entirely possible that this is all for show.”

WHY do you even run such distracting fluff when it’s so manifestly unreliable that you have to HEDGE?

Google. Making your life better by spying right up to the creepy limit. ™ — And soon as you’re used to it, we get creepier!


Davd says:

It's just a diversion

Feinstein is trying to spread the impression “now that Feinstein has finally picked up the ball an is gonna punish those rampaging eavesdroppas, we don’t need no stinkin’ America Freedom act no more”.

She is going to go “let’s do it my way” on the debate. If she gets her way, that’s the last you’ll hear of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I never believed Obama didn’t know about the spying on other foreign leaders. Because that means either he’s a dumb as Bush or he doesn’t know what his people do and is totally incompetent.

When Bush had to make a speech people cringed from the admin to the public. Every time he gave a speech in public, comedians had material for a month solid at least. Obama never strikes you as being that dumb. He strikes you as being more akin to a friggin snake you have to watch every minute for the underhanded tricks he will pull.

Most of the time the people around the president fall on their swords to protect his position. Notice anything strange here about the NSAs position? Sounds like the NSA is pissed because they did it like they were directed and now they see the bumper of that bus coming down the highway.

Obama has some need now of that dialogue he was talking about willing to have over the NSA but it’s not the NSA he needs cover; it’s his own actions.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Business as usual

As the first poster put it, “plausible deniability.” Every single person on earth, myself included. “kinda knew” what was going on – I would EXPECT our agencies to grab every shred of data they could on any foreign power, friendly or not. They don’t deal in intentions, they deal in capabilities, after all.

But it’s far different to know for sure. Now the cockroaches scatter, and see who’s left out in the light. At the end, nothing will change, and we’ll all go back to pretending.

Of course in my fantasies, the lying stops: “Happy goldfish bowl, world. We have more spooks, more nukes, and from now on YOU have no privacy. Deal with it, and govern yourselves accordingly.”

anonymouse says:

Re: Business as usual

The problem now is that now every country has seen that the US is prepared to spy on their leaders so it is open day for them to spy on the American government. I suspect that China if they have not already will be doing everything to gain access to congress and the white house communications, every single one of them from the president down to the teaboys.And behind China is Russia and Germany and Spain and the UK and every other country that feels they might just gain something by monitoring the US ruling parties communications. I doubt they are interested that much in the American citizens , but i would guess that they would target more accurately members of the NSA and FBI and Homeland security and their families. Damn they dont need to search through data from 450 million people when they can target individuals that are worthy of listening to…

Anonymous Coward says:


“But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports”

What if the foreign leader was not “targeted”? What if the foreign leader was just caught by the dragnet? Then there would be no reports.

Anonymous Coward says:

this is very interesting.? merely the fact that the politicos are jumping ship is convincing evidence that the public response has them intensely uncomfortable.

the rift between the rogue politicians and the rogue snoops may herald the undoing of both as each becomes more wary of the other.? especially when slammer time starts getting mentioned at some point, which, given the illegalities already in evidence, will no doubt eventually come down.

“wait a minute.? you said we couldn’t be held accountable.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think the problem is entirely in a fractured and unsatisfied corp of NSA agents not having reasonable leaders. Lashing out at politicians for enforcing their shady “right” to disavow them is a sign that the agents are politically unaware of reality outside NSA in recent decades and an already existing dissatisfaction with the way things work today.

I don’t blame them for the frustration. The security checks with lie-detectors and questioning of the people around them must be excruciatingly agonizing and humiliating. Looking at more of the same in the future… Yeah.

Maybe it is time for bringing the agencys measures up to the second half of the 20th century and atleast ditch the lie-detectors and make the questioning more discrete. That and competent non-military leadership would probably go a long way towards reducing the disloyalty of speaking to journalists and the dissatisfaction getting aired here.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA has hasn?t yet taken any responsibility for their own actions, always claiming that they are acting under presidential, congressional, or court authority. All the while, they have been lying to congress and the courts, so it?s not stretch they lied to the president as well. Now they?re pissed because no one is covering up for them! Spoiled brats. Rogue bureaucrats. Bullies.

Zos (profile) says:

Means and methods

I have no problem believing this one tbh, sources, methods, means, identifiers, all that are stripped from intelligence reports, long before they reach brass. That’s rock bottom basics.
most likely no one outside of operations had any idea just how far things had gone, but that takes nothing away from culpability for the conditions that allowed the over reaches in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official

Was this “senior intelligence official” in a train?

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

No amount of BS laws will save you from the wrath of the other world leaders son.

For people who are paid to understand social environments those people in those agencies have a surprisingly lack of political understanding.

Who never encounter someone who tries to make you do something you know is wrong and then bails out when the shit hits the fan?

It happens in schools, it happens in offices and it happens in governments specially in governments. Laws want help you dude.

Could other countries sue American politicials ex-parte making them wanted by the Interpol? that would be priceless.
I bet they do have laws against spying where they come from too.

Anonymous Coward says:

C’mon people. This is all just political theater. Every leader in every country has been spying on every other leader of every other country since before recorded history. It’s SOP. The problem here is that they are now getting their noses rubbed in it in public and can no longer claim ignorance. Eventually, a few heads will roll, probably the old guys that were going to retire anyway, then it will be back to business as usual. Meanwhile, the retirees will land softly with the aid of lucrative jobs or large “golden parachutes”, and they will be happy and the public will be happy because “something was done about it”. BAH!

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Such shocking news!

I’m going to declare that this is a bunch of crap brought to you by the news gatherers of the US media.

Because as long as there have been nations and countries, they have all been spying on one another in one form or another.

The grandstanding, indignation and hypocrisy of all those involved is just plain sickening.

After all, wasn’t it Israel that helped Jonathan Pollard spy on us?

What about the various Russian agents who’ve done it, and our own?

Spying on one another, gathering intelligence on friends and enemies is standard operating procedure. That’s what the NSA was created for, after all.

The real problem is that while everyone is so shocked at the NSA spying on other countries, they’re still spying on American citizens and being allowed to do so without any restraint or concern.

Never mind about our rights as citizens being violated..those of other countries matter more.

Rapnel (profile) says:


I’d guess that a large part of the intelligence community doesn’t know and/ore do not care what’s wrong. And another large part believe that they’ve been working in the interests of country and their president. It wouldn’t be difficult to believe that elected officials can claim whatever they like because they seem to do just that. I also would not find it difficult to believe that the president was never directly informed of the sheer scope and mass of collections. What we all “assume” happens can not be construed as having been directly translated into presidential briefings. Working assumptions are not qualified communications of the thing.

We have machines. Those machines need constant oiling so that they can grind down anything in their path with ease.

We have a law enforcement machine bent on immediate submission and have become over-empowered via a maligned assault on drugs which, as we’re all aware, is steadily giving way to an equally maligned assault on terror. Scorched citizenry.

We have a war machine and yet, when is the last time the prosperity of our people has been faced with direct and bloody conflict? The South will Rise again! Amen!

The machines we have empowered to protect us, in limited capacities, have taken on lives of their own. They need to be put down like the rabid dogs that they’ve become.

Cries of “Spying on foreign leaders is wrong!” are so fucking pathetic that it’s truly beyond infuriating when the surveillance assets and collections directed at the public are, somehow, less of an issue.

The leaders of people are fucking up everywhere. The illumination that the Internet provides will either be cut off, magnified or, as we can plainly see, riddled with peep holes for those that will not be challenged.

NSA officials are livid. You know what? Too fucking bad. The very millisecond that SIGINT collections encompassed all of your countrymen is the exact same second that your reasons for existing became null.

DRUGS AND TERROR AND IP: Who are you going to roll over and die for today?

Prevention is a pound of cure. The quest for controlled economies of scale will exist in direct opposition to the quest for humanity. There are no borders, only hoarders. The will of people is a facade when the will of authority rules them all.

What the fuck am I getting on about now? NSA has poopy face? Well join the fucking club, bitches.

Postulator (profile) says:

Everyone does it?

I love how the NSA now has its pawns hitting comment boards to say “everyone does this, so it can’t be so bad”. Seriously? The most powerful government in world history, with the world’s most connected “information” agency, and the best you can come up with is “Mum, Jimmy’s parents let him do it!” “So if Jimmy jumped off a cliff…”?

So what if “everyone does it”? You shouldn’t. I don’t want my government spying on other governments, and I don’t want other governments spying on my government. It doesn’t matter whether they’re friends or enemies, it’s just wrong. Rude. Impolite and impolitic. Whether or not you get busted is not relevant – you shouldn’t do it.

Start talking, and stop relying on the fact that you’ve read the other guy’s notes before the meeting.

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