So, we know that the Obama administration is claiming that the president did not know that the National Security Agency was bugging the communications of foreign leaders like Angela Merkel. I don’t believe these denials, and I certainly hope that they are not true, because I think that the question of whether we should spy on friendly foreign countries and whether we should bug the phones of friendly foreign leaders is important enough to land on the desk of the president of the United States.
But regardless of whether the protestations of ignorance are true or not, they have the effect of claiming that the NSA was the primary actor behind the espionage effort, and throwing the NSA under the bus. And guess what: The NSA is not down with this plan:
The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.
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.
The resistance emerged as the White House said it would curtail foreign intelligence collection in some cases and two senior U.S. senators called for investigations of the practice.
[. . .]
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.
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.”
Any decision to spy on friendly foreign leaders is made with input from the State Department, which considers the political risk, the official said. Any useful intelligence is then given to the president’s counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, among other White House officials.
At some point, I fully expect the White House to blame the NSA for the failed rollout of the health care exchange websites. It’s only a matter of time.