U.S. intelligence agencies’ failure to “connect the dots” before 9/11 precipitated a rush to collect vast amounts of electronic information. That pursuit of information led to egregious overreach by the National Security Agency to gather vast amounts of electronic data from America and all over the globe.
Even though we knew the government was watching more closely, most Americans didn’t worry about it until revelations from Edward Snowden started spilling NSA’s secrets on newspaper front pages. Then last week, a document that Snowden leaked to London’s Guardian newspaper indicated that the U.S. scooped up millions of French citizens’ phone calls in a single month. Then the newspaper reported that NSA has even monitored the personal cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel, who frequently texts and talks on her cell in public, was incensed. Friends do not spy on friends, she said.
Well, yes they do. European governments spy on the United States. But they may not be tapping Barack Obama’s cellphone.
Some of the European outrage over the NSA abuses of privacy is for internal consumption. Blaming the United States for something can take some heat off public outrage on other issues. European leaders are hypocritical if they demand that the United States stopping spying on friends. Moreover, the United States shares intelligence with its allies.
However, friends do talk and cooperate. And that’s what Obama must do to repair the rift in Transatlantic relations that has resulted from these embarrassing revelations.
Last week, Germany announced that leaders of its foreign and domestic intelligence agencies will be visiting the White House soon. The Obama administration must be ready to meet them with answers that respect our two nations’ important alliance and the need of each to gather intel.
The White House may soon hear from other irked heads of state. The Guardian said it obtained a confidential memo suggesting the NSA was able to monitor 35 world leaders’ communications in 2006.
The buck stops with Obama. It’s up to the president to rein in the NSA. It’s up to the president to step up diplomacy and build up the trust needed for international alliances that are important to America.
Obama’s adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, wrote in an editorial published on the USA Today website Thursday night that the U.S. government is not operating “unrestrained.” The U.S. intelligence community has more restrictions and oversight than any other country, she wrote.
Obama will have to convince Americans and our international allies that statement is true. Whatever the practice was in years past, NSA abuses must be stopped with clear direction from the president and effective oversight.