Someday, when a phone recording of O telling a friend “you might not be able to keep your plan if you like it” in 2009 finally surfaces, we’ll all know whom to thank. Then again, if Keith Alexander had dirt on Obama in his back pocket, would he really be headed for retirement? J. Edgar Hoover parlayed his own practices in this vein into Director-For-Life status at the FBI.

Maybe Greenwald’s saving this scoop for Christmas?

In light of a recent report, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) fears the National Security Agency may be spying on President Barack Obama. “They could well be spying on the president, for all I know,” Paul says, in an interview with National Review Online. “He has a cell phone, and, in fact, my guess is that they have collected data on the president’s phone.”

Paul also believes the federal government may be tracking Pope Francis. “The most important question we need to ask the NSA is, ‘Are you telling us you’re collecting no data on the pope?’ And, ‘Did you collect any information on him when he was the archbishop, while staying in a certain residence in Rome at the time of the election?’ I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”…

“I think they’re spying on every American,” he says. “It’s alarming and inexcusable if we’re spying on religious leaders around the world.”

I don’t know. I can think of a few religious leaders worth spying on, although the Pope’s not one of them. In theory there’s always a reason you might want to listen in on a head of state’s or religious leader’s calls — not so much for what he might say but for what might be said to him by the VIP he’s speaking to — but the PR disaster inherent in spying on the Pope (the Pope!) is so awful that the risk can’t possibly be justified. Frankly, Pope Francis seems nice enough that he’d probably let them listen in if they just asked nicely. But then, there’s no good reason to think the NSA’s actually doing this. The Vatican has no evidence of it; the NSA denies it; the Italian magazine that made the claim cited no source for it and, as far as I know, has no access to any document lifted by Edward Snowden that might conceivably prove it. Without further evidence, it smells like a publication pushing out something that’s thin yet irresistible in order to piggyback on the global attention paid to the NSA’s snooping on Angela Merkel. Maybe what happened is that the NSA was tapping some foreign leader’s phone and a call from that leader to the Pope got picked up? Or maybe the whole thing’s made up. More proof, please.

That being so, why is Paul eager to seize on the accusation about the Pope? Just good salesmanship, I assume. He likes to highlight the religious implications of libertarian policies wherever possible, knowing that this might increase their appeal to Christian conservatives (and his own appeal to voters in Republican primaries). His call to scale back foreign aid to the Middle East usually comes with a reminder that Arab Christians are under siege in Egypt and Syria. Why would we throw money around over there when some of it’s likely to end up being expropriated for persecution? Same with NSA spying. It’s more alarming that the feds might be hacking U.S. companies to steal data than it is that they might be spying on any foreign leader, religious or otherwise, but the pros and cons of that are more complex and technologically esoteric than saying “What the hell are we doing spying on the Pope?” Hard to fault him politically for going the route he’s going here — although I think John McCormack’s right that, all in all, Rand’s choice of what to focus on in the great surveillance/counterterrorism debate can seem a little … odd. Exit quotation: “Need someone to filibuster until Obama promises not to assassinate the pope with a drone.”