One lesson from the failed spin on Benghazi hasn’t quite sunk in at the White House. When one tosses the intelligence community under the bus, they have the ability to do some tossing themselves. The Los Angeles Times reported last night that angry officials at the NSA and other intel agencies have confirmed that the Obama White House and State Department approved espionage on allies, and the President’s National Security Council is regularly updated on those efforts:
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.
In fact, the intel communities make sure that the White House in particular is kept abreast of those activities:
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.” …
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.
Is it possible that the President didn’t know? Only if he’s not paying any attention to briefings, according to the LAT’s sources:
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.
That has actually been a concern about Obama, who used to skip formal briefings until the attack in Benghazi embarrassed the White House. Now those briefings are on his schedule every day. Whether he pays any attention is another matter entirely.