Obama: Hey, I didn't know about spying on world leaders!

It’s a good thing that Barack Obama watches so much news.  Otherwise, how else would he know what his administration is doing?

The National Security Agency ended a program used to spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a number of other world leaders after an internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operation, U.S. officials said.

Officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders, in the U.S. government’s first public acknowledgment that it tapped the phones of world leaders. European leaders have joined international outrage over revelations of U.S. surveillance of Ms. Merkel’s phone and of NSA’s monitoring of telephone call data in France.

The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven’t been phased out completely yet, officials said.

The account suggests President Barack Obama went nearly five years without knowing his own spies were bugging the phones of world leaders. Officials said the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.

Is that what “US officials” want us to think?  Let’s pose a couple of basic questions.  First, who would bug the head of government of a US ally without having the highest possible level of authorization?  That would tend to be a career-ender if it got exposed, especially in the manner in which it did get exposed.  Say, has anyone been fired for it?  Er … not so far.

Second, who exactly would be the customer of this data, once collected?  Here’s a hint: It’s not going to be the undersecretary of agricultural development at the USDA.  The only reason to surveil Angela Merkel is to provide real-time intelligence to the highest level of government about the intentions of the German Chancellor. Furthermore, that intelligence would have to be specified as to its source for the policymaker to validate it for its consideration. If that policymaker is not Barack Obama, then perhaps we should be asking who exactly is making decisions at the top level of government.

The idea that Obama didn’t know about this program is absurd on its face.  That doesn’t mean it started with Obama, and it’s almost assured that it didn’t.  However, more than four years after taking office, Obama can’t seriously think that anyone will believe that he just found out about this NSA effort from the funny papers.

By the way, the revelation du jour from the Snowden files is that the NSA surveilled more than 60 million phone calls in Spain in a month.  The Spanish government has summoned the US ambassador over the report, which essentially confirms that the SIGINT agency conducts foreign SIGINT.