I don’t know which is the scarier possibility: that President Obama knew about the spying on our allied world leaders and is lying about it, or that he was ignorant of what the NSA was really doing. It is sadly a repeat of the old game of “incompetent or liar.”
If the NSA was really spying on Angela Merkel’s personal phone for five years without Obama being aware of it, that is a truly frightening statement about just how out of control our surveillance agencies are.
There are only three reasons I can think of to spy on an allied world leader.
The first is military intelligence. We obviously know that Merkel is not a terrorist or secretly planning a new ground war in Europe, so there is no real national security goal to be achieved by spying on her.
The second is to gain an advantage in deal making. Insider information in negotiations could help us get the best possible trade deal. Of course this provides zero advantage unless this information is passed on to the President and his top people. There is no point or justification for spying on Merkel for this reason if President doesn’t know about it.
The only other reason to spy on Merkel would be to try to uncover a scandal that could be used to blackmail her or selectively leaked to destroy her political career. This seems like the most likely real reason. If this is what was happening and Obama didn’t know about it that is truly disturbing. It would mean the NSA is capable of playing a geopolitical rogue game without any accountability.
So either Obama is lying, or for years he unknowingly allowed an out of control NSA to develop a frightening level of power — yet he still insists on protecting the NSA from proper scrutiny. Neither option makes me feel good.