Does President Barack Obama have any idea of what his administration is doing? His excuse for some of the biggest controversies and scandals that have come out of his government has been that he was oblivious to them.
For example, after it was revealed that the Internal Revenue Service had inappropriately targeted conservative and Tea Party groups, a White House aid told reporters that President Obama wasn’t aware of the IRS investigation until it was covered on the news. It was later revealed that White House lawyers opted not to tell him about the investigation.
President Obama gave the same line about the Fast and Furious scandal, the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists covering leak stories, and again when he was pressed about the accusations of spying on leaders of Brazil and Mexico.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the White House didn’t know that the NSA was monitoring world leaders’ phone calls and that President Obama was, apparently, completely unaware of what the intelligence agency was doing.
“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,” wrote Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous at the Journal. “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,” they added.
The report comes after an accusation that President Obama was personally briefed in 2010 on the surveillance of Merkel. The Journal explained that White House said that the practice has been for intelligence agencies to make the call specific targets for spying. But intelligence officials told the Los Angeles Times that the White House signed off on the spying on the United States allies.
The latest development in the NSA spying controversy has led to outrage and backlash from the international community and potential action at the United Nations, making it a foreign policy headache for the Obama Administration. Moreover, it advances the impression that President Obama doesn’t have a handle on what his own government is doing, which is hard to believe, in this case, given the political and foreign policy implications.