The Obama administration is under heavy criticism after it was reported that the NSA was spying on communications of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and in the process scooped up communications between the Israeli leader and members of the US Congress. The purpose of the surveillance was in connection to the nuclear deal being negotiated between the US and Iran, a deal which is opposed by Israel. The Obama administration believed that it would be easier to counter this Netanyahu’s campaign to oppose the deal if they eavesdropped on his communications.
When it was discovered that the intercepted communications included private conversations of American politicians, it raised concerns in the White House, described as an “Oh-s— moment,” by one senior official. The NSA is technically permitted by law to intercept any international communications, even those of members of Congress. However intelligence agencies are required by law to inform congressional committees if the names of any politicians appear in their reports describing the communications. However it appears that the names of politicians were not included in the reports, so it was not required by law to inform Congress.
Even if this surveillance does seem to be permitted by law it is still a political disaster, and raises concerns about separation of powers and the executive branch putting pressure on Congress. The White House must have recognized the political risk such an action would cause. The Obama administration tried to distance themselves from the action and place responsibility on the NSA by granting them the freedom to decide what information to collect and what to report. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it.’ We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it,'” says one senior White House official describing the cowardly policy.
This revelation is also going to strain the relationship between Israel and the US. After it was revealed that the NSA spied on German Chancelor Angela Merkel and other allied leaders, Obama had promised to curb such surveillance going forward. While surveillance of some allied leaders ceased, Obama decided behind closed doors to continue surveillance of Netanyahu because it served a, “compelling national security purpose.” To further strain the relationship between the Obama administration and Netanyahu, the NSA reports indicate that the Israeli administration was pressuring undecided lawmakers into opposing the deal, and coaching lobbyists on what arguments to use to oppose the deal. However a spokesman for the Embassy of Israel denied the claims stating, “These allegations are total nonsense.”
Is this particular bit of surveillance more significant than the routine mass surveillance of American citizens? Leave your comments below.