The revelation Tuesday by Adam Entrous and Danny Yadron of the Wall Street Journal that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conversations with congressional leaders represents the latest–and worst–partisan abuse of power by the Obama administration.
It recalls the IRS scandal, where tax officials targeted conservative groups. The NSA, however, is even more powerful and instrusive.
According to Entrous and Yadron, the NSA surveillance of Israeli leaders “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
That means that the NSA was used, almost certainly illegally, to spy on members of Congress and private citizens–not for a legitimate national security purpose, but to count votes for or against the Iran deal and outmaneuver the pro-Israel community’s objections.
The Journal notes that the spy operation appears to contradict a promise made by President Barack Obama in 2014 that the NSA would no longer spy on the leaders of allied nations–a promise made to deflect public pressure after Edward Snowden’s damaging exposés on the NSA’s activities.
Yet that is not the worst of it: virtually everyone in the foreign policy community assumes that both the U.S. and Israel spy on each other constantly–as do other allies.
What is worst is that ordinary American citizens and elected officials have been swept into the net–perhaps on purpose–without any pretense of concern for the Fourth Amendment or the FISA court.
Entries and Yadron write: “…[W]ary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. ‘We didn’t say, “Do it,”‘ a senior U.S. official said. ‘We didn’t say, “Don’t do it.”‘
Even more bizarre is the fact that the spying seems to have been so incompetent.
For example, the NSA reportedly failed to warn the White House that then-Speaker of the House John Boehner intended to invite Netanyahu to give a major address to Congress. Later the NSA apparently warned Secretary of State John Kerry that Netanyahu would divulge secret details of the negotiations with Iran in his address–and yet he did no such thing in making his case.
Those blunders, and the surprising willingness of senior NSA officials to speak to the Journal, suggest the Israel story may just be a cover–a way to distract from the more fundamental transgression, which is the administration’s surveillance of Congress and the opposition.
It may be that such communications just happen to have been swept into the NSA’s net. On the other hand, they may have been the real focus. The public deserves to know–and soon.