This puzzles me deeply

Obama wasn’t aware of the NSA’s wiretaps on world leaders, says White House review

Is the community organiser in chief really that unobservant?


Every communication that he makes happens over encrypted lines. His mobile, his phone, his internet connection, his email: he knows damn well that there’s half an army of people trying to keep the other bastards out of the communications network of the President of the United States.

So why on Earth would anyone in that position not simply assume that his bastards were doing the same to the other bastards?

It should be obvious from the very moment that his advisers first pointed out that he’s got to use special phones that he and his were doing exactly the same thing to everyone else.

29 thoughts on “This puzzles me deeply”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Because he is a lying little toad – and a lawyer as well.

    So he can claim that as no one specifically told him that exactly a specific time someone was listening specifically to Angela Merkel’s phone, he did not know. Even if he knew in general that Americans were listening to the phone calls of others.

    What this complaint amounts to is an objection from the new ruling class. Merkel is fine with listening to Islamists and, you know, us. But she thinks our ruling class ought to be exempt.

  2. he seems to be introducing “implausible deniability” into the political lexicon, especially as a former senior NSA bod now seems to be saying that he specifically briefed Barry about the tap on Merkel’s phone several years ago.

  3. @SMFS ‘What this complaint amounts to is an objection from the new ruling class. Merkel is fine with listening to Islamists and, you know, us.’

    It seems to me that we should have spies, and they should be listening to Islamists (as a shorthand for baddies).

    They probably need to listen to ‘us’ too, as a means of discovering who the Islamists are.

    It also seems sensible to me that the people pulling the various strings should not have their phones listened to, for obvious reasons.

    The key question to me is what do they do with the information they glean from the ‘us’ who are not Islamists?

  4. Obama’s choom fried brain knows nothing. He doesn’t even comprehend what he’s reading off the teleprompter.

  5. “Is the community organiser in chief really that unobservant?”

    No. The idea that his security staff would be so abjectly incompetent as to have made him be aware of it is ludicrous. Of course there are cut-outs the whole way along the chain, precisely so he can say he’s not aware. It would be difficult to meet any other leader face to face, otherwise.

    This is all standard practice in the intelligence community, just as monitoring communications of nominal allies is standard practice.

    Of course it went on, and of course the President was kept unaware of the details. Two sides of the same coin, there.

  6. Interested,

    The key question to me is what do they do with the information they glean from the ‘us’ who are not Islamists?

    Well, it’s searched and kept ‘just in case’.

  7. It doesn’t matter whether he was told or not, as CinC and President he is ultimately responsible. It’s tough at the top.

  8. @UKL

    I dunno. Can they really search and store all the communications of everyone, every day, forever? Maybe, I really don’t know.

    But in any case, define ‘just in case’.

    I can think of lots of cases where the info might have been useful. As long – naivety alert – as there are checks and balances…

    I dislike hectoring, overweening government as much as anyone, but as long as there are people out there who would quite like to kill my kids, and there are limits to what I can do to find out about it and stop them, I suppose I’m reluctantly reconciled to devolving a bit of that responsibility.

  9. This faux outrage from Hollande, Merkel et al is surely for domestic consumption. Deniability of what they do to their own citizens.

  10. @Interested, alternatively you can realise that the threat from terrorism is very small and that keeping your private correspondence along with millions of others just in case is totally and utterly disproportionate to the potential harm. Once all that data is kept there is more potential for harm from the state (don’t forget that the state is just people, stupid people at that) than from random terrorists. The terrorists have won when we have to change our society to cope with them.

    It’s like the threat to children from pedophiles. Yes, they exist but the hype in the MSM is that it is strangers and so you go the nth degree doing CRB checks etc. In reality the greatest potential danger to children is from someone they know, usually a relative.

    Similarly terrorists exist, but the greatest threat is from the clamping down on personal freedom and not from the actual (usually hamfisted and amateur) damage from terrorists.

    It’s all down to risk and perception of risk. Flying is seen as very risky because of the very rare crashes when hundreds of people are killed in one go. But you are more likely to die on the way to the airport than in a plane. Same with terrorism. You are more likely to come to harm from the state’s mishandling of data (your neighbour with a grudge who happens to work with your private data) than to actually get injured by a terrorist.

  11. Interested.

    Not unless they’ve got another secret Internet*, at least as big as the first.

    The Guardian have slowly distanced themselves from Greenwald’s rather odd accusation that the NSA was recording everything. I got the feeling that he, and the Guardian journos who wrote up those first breathless stories had watched ‘The IT Crowd’ Internet episode and thought it was a documentary.

    * Or some wacky alien shit from Roswell (snort).

  12. Interested,

    AFAIK they don’t yet have the capacity for ‘forever’. At the moment I think we’re looking at a year or two for archival purposes and 24-48 hours for more immediate scrutiny by the NSA or GCHQ, ‘centrally’ speaking. Individual CSPs (communication service providers) in the EU are obliged to keep comms data for 1-2 years. I don’t know if US CSPs have a similar obligation.

    Just in case ranges from “Mohamed Bloggs turned out to be a terrorist so let’s look at every transaction he did for evidence against him and see if if any entities he transacted with are suspicious”, to “the DEA will be interested in this info about drugs so let’s tip them”. That tip might be “go look at this car”, the police find a reason to stop the car (any traffic infraction, like running a stop sign), they search it and oh look there’s some drugs or a bag of cash. Then in court, “we stopped Joe Bloggs because he ran a stop sign at 3am and found exhibit A in his car.” (that’s called parallel construction, quite controversial in the US.)

    Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyber attacks, money laundering, counterfeiting, copyright infringement and tobacco smuggling have all tried to get access to the tips, data or surveillance technology.

    I can think of lots of cases where the info might have been useful. As long – naivety alert – as there are checks and balances…

    Of course, I agree. But one of the things we have discovered is that our checks and balances do not work as advertised:
    We elect candidates to become legislators who are supposed to make the rules about this stuff – but the rules seem to be broken or things are done outside the rules.
    We might not want all legislators to know details that absolutely must be kept secret but we do want some oversight so we have intelligence committees – which are misinformed and misled by the agencies they oversee.
    We have courts (and in the US a ‘secret court’) to make individual activities (like a particular warrant) accountable – but these courts are misinformed and misled too.

    And the really odd thing is that the surveillance doesn’t seem to have done much. They can point to 54 cases worldwide where the information has “contributed to the [U.S. government’s] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad”, 13 of those cases in the USA. (this, by the way, was translated by various officials as, “we have thwarted 54 attacks”.)

  13. SadButMadLad, spot on.

    Just on those 54 cases, the NSA has publicly identified four. It’s arguable that three of them did not require this mass surveillance to be done and the fourth case, while terrorism-related, was about fraud and money laundering not bombing.

  14. @SBML

    Yes, I do accept that it’s a small risk, and clearly we have to weigh the civil liberties and costs in the balance.

    My feeling with terrorism though is that there are probably some chaps out there who would like to pull off something *really* spectacular in the NBC sense; we either do or don’t try to intercept their comms, and it’s probably best if we do.

    I quite accept those other risks, though, and I agree that it’s extremely important that with this greater surveillance should come greater control and accountability. I’m not at all happy that those controls currently exist, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to try to listen to people three phone calls away from someone in Pakistan with access to serious hardware.

    @ UKL

    Yep, as I say my main concern is to beef up the checks and balances (which may be wildly naiive) rather than not do the spying.

    You’re right, too, re the efficacy of surveillance; it’s relatively easy to get around, it’s hard to work through in real time, it’s easy to lay false trails, and there’s just so much of it to trawl through (see above); but then human intelligence is always the best source.

    I still say I’m glad they’re doing it, and I speak as a generally small state get the fuck out of our lives type of person.

  15. @UKLiberty

    And the really odd thing is that the surveillance doesn’t seem to have done much…

    And therein lies the key to this whole issue.

    The entire intelligence community are uninterested in gathering data on everyone per se. They are interested in keeping their jobs.

    The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s meant that there was no longer any justification for the Western intelligence apparatus. The justification for an extra-legal intelligence body is that you are fighting a war. If you are not, you should be using police and the rule of law.

    That is why so many in that field are talking about a ‘war on terror’ and explaining that it will be a long one. They have already had one scare in 1989, and don’t want another one.

  16. The rate-limiting step for any bureaucracy is funding and now that Big Zero has the public credit card’s withdrawal limit lifted to support his pets there is no limit to how much data can be mined. A Borges story there somewhere?

  17. Imagine that the NSA didn’t or couldn’t bug Merkel’s phone. It would clearly be in their interest to maintain that they could/did, to project their and US power. It’s also in the Euro Pol’s interest to feel aggrieved.

  18. According to sources, he was briefed about it well before Merkel started shrieking.

    It is rumoured a French official said “Of course the US were listening to us, everyone is always listening to everyone else. Only thing is, the Americans are so much better at it”.

  19. @ Steve
    If you are paraphrasing Charles II, please remember that 1066 and All That correctly points out that “he was a bad man but a good king” so his derided ministers were actually a lot better than his father’s, Cromwell’s or his brother’s, let alone Obama’s

  20. If the NSA didn’t brief him that it was hacking the leader of a top US ally, they’re out of control & he must fire its management. If he doesn’t do that, it’s because he’s did know, QED,

  21. Interested,

    We (the proles) haven’t been given that choice – no-one asked us if we’d be willing to have all our comms recorded and scrutinised in exchange for 54 terrorism-related activities becoming known to the authorities*. Or would we be ok if the authorities deliberately weakened encryption standards and introduced backdoors (which could potentially be used by baddies) into things we rely on? Or would we in the UK be ok with suspected criminals going free because the authorities lobbied against intercept evidence being made admissible in court in case there was a legal challenge or public outcry at the scale of surveillance?**

    Tbh I think most of the country would agree with you in terms of surveillance so long as there are ‘checks and balances’ (although these are plainly inadequate today). But letting suspected criminals go free and introducing exploits into technology we rely on? I think then we’re looking at more of a debate – but we haven’t been permitted that debate. This is democracy.

    * the closest this has come in Parliament there has been pushback, e.g. the Intercept Modernisation Programme. What happens is they just get on with it in secret and, maybe, regularise it later.
    ** the authorities would prefer secret courts to hear that kind of case instead of revealing the evidence, iow unfair trials.

  22. It seems obvious that organisations like NSA and GCHQ listen in to everything, which is why the safest bet is probably snail mail or carrier pigeons.

    certainly I always assume that everything I say will be overheard by the spooks and am careful to make reference as often as possible to the fact that Obama is a cunt, and the NSA are cunts as are GCHQ.

  23. UKL, I agree re the exploits etc. This is why I think that government should generally get out of our lives – because whatever it does it seems to screw things up/get terrible value for money/lag behind the real world etc etc. No reason why the internet should be any different.

    Still, I want people at least casting half an eye on the traffic in and out of – to pick one town at random – Luton.

  24. Being “aware” means, in politicalspeak being told in writing and by somebody one has previously said one automatically believes, which makes it very easy to be unaware.

    (I have previously emailed David Cameron that catastrophic warming is a fraud that is deliberately keeping us in recession, but I doubt if he would publicly admit “being aware” of it – though to be fair I think he knew it long before I told him)

  25. If you’re president of the United States, you get intelligence briefings on all sorts of things, including what the spooks think foreign governments think.

    You know that it’s possible that at some point you’ll be asked for details you won’t want to give about intelligence activities, and that if you tell a direct lie you may get found out.

    So the sensible thing to do is to instruct the spooks to tell you how reliable the information is, but not exactly how they came by it.

    Alternatively, you can find out exactly what they’re up to and tell them to stop doing anything that the foreign governments might not like. Which would you choose?

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