The latest outrage in conservative circles is the NSA’s surveillance program. They aren’t outraged by spying on American citizens, of course—though more on that later. They’re outraged by spying on Israel. You see, when NSA surveillance of foreign leaders was exposed by Edward Snowden, President Obama promised to stop it—but with exceptions. And it turns out that Israel was one of those exceptions. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
There was little debate over Israel. “Going dark on Bibi? Of course we wouldn’t do that,” a senior U.S. official said, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.
That’s not exactly surprising. I don’t imagine George W. Bush ever contemplated going dark on Bibi either—or any other Israeli leader, for that matter. Nor, quite obviously, have the Israelis ever eased up on their spying of us.
So what’s the outrage? First of all, NSA surveillance allowed Obama to keep current on Netanyahu’s relentless efforts to undermine his negotiations with Iran. Charles Krauthammer finds that outrageous:
This was about trying to get through the Congress the Iran agreement. That is not a validated “national security” purpose. This is a way to win a battle with Congress….And that is, I think, a violation of the power of the executive interfering with legitimate activities and interactions of the Congress.
Spare me. The executive branch negotiates treaties. Netanyahu was doing everything he could to torpedo an active negotiation. So Obama kept an eye on him. Right or wrong, there isn’t a president in history who wouldn’t have done the same thing.
But it turns out there was one thing even the White House was concerned about: when you spy on Bibi, you’re also going to end up spying on members of Congress, since Bibi talks to them all the time. When this happens, the intercepted information is supposed to be “minimized,” and that’s especially the case when it comes to members of Congress. Apparently the NSA did this, delivering only Bibi’s side of intercepted communications. Still, Republicans in Congress are suspicious.
I can’t say that I blame them. On the other hand, my sympathy is pretty limited since this is a very general problem, and Republicans in Congress seem aggressively uninterested in it when it affects anyone other than themselves.
So that’s that. The NSA spied on Netanyahu. That’s a nothingburger. Of course they spied on Netanyahu. And the NSA says that they properly minimized the congressional end of any conversations between Netanyahu and a member of Congress. Since conservatives insist that we should take their word for this in general, why shouldn’t we take their word for it now? Wake me up if it turns out there’s anything more to this story.