President Barack Obama is a little red-faced these days — and not just because online registration for the Affordable Care Act might be becoming a measurable factor in high blood pressure.
We’re thinking of the most recent spying revelations associated with Edward Snowden. He’s the former contract employee of the National Security Agency whose document leaks have become a chronic embarrassment for this administration and the United States.
The most recent dustups involve two of our closest allies, Germany and France. Much was made of a German report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded President Obama over the phone for U.S. monitoring of her communications. She called the practice “completely unacceptable.”
For the record, the NSA has denied tapping Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone, and the White House has said our country “is not and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.”
Chancellor Merkel’s phone call to the president came shortly after another revelation, this one in Le Monde. Also based on Mr. Snowden’s leaks, Le Monde reported that the NSA had conducted widespread electronic surveillance in France.
That surveillance included more than 70 million pieces of data on phone calls in one month. The surveillance went beyond suspected terrorists’ activities to politicians and ordinary French citizens.
The French, of course, were outraged, and French President Francois Hollande phoned President Obama earlier this week to take him and our country to task.
As good as it is to hear from allies, these phone calls couldn’t have been enjoyable for the president. We hope, however, that during his conversation with the French leader, President Obama reminded him that just three years ago it became known that France conducts espionage activities in the United States. What’s more, France conducts plenty of surveillance on its citizenry — including Twitter posts, emails, texts and phone calls. As for U.S. spying on French citizens, it is, well, old news.
Were the anger — which extends to Brazil, Canada and other countries — not so public, it might almost be amusing. It’s not hard, after all, to imaging the national leaders now expressing shock and indignation at the United States turning around and making sure their own spying activities remain secret. All nations do it; the crime is in getting caught.
Unfortunately, one of the problems with the Snowden leaks — beyond their initial sensationalism — is that continued revelations are likely to keep the United States on the defensive indefinitely.
The White House has said it is reviewing intelligence gathering activities “so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
That sounds good, but we’re not sure how many people in this country and others will believe it.