Now that the NSA's spying program on, among others, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is causing foreign relations migraines for the U.S., officials say that President Obama didn't even know about it. That's because, as the Wall Street Journal writes, "the NSA has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn't have been practical to brief him on all of them."
The Wall Street Journal's story contradicts a German news outlet's report claiming that NSA chief Keith Alexander himself told Obama of the programs in 2010. That report, mind you, seems to rely on a single anonymous source familiar with the U.S's spying operation on Merkel. The U.S. has denied it. The version floated by the Wall Street Journal's sources, if true, would explain why the U.S.'s denial of the Merkel spying claims omitted the past tense. According to the Journal, an internal review over the summer of the NSA's spying programs turned up some of the very same programs revealed in recent weeks by leaks from documents earlier obtained by Edward Snowden:
White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Ms. Merkel and some other world leaders, a senior U.S. official said. Other programs have been slated for termination but haven't been phased out completely yet, officials said.
As one official told the Journal: "These decisions are made at NSA....The president doesn't sign off on this stuff." Obama's input, apparently, is usually limited to assigning "priorities" for intelligence gathering, but not very much in the way of approving or denying individual targets. But after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden started leaking the agency's broad surveillance programs to the press, the agency had to dive head-first into dealing with public disapproval of its programs. In addition to the summer's internal review, the administration is also waiting for a report from an external review panel looking into U.S. intelligence programs.
Earlier this weekend, a new document from Snowden indicated that the U.S. may have started collecting the communications of Merkel 10 years ago. The Journal's sources didn't say which world leaders could still be under surveillance by the U.S.