During the debate over the Iran deal, U.S. intelligence spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in the process recorded private conversation of U.S. lawmakers, reports the Wall Street Journal.
First, deep breath. Countries spy on each other, even allies. That’s a fact of life. During World War II, the two biggest intelligence networks spying on the U.S. weren’t Germany and Japan. They were Britain and Russia—the countries on our side. That the administration tried to keep tabs on Israel and its influence in the U.S. should be expected. Indeed, long before this bombshell, there were reports that the two allies were spying on each more as trust between Obama and Netanyahu frayed.
What is troubling about these revelations is how the process was managed from the White House.
If the president ever had any credibility on this issue it has vaporized. Less than year ago, Obama banned spying on friendly foreign leaders after embarrassing revelations that the U.S. had tapped into the cell phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. “The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe,” the president declared.
Of course, a U.S. official added there would be no spying “unless there is a compelling national security purpose.”
Now, it is clear that the compelling need is defined by the president’s politics. The White House was terrified that Congress might actually reject the deal he negotiated with Iran—reason enough to unleash the spies.
The president detailed his spying rules in PPD-28. Now we know exactly what they mean. They mean whatever the president wants them to mean. “There is no explanation by the White House on the criteria for targeting some leaders and not others,” observes David Shedd, the former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
On the one hand, Shedd finds, the administration has used PPD-28 to hamstring intelligence collection. Now, on the other, we learn Obama is happy to play fast and loose with his rules when it suits his purpose.
“What we are left with,” Shedd concludes are “patchy and troubling intelligence collection rules.”