Belmont Club


Although German newspaper reports say that President Obama authorized the bugging of German chancellor Angela Merkel from at least 2010, administration officials now say the President was completely unaware of the program. The BBC reports:

German media say the US has been tapping the chancellor’s phone since 2002, and Mr Obama was told in 2010. …

A report in German tabloid Bild am Sonntag claimed that Gen Alexander had told the president about the bugging himself. An NSA source told the paper that Obama had not stopped the operation, and had wanted to know all about Mrs Merkel as “he did not trust her”. …

However a statement from the National Security Agency on Sunday denied the reports in Bild.

“[General] Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said.

The Wall Street Journal adds that President Obama was unaware that the NSA was spying on 35 world leaders until he read about it in the press.

“These decisions are made at NSA,” a senior U.S. official told WSJ. “The president doesn’t sign off on this stuff.”

Of course. The exception of course being George W. Bush. Betcha he signed off on it as the one and only exception to the rule. Him and Dick Cheney.  Poor president Obama simply got caught holding the bag from the evil Bush years.

Still, the president’s advisers are not doing a very good job of keeping him the loop, judging by the results. For example, health Secretary Sebelius said the President was unaware that the Obamacare website was having problems until two days after the launch. It will be recalled that President Obama was also unaware that anyone had threatened the survivors of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi with reprisals until it was mentioned to him.

60 Minutes has a special on Benghazi and they’ve concluded it was a actually overt al-Qaeda attack that the security people had been warning about for weeks. However, the administration believed for many days afterward it was in response to a YouTube video produced in LA, a story which Susan Rice told all the talk shows in the days that followed. Of course the president would have been unaware of it at the time. Dang! Now CBS tells him.

It’s disturbing that there’s so much he doesn’t know.

But his lack of recollection may simply be due to the fact that he skips his briefings. In September 2012 Marc Thiessen, writing in the Washington Post noted that president Obama attended less than half of his intelligence briefings. “During his first 1,225 days in office, Obama attended his PDB just 536 times — or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent.”

A 38 percent attendance means President Obama picks up only slightly over one in every three characters in the stream of data passed before him. “We tapped Merkel’s phone” comes out as “We phone” — so who can blame the president for being unaware of what that really meant?  Moreover, there was a when time president Obama, laboring under the heavy duties of state, got his briefings on an Ipad without benefit of human intervention. Around the period leading up to the attack on Benghazi he began to rely on this device, according to a blog in the New York Times.

Starting earlier this year, some information was provided to him through the iPad.

But as the campaign season has intensified, he has been on the road a lot more and some intelligence officials have noticed there are fewer in-person briefings. A review of the president’s public schedule shows that Mr. Obama received his briefing in person at the White House 13 times in April, the month before he formally kicked off his re-election drive. By August, he received it in person at the White House 10 times. By the time of the attack in Libya and protests in Egypt, he had gone a week without an in-person briefing, since Sept. 5.

He could genuinely say, when informed the Benghazi consulate was burning, ‘what consulate?’ But the lack of briefings were probably offset by the president’s superlative intelligence, which were vividly characterized by Valerie Jarrett. “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

The Atlantic Wire builds off a NYT article which examines why Obama’s Syria policy went off the rails. The picture it paints coincides at many points with Jarrett’s characterization of the president: brilliant on the heights, less than engaged in the nitty gritty. When Assad began to face unrest Obama at first thought Syria would be a walk-over and did not bother to make any detailed plans to ensure his fall.

According to the report, the first mistake in Obama’s deliberations was assuming that Assad’s regime would fall as quickly as other governments had during the Arab Spring, such as those in Egypt and Libya. When Obama called for Assad to step down in August 2011 and made his infamous “red line” comment, the administration still had no clear idea of what its strategy should be. Instituting a no-fly zone would have been too arduous and the C.I.A. was pushing to covertly train rebels in Jordan.

When discussion turned to the details Obama’s eyes glazed over. “Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.”

“He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do” — like read his intelligence briefs or put in the groundwork. Barack Obama is a special person. Angela Merkel should, given Obama’s singular nature, cut him some slack. If there’s one person who may have known her phone was tapped and not known it was him. He is not necessarily consistent which is the hobgoblin of small minds, nor does he need to be veracious. Obama’s beyond petty truth.  He lives in a grander arc. Alles may not be in ordnung, but you can bet your bottom dollar that ordnung is in alles.

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