The N.S.A. Spying on World Leaders

So, the N.S.A. has been spying on Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since well before she was the German Chancellor, or it was even apparent that she would become chancellor.

The same is true of other world leaders, such as Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. The blowback has begun already, with Merkel saying that relations with the U.S. are “shaken” by the revelation.

That’s probably only partly true, because U.S.-German cooperation on various issues is still important, and, as some commentators have pointed out, a certain level of spying on each other is expected, if not acknowledged. The tapping of the chancellor’s personal cell phone is a step further than anyone previously knew they were doing or indeed could do, but the general practice itself is not new.

However, it does reveal something else that is important for the American people, and people the world over.

The justification for the N.S.A.’s massive spying apparatus and powers has consistently been that they are necessary to fight terrorism. Does anyone in their right mind actually think that Angela Merkel is somehow involved in terrorist operations? Of course not. Even the recent “three hops” rule we’ve found out about doesn’t provide a likely rationale for spying on Merkel.

So there are other criteria besides potential connections to terrorist organizations that can make someone a target of N.S.A. surveillance. And the American public continues to have no idea what that criteria is.

Thus far, the only criteria seems to be “because we can” and perhaps even because of an “institutional obsession” with surveillance.


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