Poor James Clapper. The Director of National Intelligence -- a superfluous position born of the Intelligence Community's failures on 9/11 -- was again dragged before Capitol Hill, this time to explain the highly embarrassing revelations that the NSA had been monitoring the personal communications of allied state leaders. Last time he was forced to lie that the NSA was not monitoring our phone calls. This time he may have been telling an inconvenient truth.
One might feel sympathy for the NSA desk jockey forced to listen to ten years of former Stasi agent Angela Merkel droning on. Nevertheless, revelations of NSA monitoring foreign leaders were serious enough to even wake Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein from her slumber. Feinstein didn't mind at all that the US intelligence agencies were listening in on our phone calls -- we are the little people -- but she finally objected when it seemed someone she might run into at a cocktail party may have been monitored. We all have our limits.
So poor Clapper was again trotted out to Capitol Hill to explain this uncomfortable revelation. Yes, he admitted, the NSA does spy on foreign leaders, but it is important to be able to discern their intentions. And besides, he said, they all do it to us as well.
But then NSA Director General Keith Alexander called claims that the US collected information on its allies in Europe "completely false," providing the highly confusing explanation (which sounded more like a kid discovered to have his hand in the cookie jar):
To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we, and our NATO allies, have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.
Oh, OK then.
In need of a bit of comedic levity at this point, with these "he said, he said" accusations flying about, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) did not disappoint. Said the Chairman:
Every nation collects foreign intelligence. That is not unique to the United States. What is unique to the United States is our level of oversight, our commitment to privacy protections, and our checks and balances on intelligence collection.
Ah yes, Mr. Chairman, we are truly the one exceptional nation.
But the White House has not yet backed down from its original story that it knew nothing about the US intelligence community spying on US allies including foreign heads of state.
Obama attempting to hang the Intelligence Community out to dry may be a dangerous move on his part.
The level of obfuscation, accusation and counter-accusation, tortured admission, and promised reform is positively dizzying.
CNN of all places best captured the dilemma we all face:
Which president do you want running your country? The one that argues that he knew nothing about the spy programs targeting American allies, which have put America's relations with our closest friends in their most precarious state since the Iraq War? Or the one that approved such programs, knew about them all along, and is simply lying about what he knew?
Can't we just choose "neither"?