Donald Hank
NSA and Cellphone Gate: Framing the issue correctly
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By Donald Hank
October 30, 2013

There is little danger that the spy agencies will be defunded as a result of the NSA's excessive spying on allies, despite the warnings of zealous conservative commentators, who fear that spying, an important part of national security, may be suspended altogether as a result of what they consider nitpicking criticism of what the Germans call Cellphone-Gate (Handygate in German) as reported in Bild am Sonntag.

However, of all the commentaries I have seen, none mention the following critical part of the Bild am Sonntag report (my translation):
    "The White House later ordered a comprehensive dossier on the Chancellor at the NSA. Indeed, according to the senior NSA man, Obama did not trust Merkel, and wanted to know everything about the German lady, saying: "Just who is this woman?"

    The relationship between the first black US president and the first woman in the chancellery was deemed difficult from the outset. Merkel initially denied in 2008 the then presidential candidate's request to give a speech at the Brandenburg gate. Then when Obama became president, he gave Berlin a wide berth."
Nor have I seen any of the media include the above critical part of the report in their reports and commentaries. The fact that Obama used the NSA as part of his personal vendetta against Merkel for her refusal to aid him in his 2008 campaign is extremely significant but no one mentioned it.

So was this part
    "But it was not only Merkel. Her predecessor Gerhard Schröder was also targeted by the US spies. The secret spying program against Schröder was started under President George W. Bush. The trigger was the SPD Chancellor's resolute 'nein' to Bundeswehr participation in the Iraq war in election year 2002. Concerned White House officials then wondered : "'Where do the Germans stand? Can we trust Schröder?' "
As the above-referenced conservative writers contend, the fact that US presidents had ordered the bugging of allies may not be all that big a deal. Spies will be spies. But the part that should give us pause is the fact that US presidents are ordering this as an infringement on the sovereignty of our allies and, worse, sometimes as part of a personal vendetta. Public funds may never be used by the White House for personal reasons.

Now when the White House wants to invade a Middle Eastern country – suspending disbelief and assuming such intervention were always justifiable under the Constitution – we expect that our government will put some pressure on allies to come to our aid militarily. We expect them to do this by diplomacy, not by extortion.

However, particularly in Obama's case, the White House was apparently using the NSA to dig up dirt on a national leader who had, in his view, sullied him personally and this before he even became president. His exaggerated spy efforts had nothing whatsoever to do with the security of our country and, at best, were a waste of tax payer money. Worse, by pulling out all stops to bug Chancellor Merkel's cell phone, he was inadvertently undermining our relations with a vital ally, relations that may take years to rebuild. But it wasn't just Germany. He showed the entire world what a mean, petty little man is sitting in our White House and in so doing, undermined our national prestige.

Ultimately, Dubbya was doing the same thing, though arguably to a lesser degree, since one might say that his efforts were not necessarily personal. Let me be clear: I do not excuse him for this.

The point is, these mean irascible attacks on our own allies are not even remotely related to the raison d'être of our spy agencies or their Constitutional basis. And they are done in violation of allied nations' sovereignty.

So let us focus on the real issue here, which is not whether spy agencies have the right to spy on an ally. There might certainly be justification for this if there were, for example, reason to believe that an ally was acting directly against our national interest, particularly in violation of international law.

But Cellphone-Gate is not about whether we may spy or not, it is about whether a petty control freak in the White House should use a public agency to further his own personal interests.

Here is my translation of the Bild am Sonntag series on Cellphone-Gate:

https://www.google.com/#q=bild+am+sonntag+online&safe=off&tbm=nws

# CELLPHONE GATE OBAMA WANTED TO KNOW EVERYTHING

ABOUT MERKEL

► U.S. PRESIDENT KNEW FOR 3 YEARS ► HE PERSONALLY AUTHORIZED ESPIONAGE AGAINST MERKEL ► EVEN SCHROEDER WAS BUGGED

• by Michael Backhaus and Kayhan Ozgenc

This report by Bild am Sonntag must be denied by the White House: The US president explicitly approved the eavesdropping attack against the chancellor !

Until last Wednesday it was inconceivable that US intelligence agencies were targeting the German chancellor. Now, three days later, there is no longer any doubt.

Berlin is still debating vigorously whether president Barack Obama was informed of the NSA eavesdropping on Angela Merkel's cell phone.

According to a report in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Obama assured the Chancellor on Wednesday afternoon in a personal telephone conversation that he had no knowledge of it. If the report proves to be true, then it was at the very least a diplomatic white lie. Indeed, according to information in Bild am Sonntag, from US intelligence circles, the president was personally informed by NSA chief Keith Alexander about the covert operation against Merkel in 2008.

"Obama did not stop the action against Merkel, but continued to operate," one of the NSA intelligence officials familiar with the operation told Bild am Sonntag.

• Interior Minister Friedrich: "Wiretapping is a crime"

by Angelica Helleman

The German federal government raised its tone against the US in the Cellphone-Gate Affair and wants to take legal action against possible spies. "If the Americans have tapped phones in Germany, they have broken German law on German soil – that violates our sovereignty and is unacceptable. Wiretapping is a crime and those responsible must be held accountable, "Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) told Bild am Sonntag.

He demanded "complete information on all charges." Friedrich: "the US must answer as to where and to what extent they have intercepted communications of citizens and the state." And further: "Trust in the US ally is shaken."

The SPD calls for a parliamentary investigation of the wiretapping scandal. Faction leader Thomas Oppermann to Bild am Sonntag : "An investigating committee on the NSA scandal is inevitable. Only an investigation can restore the severely shaken confidence in the protection of privacy. It would be best if all four factions in the Bundestag were to agree on this. To the extent possible, such a committee should meet in public."

In the spying affair, Edward Snowden should also be heard as a witness in Germany. Oppermann: "Snowden's information appears to be credible, while the US government has clearly lied to us in this matter. Snowden therefore can be a valuable witness, even in the elucidation of eavesdropping against the chancellor."

And not only that, the White House later ordered a comprehensive dossier on the Chancellor at the NSA. Indeed, according to the senior NSA man, Obama did not trust Merkel, and wanted to know everything about the German lady, saying: "Just who is this woman?"

The relationship between the first black US president and the first woman in the chancellery was deemed difficult from the outset. Merkel initially denied in 2008 the then presidential candidate's request to give a speech at the Brandenburg gate. Then when Obama became president, he gave Berlin a wide berth.

• Can it be so easy to spy on the Chancellor ?

Martin Esienlauer

I'm shocked. Not because the Chancellor's phone was bugged. But because the intercept was so easy. Angela Merkel speaking and texting with a cell phone that you can buy in any media market. It uses a cellular network, which includes 30 million other German phones, and encrypts their calls over a program developed by a private company.

It's as if the padlock combination to the Federal Chancellery were hanging from a sign on a hardware store. For years, it has been common knowledge that phone calls and text messages can be relatively easily hacked. And you're telling me that the woman who governs our country had no inkling of it?

How naive can you be as Chancellor?

Should Mr. Merkel have to know all the technical details? No! But she must deal with people who can deal with them. And they have to take care that the anti-spy protection of the Federal Chancellor is done by professionals and not left up to digital amateurs.

Otherwise, this "new territory" that Merkel once spoke of is a really hazardous area – not just for Mrs. Merkel, but for all of Germany.

In addition, there were the personal and substantive differences. Obama openly criticized Merkel's course in the euro crisis. Washington was also irritated by the German rejection of the Libya mission.

On Obama's initiative, the NSA eavesdropping activities against the Chancellor were stepped up. They were not confined to the CDU party leader's cell phone. According to the information, the Americans also hacked the new, supposedly bug-proof, phone that Merkel received just this summer. This evidence shows that the eavesdropping attack against Merkel continued until very recently.

The content of their text messages and her phone calls – nothing was hidden from the eavesdroppers. Only the most secure land line in her office in the Chancellery, over which she usually speaks with other leaders, was not tapped by the NSA.

Obama's keen interest in eavesdropping results is also demonstrated by the fact that the findings of the NSA specialists went not first to the intelligence headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, as it usually would, but directly to the White House in Washington. The information about Merkel was collected on the fourth floor of the US Embassy at the Brandenburg Gate. There, the secret service worked with the latest technology, which recorded everything that went through Merkel's cell phone.

18 NSA agents are currently stationed in Berlin.

• 76 Percent of Germans call for Obama apology

Berlin – in the opinion of 76 percent of Germans, US president Barack Obama should apologize to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) for the interception of her cellphone by the NSA. this poll result was supplied by a representative Emnid survey commissioned by Bild am Sonntag. 17 percent think an apology is not necessary.

60 percent of Germans believe the eavesdropping scandal greatly or very greatly mars German-american relations – 36 per cent believe the relationship suffers little or not at all. Nevertheless, the US remains a good ally for 53 percent of Germans. For 39 percent, it is not.

A suspension of the ongoing negotiations with the US, such as the free trade agreement, is deemed unnecessary by 66 percent while 29 percent are in favor of stopping negotiations.

Germans gave the German federal government a bad grade in the eavesdropping scandal: 60 percent are of the opinion that it has failed in its investigation in recent months. Only 28 percent did not agree.

But it was not only Merkel. Her predecessor Gerhard Schröder was also targeted by the US spies. The secret spying program against Schröder was started under President George W. Bush. The trigger was the SPD Chancellor's resolute 'nein' to Bundeswehr participation in the Iraq war in election year 2002. Concerned White House officials then wondered : "Where do the Germans stand? Can we trust Schröder?" apparently the Chancellor's friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin was also seen as troubling. According to information from the New York Times," the wiretap in Berlin was started a decade ago.

Schröder himself was aware that he had greatly upset Bush with his course of action on the Iraq war. in intimate circle's he openly asserted his conviction that he was being spied on by US intelligence.

NSA spy affair

NSA report: this is how Obama's spy service operates

After 2005, when the new Chancellor took over, the spying program simply continued as before. Obama couldn't bring himself to tell that to the Chancellor last Wednesday. And therefore there will be no official confirmation of the information from the NSA. However, the German federal government's request for an explanation will only reinforce this information. In the ranks of the NSA, there is already growing anger over the White House, which is creating the impression that overzealous agents had overshot the target in spying on Merkel.

© Donald Hank

 

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Donald Hank

Until July of 2009, Don Hank was operating a technical translation agency out of his home in Wrightsville, PA. He is now retired and residing in Panama with his wife and daughter.

A former language teacher, he holds an undergraduate degree in French and German from Millersville State University (PA), a Master's degree in Russian language and literature from Kutztown State College (also in PA), has studied Chinese for 3 years in Taiwan at the Mandarin Training Center, and is self-taught in other languages, having logged a total of 8 years abroad in total immersion situations.

He is also the founder of Lancaster-York Non-Custodial Parents, a volunteer organization that provides Christian counseling for non-custodial parents.

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