What did the White House Know?

by Katie Zavadski

The United States director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., told congress Tuesday that the White House had been aware of the National Security Agency's operations in Europe for a long time. President Barack Obama's White House had previously denied such allegations, a position alluded to in Sen. Diane Feinstein's critique of NSA operations released Monday. But Clapper and NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said Tuesday that the NSA functioned with the knowledge of the administration.

Clapper said people in the White House "can and do" know about the scope of the agency's programs. "I have to say that that does not extend down to the level of detail," he said. "We’re talking about a huge enterprise here, with thousands and thousands of individual requirements." Gen. Alexander also said that much of the intelligence on European citizens is gathered through their country's intelligence agencies, not directly by the NSA.

It's understandable that the White House isn't down in the nitty-gritty, but whether we're spying on allied leaders seems like a pretty basic level of detail. Is it possible that the Obama administration is a liar, liar, pants on fire?

Well, yes. It seems unfathomable that, if the White House was truly unaware of these spy operations, no one has yet been sacked for the massive international embarrassment the administration has suffered. I mean, this is Washington we're talking about. People have been fired for smaller things.

“It would be unusual for the White House senior staff not to know the exact source and method of collection,” Michael Allen, a former National Security Council official and staff director for the House Intelligence Committee, told the New York Times. “That information helps a policy maker assess the reliability of the intelligence.”

Exactly. Obviously, whatever intelligence you have will carry more weight coming from Angela Merkel or her deputy, rather than a junior staffer for a minor member of the Bundestag. And, if you're asking the president to make some sort of weighty decisions with that intelligence, you should tell him the source.

Those will probably also be questions asked by the European Parliament's civil liberties committee, which is set to have a White House meeting today over NSA spying concerns. They are also set to have a press conference Wednesday — their first since beginning their fact-finding mission about the NSA spying allegations.

As that saga continues, members of the House introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday to limit some of the National Security Agency's surveillance powers, particularly within the United States. The bill is an attempt to fix "a surveillance system run amok," said congressman John Conyers Jr. "Our intelligence community has operated without proper congressional oversight or regard for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties."

Come on, Mr. President: If you aren't guilty in this scandal, fire whoever gave the order to go over your head.