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The Guardian article this week that disclosed the story of U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of several US allies said that the surveillance  produced “little reportable intelligence.”  This isn’t really a surprise — I can’t really imagine that listening to German Chancellor Merkel’s phone conversations are going to give US analysts and policymakers a whole lot more than they get from open source and normal diplomatic channels. So why does the US do it?  The cheap answer to this question is that it comes from that sinister NSA organization. From this morning’s NYTimes:

In Washington, the reaction has set off a debate over whether it is time to put the brakes on the N.S.A., whose capabilities, Mr. Obama has hinted, have expanded faster than its judgment. There are now two groups looking at the N.S.A.’s activities: one inside the National Security Council, another with outside advisers. The president all but told Ms. Merkel that “we don’t have the balance right,” according to one official.

“Sure, everyone does it, but that’s been an N.S.A. excuse for too long,” one former senior official who talks to Mr. Obama often on intelligence matters said Friday. “Obama has said, publicly and privately, that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. But everyone has moved too slowly in moving that from a slogan to a policy.”

But, is there something more here? Why does the US eavesdrop on its allies?  The problem here isn’t simply the NSA run amok and NSA “excuses.”   Continue reading

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