Feinstein Pulls The Rug Out From Under The NSA

“It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel’s communications were being collected since 2002. That is a big problem. The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support. But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing.”

With those words, President Obama lost one of his strongest allies in his defense of the NSA surveillance programs – Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. And although Feinstein was clear that the President was also in the dark about operations to target foreign leaders, this does nothing to assuage my – or anyone else’s – fears over a recklessly out of control NSA.

As the Intelligence Committee gears up for a major review of all intelligence collection programs, I am left with the sinking feeling that I have become all too accustomed to since Edward Snowden’s initial leak over the summer: there is more to come.

I said from the start that it was clear the government was overreaching with their surveillance programs, but that I believed – and still believe – that many of these programs are crucial to our national security.

But with the latest revelations that the US has been spying on world leaders who we call our allies it has become clear that the NSA has lost all sense of boundaries and notions of good international diplomacy. I completely support Feinstein in her total opposition to these practices. Since when are France, Germany, Spain or Mexico threats?

General Alexander and National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s vehement defense of US spying on foreign leaders as a “basic pillar of American intelligence operations” and argument that we need to continue as it provides invaluable information as to how other countries planned to act towards the US was lacking to say the least. Using past precedent as an excuse for current and future behavior is simply not acceptable.

To be sure, we should only be utilizing these practices when the US is engaged in “hostilities” against a country, as Feinstein put it. My real concern at this point is that too much damage has already been done.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in an interview with Germany’s n-tv news channel, “The Americans know by now that this affair is very damaging to their own interests, which is evident in the reaction of the president, as well as the Senate.”

My sincere hope is that our government really does know how damaging this affair is to our own interests. But if the past is a decent guide, and in my experience it is, my hunch is that despite more reviews and pledges to alter behavior and practices, very little will actually change.

This episode showcases an American loss on so many fronts. The revelations that we are spying on our allies is indicative of a total loss of credibility on cybersecurity. There is no reason that any of these nations should trust us again and Chancellor Merkel is certainly correct that we need to now work on rebuilding that trust, but will it ever be possible? What’s more, there is now no good reason that the Chinese or the Russians should pay us any heed when we criticize them for hacking and spying – it looks like we are no better.

Perhaps most frighteningly, this last episode indicates that the European alliance is breaking down. We have already alienated our allies in the Middle East. Just look at Saudi Arabia’s decision to turn down a seat on the UN Security Council, a statement which indicates that the US is cutting across its interests in the Middle East. And now we are going to lose crucial partners in Europe for no good reason.

The US cannot exist in a vacuum – we need our allies. The isolation that will come as a result of our terrible practices not only embarrasses us, but also makes our nation vulnerable at a time when we can ill afford it.

The global community doesn’t work without trusting and strong partnerships. It appears that our government is doing our best to ensure that we lose any and all of those partnerships that we so desperately need.

Read more at Forbes.com