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Obama’s Almost First Act in Office: Spy on Americans for Israel!

The Guardian (relying on Edward Snowden’s revelations) reports that the NSA agreed in March 2009 to routinely share its eavesdropping information on American citizens with Israeli intelligence.

I know people who are unsurprised by this—knowledgeable as they are about the degree of subservience of the United States towards Israel. I am surprised. Actually I’m shocked.   When Snowden’s revelations came out, I wasn’t as blown away as many of my libertarian-leaning colleagues were. I’ve long sort of assumed the US government spied on its citizens, heard some pretty clear hints on that score in the 1990s from a former aide to a highly trusted European ally. And I must admit, I wasn’t that alarmed. I wasn’t one of those who said, “So what, I’ve  got nothing to hide.” But in a pretty long life, I’ve known enough American officials, in the CIA or FBI or State Department or whatever, to not especially fear them. I’d say the same thing about New York cops, troubling as I find many aspects the NYPD’s program of spying on New York City’s Muslims. When push comes to shove, almost all such  officials at the higher levels understand the Constitution, understand that political dissent is tolerated in America, even welcomed, etc. Granted, perhaps if I wasn’t a fairly conservative, law-abiding, white male I wouldn’t feel this way. But when America goes wrong it still seems to me an aberration, not the norm.

Giving up personal eavesdropped information of American citizens to Israel is an entirely different matter. Israeli for no good reason has created for itself a “legitimacy crisis.” Not content to live by international law and on the territory most everyone agrees is rightfully theirs, Israelis have managed to persuade themselves that everyone who opposes their subjugation of the Palestinians is an “enemy” seeking to “destroy” Israel. And understandably it sees such enemies in the most dire and exaggerated terms, terms colored by the tragic history of European Jewry. And so no, I have no confidence that Israel would treat my personal or financial information with the same prudence that an American spy agency would. And I ask why the hell is the American government giving it to them.

I suppose this explains at least in part why Obama so lost his cool about Edward Snowden, a whistleblower many of Obama’s supporters thought he might have welcomed and embraced. The ugly truth we now know is that two months after assuming office, Obama or an underling acting in Obama’s name signed an agreement to transfer Americans’ personal and private information to Israel. I am shocked and appalled, disgusted beyond measure.

I’ve known for a long time about elite Beltway deference to Israel. For decades, top American officials have acted almost as if they can’t think for themselves, they see everything in the Mideast through the optic of whether it is “good for Israel.” But this is different than that, and worse. The Americans in Israel’s camp at least think that “what’s good for Israel is good for America”—or at least so they proclaim, publicly. But no one can imagine that feeding Israel eavesdropped information on Americans is good for those Americans—that’s why this ugly program has been kept secret.  We have Edward Snowden to thank, otherwise we might never have known how far the rot has gone.

about the author

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottMcConnell9.

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