Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
International inspectors meet their deadline for ridding Syria of chemical weapons. The U.S. and European Union trade accusations on spying. And there are new concerns that Iraq could be sliding toward civil war. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Greg Myre international editor at NPR.org; co-author of "This Burning Land."
- Elise Labott foreign affairs reporter, CNN.
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. International inspectors said the Assad regime met a key deadline in the program to rid Syria of chemical weapons. Pakistan said far fewer civilians have been killed by US drone strikes than previously stated. And the Prime Minister of conflict ridden Iraq arrived in Washington for a meeting with President Obama. Here for this week's top international stories on the Friday New Roundup, David Sanger of The New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN, and Greg Myre of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThanks for having us.
MR. GREG MYREThank you.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. Elise Labott, exactly what has been accomplished about eliminating chemical weapons in Syria?
LABOTTWell, The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, which is implementing this agreement that the US made with the Russians on chemical weapons, has said that Syria has destroyed, or rendered inoperable most of its declared chemical weapons. They were able to visit 21 of 23 sites that they were going to. Two of them were in areas that are contested and are still fighting. The rebels have not agreed to allow them in, and it's very dangerous for them there.
LABOTTBut they've, so far, the OPCW has said that they've made a lot of progress in doing this. The UN is hailing them, and also the Syrians have put forth a declaration of all their chemical weapons, a 700 page document that the international community is going through right now. But it does look as if the Assad regime has made the calculation to cooperate on the chemical weapons issue, because as we've discussed in previous weeks, there are still a lot of other ways that they can continue to kill people and continue their crackdown.
MYREYes, exactly right. There is this one positive note on the chemical weapons, but we look at all these other things. The killing is going on, the refugee situation, two million refugees outside Syria, five million displaced internally. We're heading to another harsh winter. We're getting reports of polio outbreaks in Syria, so everywhere else, it's not looking so good.
SANGERI think it's important to remember what the Syrians have done here and what they haven't done. What they have destroyed so far is the chemical weapons production equipment. So that has just been disabled so we believe they could not make more chemical weapons, assuming that they have declared all of those. What they have not yet been able to destroy is the 1200 tons of existing stocks. And that's a big difference. I think that it would be easy for quick readers of the headlines here to think this got rid of the chemical weapons.
SANGERIt just got rid of the production equipment to make more, or disabled that. So, and it did not get rid of the delivery vehicles, those rockets with which they did the big attack outside of Damascus on August 21st.
REHMSo, how much further is the UN going to press?
SANGEROkay, so here's what they need to do. Between now and the summer of next year, they have to get rid of those 1200 tons. They would like to be able to ship as much of it out of the country, and then have time to completely disable it. There have been suggestions about where it might go. Norway said no thanks. Looks like they may go to Algeria. There's some discussion of that. Once you've got it out of the hands of the Assad regime and out of the possibility that some of the foreign fighters who are coming on to these stocks might be able to grab hold of it, I think people will sleep easier.
SANGERBut we're not at that point yet. So, then comes the question, why did Assad make this calculation? Why is he seeming like an utterly reasonable person here? Well, I think there are probably three major reasons. The first has been alluded to is that if he seems as if he is giving this up, and he thinks it may buy him some time on regime change elsewhere. Secondly, I think he's come to the conclusion that it would be better to lose the chemical weapons and live to fight another day.
SANGERAnd it was pretty clear after that attack in August that he was going to have to lose them one way or the other. And I think the third reason for this is that he's concluded that, as a weapon, it wasn't enormously useful. And he's killed more than 100,000 people in this war. Well, more than 100,000 have died. Obviously, some killings going on in the other direction. Of that, we count a little under 1500 who were killed by chemical weapons. So, he's much, he's much better off to get the publicity from giving this up and continue on his old routines.
REHMElise, what do we know about this Israeli strike on a Syrian military base this week?
LABOTTWell, it's reported on a base outside the coastal city of Latakia, and obviously the Israelis have not confirmed this, but this is believed to be the same base that, in July, the Israelis targeted, and there's concern that that there have been moving weapons to Hezbollah, and so you've seen Israel, largely, out of the fray of this. Not getting involved, not speaking all that much about this, but they have said that when they see that any weapons, whether it's chemical weapons or arms.
LABOTTAnd we believe that they've been moving conventional weapons to Hezbollah. This is not the chemical weapons that we've been talking about. When Israel sees that weapons will be moved to Hezbollah that could be used against Israel, they're going to strike.
REHMAnd Greg, what do we know about the polio outbreak you mentioned?
MYREGetting reports. There have been about 20 or so cases identified in Syria. It seems there's a, there's a larger outbreak in the region. Somalia has a lot of cases that have been reported. So, there is a concern that polio is reemerging in the region.
REHMHow did it get there?
MYREWell, that's not quite clear. It could have come in from outside, from -- one theory is foreign fighters or other bringing it in from the outside. We don't know for sure. But again, it just points to this massive problem of refugees, both people who are displaced internally, some five million Syrians, some two million who've gone to Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey. Looking again at another hard winter, and all of the kinds of health and disease issues that could come from that.
REHMDoes Syria have any kind of vaccination program?
LABOTTWell, they have vaccinated many children before even the Civil War started, and so now the WHO, the UN want to start a new vaccination. They believe that 500 million children could be at immediate risk for polio, but they want to vaccinate 2.4 million children. And, I mean, that just speaks to what Greg was saying about how even if they get the cooperation of the Syrian government to go into Syria and do it, then you want to look at Iraq, at Lebanon and Jordan, and all of these refugee camps.
REHMElise Labott. She's Foreign Affairs Reporter for CNN. Do join us. Your phone calls, your emails. Postings on Facebook or Twitter. David Sanger, what's the latest that we know about NSA spying on European leaders? And since this morning, I heard that there is some contact between high officials in Germany and Edward Snowden, wanting him to come to Germany to talk about what he knows regarding the tapping or the listening in on Chancellor Merkel.
SANGERI think the chances of Mr. Snowden moving, even briefly, to give a briefing in a country that has an extradition treaty with the United States, is fairly low. However, we've learned a lot this week. And I think that this has been a week in which you've seen something of a sea change in the nature of the dialogue. When this debate was all about domestic operations by the NSA, the bulk collection of the phone calls we make, and the email traffic and so forth. It was defended by the administration as legal and necessary in a post 9/11 age, that you have to have the haystack, as we've often discussed, if you're going to be able to go use your algorithms to find that needle.
SANGERWhat's interesting is that even some of those who defended the domestic program, like Diane Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has defected from the administration on the question of the tapping of foreign leaders or allied foreign leaders. And Miss Merkel's case is the most interesting. What I found most interesting as we dug into the Merkel case, in particular, was that this operation against her began in 2002. She was not Chancellor of Germany at that time.
SANGERShe was the leader of the Christian Democrats. It was not evident to anybody that she was going to become the leader of Germany in two or three years. And what that tells you, as we heard a partial admission from General Clapper during his testimony in Congress this week, is that that's because they blanket thousands of people with this kind of surveillance. And they just happened to get lucky enough, in her case, that she became Chancellor and they became more interested in her.
MYREYeah, I think the most important takeaway I've seen was a brief item today, mentioning that at a state dinner at the White House, a couple years ago, Merkel and Obama were there, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. And James Taylor sang, "You've Got a Friend." And I think, I could just imagine him singing, winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call. I may not be there, but the NSA will be.
LABOTTI think that goes to the whole thing. I mean, let's remember, when President Obama was a candidate, he stood in front of Brandenburg Gate and said, and I quote, he promised a new era of allies who will listen to each other, who will learn from each other, and who will, above all, trust each other. And I think everyone recognizes President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have had a pretty good relationship over the years. The US and Germany share a very good intelligence relationship, which in fact, Merkel wanted to increase over the last few years, including with the NSA.
LABOTTBut I think now, when you realize this, that leaders are saying that this has gotten completely out of hand and outside of democratic norms.
REHMShort break. Right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Elise Labott of CNN, Greg Myre of NPR. He's also co-author of "This Burning Land." David Sanger of the New York Times. He's the author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." So the question regarding all this NSA tapping spy. Why, David? What are we getting from listening in on Angela Merkel's telephone conversations?
SANGERSo the NSA regards itself as a foreign intelligence agency that is there to avoid surprises for U.S. leadership, okay. Within that they have a set of five priorities. And those priorities are set by the president. You can imagine priority one, it's tracking al-Qaida terrorists, nuclear traffickers.
SANGERPriority two, things like the state of the Iranian economy or the North Korean economy, things like that. We get those, okay. Those tend to be the only two priorities that are reviewed regularly at the White House level. Three, four and five are things that may be of interest so that when the president meets a foreign leader he's got that briefing book right in front of him that says, here's what's really happening. So if they tell you otherwise you should know that isn't really what's going on. And that frequently involves the spying on allies, which has gone on for years and years, but we've gotten a whole lot better at it lately.
SANGERAnd I think that the question that the president now is going to have to confront is, why was there no cost benefit analysis done, with the question of, is the amount of data that you're getting or the quality of the data you're getting worth it if there's going to be revelation? And the answer to that that the NSA will give you is, they never expected anything to be revealed because they're the NSA, not the CIA where, you know, human beings are involved and operations are revealed all the time.
REHMAnd did the president know that the NSA was spying on Angela Merkel?
LABOTTWell, the White House says he did not. And the NSA says that the president did not. But officials say privately that these are programs with presidential executive order. And so when President Obama took office, he would've been briefed in great detail, which is called a framework of these programs. And that if he wasn't briefed on each individual leader, he was briefed on the parameters of what is collected and the countries themselves.
LABOTTSo there's this plausible deniability. The president says the buck stops with me but then he says, I didn't know. And so either he's shaving the truth or he is not really in touch and is in an ivory tower.
MYREIt seems to quaint when a spy would be caught and kicked out and the other country would kick out another spy in retaliation. It was sort of a simple quiet affair. I think we're just in this era now where we're going to see these kinds of explosive revelations. And how do you stop it? How do you prevent another Edward -- even if the U.S. rewrites the rules of the road and come to agreement with other countries about what's legit and what's not legit, how do you prevent another Edward Snowden coming to the fore?
SANGERAnd you can't solve these as quietly, Diane, as you used to. And I think there's a couple reasons for that. One is, the Cold War is over so, you know, Germany is not sitting there dependent on the United States because it fears a Soviet invasion the way it may have 30 years ago. So they're not willing to go put up with that. The second reason is, we have a set of economic interests now in selling cloud services, phone services, mobile services around the world. And people are simply not going to trust buying into those services if they believe each one of them has a backdoor knowingly or unknowingly, to the NSA.
SANGERAnd that's why you're seeing the business community, which in past spy scandals could care less, suddenly very animated about this one.
REHMAnd you've got a German delegation coming to Washington...
SANGERThey've been here, yeah.
REHM...to talk about...
LABOTTGerman delegation and an EU parliamentary delegation...
LABOTT...because there have been all these questions of other countries. And I think the problem that the administration is finding itself is, how do you deal with this proactively? How do you get in front of it and manage it when you have the -- as Greg said, you have these daily leaks. Over the last week there was allegations of metadata collection on millions of calls in France and Spain. Then it was Indonesia. Today it was Australia. I mean, every day it's something new. And I think the administration is just bracing itself for a lot more of these revelations to come out.
REHMBut wasn't there some denial saying that it was the Europeans spying on themselves?
MYRERight. It's not that simple because there is obviously coordination and cooperation of the U.S. with its European allies. And the information that it was the French intelligent service and the Spanish intelligent service that were gathering the metadata and then sharing it with the U.S. So it's not simply a one-way street. And as one of the former French foreign ministers said, we're a little bit jealous of the U.S. quite frankly. They can do this and do it much better than we can.
REHMAnd is that why it continues because they can do it?
SANGERWell, the question the president has asked of these two groups that are now doing the review is the right one, which is just because we can do it does that mean we should do it?
SANGERWhat he hasn't done so far is step out and explain what our priorities are publicly. So we get it if there's over collection because you think that that over collection might be able to prevent a future 9/11 attack, which is the argument in favor of collecting all those -- the metadata about the phone calls that you could go back and track in a terrorist phone call into the United States. Harder to explain on terrorism terms listening into Chancellor Merkel.
REHMAnd let's turn now to Iraq. You've had a bipartisan group of senators issuing a blunt warning about Iraq, Greg.
MYREYes. I mean, it's the -- John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez have all sent a letter to Obama saying we're concerned about the way the Iraqi leader is behaving, his authoritarian tendencies. We feel that the security situation is deteriorating badly. You've had at least 5,000 people killed in Iraq this year. We're seeing almost a return not quite to the civil war levels of 2007 and '08 but something similar. Something needs to be done.
MYRENow the irony here is Maliki was pretty happy to see the U.S. forces leave two years ago. Now we see here in Washington asking for helicopters, asking for U.S. military equipment. So before this equipment is transferred or sent there, what do we know that -- how is Maliki going to use it? Is he going to use it purely as a security crackdown or is he going to do something politically to try to bring other groups, the Sunnis in particular, into the government?
REHMAnd to what degree has he sought to include both the Sunni and Kurdish minorities in his way of government?
MYREHe wouldn't get high marks for that. In fact, quite the opposite. And again, it's hard to assess full blame here. Is it these very radical groups that are trying to undermine his government? Is it his lack of willingness to be inclusive? I think it's probably a combination of both those things but you have a very serious problem. The entire security situation and political situation in Iraq is heading south right now.
REHMHow close is Iraq to civil war, David?
SANGERVery hard to measure right now but certainly a lot closer than it was two years ago when Maliki was last here. And he and the president stood together and President Obama lauded the diminishment of violence in Iraq, talked a little bit about how they were building up civil society. The fact of the matter is though at this point that the Iraqis know we have virtually no leverage. We had very little leverage in the last years that we were there with diminishing number of troops. With no troops there we have no leverage.
SANGERAnd so this -- you know, you have to remember in the end, the Iranians have sort of more leverage and control over what's going on in Iraq right now than we do.
LABOTTBut at the same time, I mean, as Greg said, you know, two years ago Maliki very publically was, like, pushing the U.S. out the door. And now I think they realize that they do need the United States, at least for these weapons and the taboo, if you will, on asking for help now is broken. But this was a scathing letter by the heads of, you know, the Defense and Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, you know, ranking members on the Intelligence Committee. And I think not just about the warning about Maliki and his lack of inclusiveness and the violence that has been perpetuated -- and actually it's been more close -- closer to 7,000 deaths over the past year.
LABOTTBut I think it's also a kind of not so subtle hit at President Obama's foreign policy on Iraq that even as the U.S. kind of troops left Iraq that the U.S., a little bit, has taken its eye off the ball and allowed Maliki to rule in this inclusive way.
REHMSo given that letter, given the feelings of members of congress, what is President Obama's message to Maliki likely to be, David?
SANGERYou know, his message is very much one of, you need to be a more inclusive leader. You're not going to end up being able to avoid some kind of split up of the country if you don't solve the two biggest problems, which are the ethnic splits and the arguments over oil revenue.
REHMBut what about weapons that Maliki wants?
SANGERYou know, I think the United States is going to be extremely cautious about giving weapons that they think could end up in the wrong hands. And if you want the symbol of this year, think about Obama's caution about giving weapons to the Syrian rebels.
LABOTTAnd they've also been very tough on Maliki about stopping foreign fighters and weapons from going from Iraq into Syria. And he's been kind of sporadic. His record on that is very spotty at best.
REHMYou know, we talked about polio in Syria. Hadn't there also been reports of polio in Iraq and cholera in Iraq?
MYRERight. We are hearing some reports of that as well. And again, it just points to, I think, the -- in Lebanon you're looking at a quarter of the population or now close to it are Syrian refugees. Same thing in Jordan. Just this enormous displacement in the region. The Syria problem is not isolated. It's hitting the countries around it. The Iraq problem is not isolated. It's hitting the countries around it. And again, these Arab uprisings are going to be playing out time and time again in big ways over a long period of time.
REHM...a long period. And what is Iraq's current relationship with Iran, David?
SANGERWell, much of the leadership, including Maliki, have had long ties to the Iranian leadership. As the Iranians worry more and more about losing Assad in Syria, Iraq is going to be all the more important to them. And so in many ways, that's what we have to worry about. And when you think about where we were a year -- I'm sorry, ten years ago just six months into the Iraqi invasion under the Bush Administration, and the concern at that time about the rise of -- just the beginnings of the rise of the attacks that were going on in Iraq, it's almost impossible to believe that ten years later our biggest concern about Iraq is that it's getting too close to Iran.
LABOTTI agree. And also then you get into the whole thing with Syria. I mean, where does Iraq's loyalties lie with this whole thing in Syria? Do they lie with the United States and the International Community or do they lie with Iran's interests? And I think when you look at the weapons that they're trying to get -- stop from flowing into Syria, I think that's also a very big concern.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I was interested in all these numbers about civilians and the so-called collateral damage in Pakistan from the drone strikes. That number seems to have been reduced rather dramatically, Greg.
MYREYes, reduced by the Pakistan Defense Ministry, of all people. They came out and said that over the past several years, these drone strikes have killed a little over 2,000 militants and 67 civilians in Pakistan, about 3 percent of the total. Now, this has not reduced or eliminated the opposition in Pakistan to the drone strikes. And I don't know that the Pakistani public is going to suddenly have a change of heart and say, okay we're okay with drone strikes. But it was very interesting to hear this.
MYREOther calculations have put it higher, a couple hundred civilians killed. Hard to get a precise figure, know which report is most accurate. I think this may have something to do with an attempt by the U.S. and Pakistan to rebuild the relations a little bit. The Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was here last week. He is fairly new in office. It's his third go around in office but he's new. And there may be some effort to rebuild the Pakistan-U.S. relationship. This may be part of that.
SANGERI saw President Sharif when he was in New York during the UN sessions. And he met with a number of New York Times reporters and editors. Two things struck me on the conversation on drones. The first thing is, he makes the usual case by the Pakistanis that the drone strikes must halt completely. But then when you ask him the question, okay so what will be the substitute for that for rooting out al-Qaida affiliates and other Jihadists, even the Pakistani Taliban from the tribal areas, he doesn't have a ready answer.
SANGERThe second thing that struck me was that he was giving no ground on this question of the civilian casualties, which makes you wonder had he not seen these numbers yet or was it politically important to him not to see those numbers? But I think that where the numbers take you is much closer to what you were hearing from American officials in the American Embassy in Pakistan over these many years, which is that the drone strikes by and large have lowered civilian casualties than if you had just gone in and dropped a bomb from a B52.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was arrested in Egypt on Wednesday.
LABOTTWell, this gentleman, Essam al-Erian is one of the last few prominent leaders really to be arrested. And he kind of has really -- moving up the ranks in the Muslim Brotherhood. Has been in the organization for decades. And after the revolution and President Morsi came in, he became much more hard line, really siding with the more conservative elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, kind of trying to put down the moderates that said, listen we really have to separate the religious from our political aims.
LABOTTNow he's been arrested on incitement and killing police officers. And I think this is just the concern of the larger crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and movement to really obliterate the organization as the military-led government tries to consolidate its authoritarian power.
MYREJust to add to that, obviously the crackdown is focused on the Brotherhood but it's even broader than that. They're going after mosques and requiring Muslim preachers to be accredited or reaccredited. So it's a very, very broad crackdown and very systematic. And I don't think we’ve seen the end of it. But it has been effective in the short term in terms of we're not seeing the Friday protests that we were seeing before.
REHMGreg Myre. He's international editor at NPR.org, co-author of "This Burning Land." Short break and when we come back we'll open the phones for your question, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back, time to open the phones for your questions, comments, 800-433-8850, first to Ft. Wayne, Ind. Hi there Dino.
DINOGood morning Diane.
DINOYou're my most respected source of information. I've always wondered what kind of remuneration do we get for all of our efforts in Iran and Iraq? Are they giving us, like, petroleum or is there anything that we receive for all of our American money that's spent?
SANGERWell, in Iran, obviously the United States has not been at war and we haven't had troops there and the relationship is somewhat adversarial. In Iraq I think it's reasonable to ask the question. What benefit has the United States gotten from at least the oil output there now that that is picking up again?
SANGERAnd the answer is only that it contributes to the overall stockpile of oil in the world which helps the United States as it sanctions Iran's oil. But if the U.S. had tried to extract specific concessions from Iraq to obtain oil it would have only fed that argument you heard during the entire Bush administration which is that the U.S. invaded Iraq to obtain oil.
SANGERAnd in fact of the many things you can say about the Iraq War I don't think that's one that you can argue for. If that was a goal we haven't done a terribly good job of it.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Jack in Columbia, Mo. "According to Brazilian new President, Obama's causing lots of consternation with the perceived favoritism he showed to Germany, immediately responding to Merkel's concerns while ignoring Brazil's for months. Brazilian journalists are noting Obama gave no guarantees to the president in Brazil even after she cancelled the state visit. Please comment."
MYREYes, I mean, we're talking, some of the reports have said that the U.S. is listening on 35 national leaders. That may be an underestimate but what do you do? Do you promise Angela Merkel that the listening has stopped but do you not promise it for a country where we may feel that that's more beneficial?
MYREAre you going to go to every single country and give this promise? It really is going to be a very sensitive situation. There's going to have to be I think a major re-evaluation and some general rules of the road that don't exist right now.
LABOTTWell, and also, I mean Germany is one of the closest allies of the United States and so in some ways when, you know, the U.S. does have this kind of relationship with four other countries called, the Five Eyes, the U.K., the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada have agreed not to spy on each other right and Merkel, I think rightly so was asking well, why can't France and Germany be part of that equation? We're very close allies.
LABOTTBut with countries like Brazil where the U.S. has a growing relationship and Brazil is a growing economic power that the U.S. had hoped to develop a close economic and political relationship with, it goes back to the original question we've been talking about. Is the intelligence that the U.S. is gathering on these leaders worth, if it's revealed, worth the cost of the relationship tanking?
LABOTTAnd with Brazil, there's a very serious concern that that relationship is going south, no pun intended.
REHMDo you agree with that, Greg?
MYREOh, absolutely. And again, I think if you apologize or make a promise to one country, well certainly the next one is going to ask so you.
SANGERNot all allies and partners are created equal in this world and the Germans play an extremely central role in American strategy, in Europe, in the economic health of the world, in the size of their economy.
REHMAll the more reason to establish a relationship of trust...
MYREAbsolutely. Now with the French, it's a more complicated case. The Germans are not very aggressive about conducting surveillance in the United States. The French are very aggressive about it, particularly for industrial secrets and so forth until the Chinese came along and took the title from them I think people would have said the French were the out and out champions of this.
MYRESo it's not entirely clear that the United States would give that kind of relationship to France or that the French intelligence agencies would take it.
REHMAll right, to Lawrence in Tampa, Fla., you're on the air.
LAWRENCEHi ,Diane, I was just listening to your program which I do often listen to but I think it's very funny about all of a sudden people are concerned about the United States or people listening on telephone conversations. I was aware of this back in the 70s and 80s where they have a building in Suffolk County, the NSA, every phone call that you made out of the United States to a foreign country and a foreign country making calls to the U.S. they listened to.
LAWRENCEIt's been going on for years. This is nothing new.
REHMWhat about that, Greg, nothing new?
MYREWell, nothing new in the sense that spying is the world's second oldest profession. But it is new in our ability and our technology to monitor and pick this up. It's so easy. In fact it seems that's why none of this was really questioned in a major way. It's so easy now to listen in on conversations around the world.
MYREYou don't have to have somebody go into a building and plant a bug or develop an individual relationship from somebody inside that country or inside that government. So it's the ease at which you can do this and the scale on which you can do this which have changed dramatically in the past decade.
LABOTTI was in Israel over the summer when the NSA allegations of metadata of the United States first came out and, you know, we go and we talk to Israelis about this and what do you think of it? And they said, ah, we know everything is being monitored in Israel, not just our phone conversations in terms of, you know, potential security concerns, but also our bank accounts, our police.
LABOTTYou even know, if you don't pay a parking ticket, they know exactly what's in your bank account, so I mean, it opens up a lot of questions that, yes, are they looking at our phone calls and emails for potential security, but the wide-reaching implications of what could actually be collected and whether we're going to live not in just this country, but in this world, in this big brother state, that I think is what people, alarms the ordinary citizen.
REHMTo Gary in Sterling, Va., hi there.
GARYHi, Diane, thank you. I'm not surprised that Morsi had problems because the first thing he did when he came in was attack the judiciary system which, you know, Egyptian jurisprudence has been world-renowned for years. To attack a bunch of lawyers like that first thing, that was definitely not going to go over too well.
GARYAnd I really thought ElBaradei was going to be elected because he didn't get along with the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and he knew George Bush was lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
MYRESo the caller's referring to Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president who was overthrown in July when the military took power. He's going on trial next week and this could stir things up again. The military has pretty effectively, for the short term at least, suppressed opposition, the Brotherhood can't organize.
MYREWe're not really seeing them in the streets in a big way. But when Morsi goes on trial next week we could see a rather dramatic return of protests or opposition.
SANGERWell, I think that they two very important points raised by our caller. The first is, it's interesting that people like Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, didn't get very far. Here was Egypt's, you know, most renowned international diplomat but was regarded with suspicion by the protesters who wondered whether he was truly Egyptian and had lived too much out of the country.
SANGERAnd even though he was a Nobel prize winner, was of course regarded by suspicion with the government, so what do they end up with now? The country essentially being run by another military officer, Mr. Tahani, who runs the administrative oversight authority in Egypt which was created in the 50s by Nasser, to make sure that there was complete control over the civilian authorities.
SANGERAnd I think that what this tells you is that we are basically back to Mubarak-ism without Mubarak.
REHMAll right, to Donald in Cary, N.C. You're on the air.
DONALDGood afternoon, Diane, and crew, first of all.
DONALDA pleasure, you're the antithesis of talk radio. Every Friday morning I listen to you.
DONALDI work, I was in the Army. I worked for NSA as a collector. Historically, NSA has been doing the same thing since World War I. The black chamber on the east side of Manhattan was its predecessor. During the disarmament and talks after the First World War we listened to the telegrams of the various participants so we could negotiate.
DONALDDuring the Cold War we monitored all kinds of commercial radio circuits which are the predecessors of the internet and the telecos have always cooperated with the NSA or its predecessors. They're not doing anything new. It's just the technology, maybe the volume. But the NSA always got more information than it could ever use.
DONALDIt all went into tapes and paper and it was just stored because we sucked up too much from it, more than they could analyze. The only thing I find dangerous to our liberties is a well-being bureaucrat and I think that's what we're seeing. They say, hey we can do this. We should do it. What we need is another Church Committee to rein people in so that they don't do these things and thank you for your time.
REHMThank you, Greg?
MYREAh, yes this is all true but it wasn't on the front page of the newspapers. It wasn't being discussed 24 hours a day...
MYRE...and that's the big difference here and that's going to make it a lot more difficult to do in the future.
REHMAnd here's an email from Mark: "The NSA also intervened with the phone of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Could your panel discuss why the phone tapping was allegedly done with Mexico, also an important U.S. ally?"
LABOTTAlso an important U.S. ally but he'd taken, you know, a lot of questionable, to the United States government, actions, much tougher on dealing with the United States on drug cooperation and this just goes to, it's not just about collection for data purposes and security.
LABOTTThese are policy decisions that the U.S. wants to make, wants to know what the leaders of these various countries are talking about with their cabinets. How do we respond? How do we, as David said earlier, when the president is calling the leader of another country and he wants to be well-armed with information on what to say?
SANGERYou know, in the case of President Calderon as Elise suggested there were a lot of differences but I don't think from all the evidence we've seen that the NSA is particularly discriminating between people it agrees with and disagrees with.
SANGERRemember where Chancellor Merkel was when she was the party leader in 2002 when this began. She was one of the handful of Europeans leaders who was writing op-eds saying that Iraq should be invaded and Saddam should be overthrown.
SANGERYou could count on one hand the number of senior Europeans who were in agreement with George Bush on this point.
REHMDavid Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. He's author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Bob in Wells River, Vt. You're on the air.
BOBYes, thank you. I want to know, what do we know about this incredible choreography of these revelations, the timeline from Brazil to Merkel, this isolation that our president is now finding himself in? This is exquisite choreography.
REHMWhat do you think, Elise?
LABOTTI don't think the timing is coincidental. The revelations in Brazil were right before the president was ready to visit. And some of these other allegations have also been very timely and I think that as we've discussed that's why the administration continues to brace itself for more revelations because you just don't know when they're going to come out.
LABOTTSome of these came out right before Secretary Kerry was travelling to the region.
REHMBut he's talking about choreography. Do you sense that as well David?
SANGERWell, a little bit, I mean to the degree that some of this is coming through Glenn Greenwald who was the former Guardian columnist with whom Snowden first communicated. Mr. Greenwald seems to be now partnering with newspapers in specific countries and giving out tidbits that relate to those countries.
LABOTTAnd the timing though, is very coincidental as well.
SANGERWell, the timing seems to be geared in part not, to non-coincidental...
SANGER...so when there are critical meetings going on but we don’t know how much more Mr. Greenwald has. At this point he is going off to a different news organization, one that's being created. We don't know how much of this he's going to go off and put online, if at all.
SANGERSo far they have shown some restraint. It's not like WikiLeaks where they were putting everything up online at one time. And you don't whether that's because they feel that it's more valuable to dole it out.
LABOTTAnd I think that Greenwald here is key because if you remember when Edward Snowden went to Russia he said I'm not going to leak any more. That was part of the conditions of his temporary visa and status, right? That he was not going to leak any more damaging information to…
REHMBut he had already given all this.
LABOTT..but he already gave everything to Glenn Greenwald so I think he's very key now about what he has.
REHMAnd this will continue is the point.
MYREThat's the one certainty, absolutely.
REHMAnd we have no idea how much more is to come.
SANGERWell, I think the NSA has tried to do a fairly comprehensive inventory of what they think he got at. That has told them a lot about what he has but I think there are a lot of gaps in their knowledge as well.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times, Elise Labott, foreign affairs reporter for CNN, Greg Myre, international editor at NPR.org, thank you all so much. Have a great weekend.
REHMAnd before we sign off today, let me take just a moment to wish all the best to our long-time producer Nancy Robertson. Nancy's been with the program for 17 years producing outstanding discussions, bringing together marvelous, writing promos, pulling clips as she did yesterday for the great discussion we had on slavery. She's a beloved colleague who knows how to reach out and lend a helping hand.
REHMNancy's leaving for a very important reason, she's about to become a first-time grandmother and though we understand and applaud her priorities we are all going to miss her dearly. Thank you Nancy for all you've done to make "The Diane Rehm Show" so successful. Good luck, best wishes to you and your family. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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