The photo shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing with a...

The photo shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel posing with a cell phone at the booth of Sony Ericsson during her opening walk at the CeBIT in Hanover, northern Germany. Merkel complained to President Barack Obama after learning that U.S. intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone. (March, 4, 2008) Credit: AP Photo Joerg Sarbach

It's not a good thing when the president has to reassure a close ally the U.S. is not listening in on her cellphone calls and has no plans to do so.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "The president assured (German chancellor Angela Merkel) that the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor, the communications of the chancellor." Note the verb tense, suggesting that, yes, the U.S. did listen in on past calls.

Ditto for a number of other leaders now furious with us.

Isn't it amazing that we have the technology to bypass security to tap the cellphones of leaders around the world and can't set up a website in 2013 that provides simple information to our citizens about their health insurance options to carry out a law passed in 2010? Especially when the amount of e-commerce sales is expected to surpass $240 billion this year. In other words, millions of people have figured this Internet thing out pretty well while clueless government contractors botched Internet 101.

But I digress. This expression of outrage is at clueless intelligence agencies which concluded U.S. domestic and foreign spying on calls and emails would never come to light. Do these people never see movies or read thrillers? Hey, guys, this is a democracy! Yes, Edward Snowden, a contract employee who worked for the National Security Agency and is the source of the leaks of classified information on spying, is a traitor who should be returned from Russia and tried in U.S. courts.

But if he thought the nitty-gritty details of his leaks wouldn't be revealed when he gave them to a journalist, he was mistaken. That journalist is Glenn Greenwald, who describes himself in Wikipedia as an American "journalist, political commentator, lawyer, columnist, blogger and author."

Greenwald plans to reveal more U.S. government secrets, according to news reports. Greenwald is also proud of being on 20 popular TV talk shows to express his views. He says he lives in Brazil with his partner David Miranda because of his anger at the Defense of Marriage Act and boasts that he has 11 rescue dogs.

Isn't it interesting how the new "in" thing for those who seek to be upwardly socially mobile and want to impress you is owning rescue dogs? But I have strayed from my argument that it really is not acceptable for the U.S. government to be listening to our private conversations and reading our emails especially when a stamp costs 46 cents and nobody writes letters.

(Did you know the U.S. government is now selling 46-cent stamps of gingerbread houses, Hanukkah, two different Kwanzaa versions, Virgin and Child by Jan Gossaert, Madonna of the Candelabra by Raphael, poinsettias, Santa and his sleigh and holiday baubles? On the Internet?) The Snowden scandal seemed to have been over. We have had so many other distractions since it broke, including the government shutdown, the fight over the debt ceiling and Ted Cruz, that many of us forgot. We might still be not thinking of government spying if Merkel hadn't forgotten to count to 10 before picking up the phone to call President Barack Obama to express her fury.

Not only have we also been spying on leaders in Brazil and Mexico, we also have collected 70 million digital communications from French civilians, prompting outrage from the French president.

Isn't it impressive that apparently we have intelligence analysts who can read and understand French, no matter how boring 70 million communications might be? It is understandable if Obama shuns more international conferences as he did the economic forum in Indonesia during the shutdown. How uncomfortable to be told by one leader after another that U.S. spying means the United States has lost their trust.

This is the White House line: U.S. intelligence operations are "under scrutiny;" the president understands the need to balance security against privacy.

Feeling reassured? Angela Merkel isn't.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.


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