All In   |  October 28, 2013

The US spy machine

America's sprawling surveillance state is so massive that the president doesn't know what it's doing on his watch. Chris Hayes discusses.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> do you remember that weird moment at the g-8 summit in 2006 when president bush gave an unsolicited shoulder massage to german chancellor angela merkel ? it was one of the more bizarre moments of the bush presidency , a moment that was pretty much seared into my brain. and i cannot be the only person in america who immediately thought back to that moment when i heard some of the most recent revelations about nsa surveillance. thanks to edward snowden, we now know the nsa monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders . that includes merkel , who is object sensibly a u.s. ally. merkel was reportedly livid about the surveillance and called president obama to register her displeasure. but the spying may have begun as far back as 2002 , the early days of the bush administration , before merkel even became chancellor. and that timeline makes this clip from 2006 even creepier! i can't help but wonder if bush had gotten a tip from the nsa about how merkel mentioned on the phone she enjoyed the occasional back rub. here's the craziest part about this whole thing, it's not that we were tapping the german chancellor 's phones, which is not necessarily that surprising, even though it involved an ally, it is that, apparently, president obama did not know we were doing it, according to a report from the " wall street journal " out today. the spying on merkel was part of the massive surveillance operation put in place by president george w. bush after the september 11th attacks , which members of the bush administration continue to defend to this day.

>> we do have a fantastic intelligence capability worldwide against all kinds of potential issues and concerns. we are vulnerable, as was shown on 9/11, and you never know what you're going to need when you need it. and the fact is, we do collect a lot of intelligence, and without speaking about any particular target or group of targets, that intelligence capability is enormously important to the united states .

>> of all the dangers that come with this really massive, sprawling surveillance state that dick cheney and george w. bush helped construct, the erosion of personal privacy , the damaged diplomatic relations , the biggest may be this. the apparatus itself is so big, it cannot be adequately overseen by the person who is dramatically accountable for managing it. the " wall street journal " reported, the president went nearly five years without learning u.s. spies were bugging the phones of world leaders . he only discovered the spying due to an internal review that started this summer. officials said decisions like this, to, you know, for instance, spy on world leaders , are made at the agency level. perhaps the best way to think about the nsa is the way we think about the banks that got us into the financial crisis . they are institutions that are so massive and complex, they cannot actually be managed. their very existence in their current state threatens epic destruction when inevitable human error occurs. that's where we've gotten with our surveillance state . it has to shrink or we will eventually find ourselves living through the surveillance version of the great crash. perhaps that's what we are seeing right