I get the part about identifying a terrorist suspect, tapping his phone, then the phones of the people those people call - you need to build a network map, identify the members of a cell and follow it up the chain.
I can even understand why the NSA might need to collect 60 million phone calls (metadata, anyway) in Spain in a single month - if there are terrorists of interest operating there, you need LOT of raw data to query.
But where does Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, fit into this sort of thing?
Are we supposed to believe that she's 'pallin' around with terrorists'?
Are we supposed to worry that she's going to follow the lead of a previous Chancellor of Germany and try to take over the world?
No, nothing as dramatic as that. The reason is much simpler:
Because they could.
They had the technology, and nobody told them not to... simple as that.
It's entirely likely that this surveillance wasn't known about at a very high level - I have to expect that the DNI or NSA Director would have said 'whoa' about this kind of program, and either shut it down or 'passed the buck' upwards to the President.
And, for now, I refuse to believe that President Obama knew about this program - for all his faults, I don't believe he would have bought into this, without some specific demonstrated 'clear and present danger'.
The NSA just spent $1.5 Billion (plus cost over-runs, of course) on a data center in Utah. That was just for the BUILDING, not including the computers, people, etc. How much data can you store in such a facility? Nobody knows for sure, but it's a significant percentage of ALL the data generated in the world every year. (Cue Bill Cosby as Noah.... 'Lord, what's an exobite?)
Why does this matter? Because instead of identifying a target and going out to collect data on him/her, the NSA is sucking in just about everything that could possibly ever be of interest to them, warehousing it, and using this data proactively to build 'digital fingerprints' on everybody.
And when we scream and pull out our hair and rend our garments about their invasions of privacy, do they change anything? No.... well, wait, it looks like they've stopped tapping Angela Merkel's phone - which is something, but for you and me, has anything changed? Hell, no.
I hate to say this, but I'm afraid we've lost this one. With an 'intelligence' budget of somewhere between $50 and $100 Billion a year, and with the President and DiFi not knowing what they're doing, what's to stop them from doing anything they want?
What do we really think they're doing with all that money? Playing Spy vs. Spy?
Seriously, there may be as many as 1,000 real terrorists around the world who are worthy of the effort necessary to track their every move. So we're spending $50 million apiece every year to try to keep track of each of them?
The real problem is that this massive store of data on just about everyone is sitting there, waiting to be abused.
What could possibly go wrong?