We don't know what the National Security Agency learned from tapping the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. If the White House account is to be believed, no intercepts were deemed worth reporting to President Obama. But it is painfully clear that the damage from the revelation of the tap is considerable.
A high-level German delegation was set to arrive in Washington Wednesday to address what Ms. Merkel's government has called a breakdown in trust; another delegation from the European parliament was already in town to make the same point. There is talk in Brussels and Strasbourg of cutting off NSA access to vital electronic networks, such as the SWIFT clearinghouse for bank transactions, and of imposing onerous requirements on private U.S. technology firms that handle European Internet traffic.
Mr. Obama seems already to have judged that the high-level bugging operation was a liability. He reportedly ordered it scaled back in August, and assured Ms. Merkel in a phone call last week that her communications were not being monitored now or in the future.