French authorities have long known that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting phone calls in France. So why have they reacted so forcefully to Monday’s revelations by a leading French newspaper?
France’s official reaction to a newspaper report on Monday that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on millions of French phone calls was swift and forceful.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius immediately summoned US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin, while Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he was "shocked" that 70.3 million pieces of French telephone data were recorded by the NSA between December 10, 2012 and January 8, 2013.
White House: all nations spy
The White House brushed off France's protests over the latest NSA spying allegations, saying “all nations” conduct espionage operations.
Washington, in line with its normal procedure, declined to comment on the specific charges that outraged its ally.
But National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement that “we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations”.
She added, "As the president said in his speech at the UN General Assembly, we've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."
The report – which was published in the leading French daily, “Le Monde” – threatens to turn into a diplomatic row as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris for the start of a European tour on the Syrian crisis.
This is not the first time the US has been accused of spying on the French based on revelations by former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. In July, French prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into the NSA's programme, known as Prism, after Germany's “Der Spiegel” and Britain's “Guardian” broke the story.
But so far, the official French reaction to the revelations had been far more discreet than in neighbouring Germany or in South American countries such as Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff called off a US state visit scheduled for October.
Alain Charret, a former French Air Force general and an expert in electronic warfare, discusses the latest developments with FRANCE 24.
FRANCE 24: Do you think France could ignore the fact that the NSA was spying on French nationals?
Alain Charret: That’s hard to envisage. In the past, there have been proven examples of NSA wiretapping that cost French companies lucrative contracts in Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Also this summer, French officials were told to use specially encrypted telephones to communicate certain information. This is all evidence that French authorities were aware that the NSA was listening to the communications of some French people.
FRANCE 24: But according to "Le Monde”, the NSA surveillance involves millions of French citizens, not just suspected terrorists, but business figures as well...
AC: French authorities may have been surprised by the size of the programme. But I believe this is only partly true. French authorities can’t ignore the fact that when intelligence agencies such as the NSA have such a massive net of interceptions, it inevitably captures the communications of ordinary citizens.
FRANCE 24: In this context, what’s your opinion on the reactions of Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ?
AC: This whole thing smacks of hypocrisy. Now that the existence of these intercepts has been made public, Manuel Valls and Laurent Fabius have been forced to react so as not to appear to condone such acts. But that does not mean they have just discovered these allegations. Perhaps their official reactions are exaggerated. The reactions could even backfire if the US decides to disclose what it knows about interception programmes used by the French intelligence services. Because we probably have a programme that resembles the one in the US, albeit on a smaller scale.
FRANCE 24: Laurent Fabius said the NSA had to stop these practices. What can France do?
A.C.: Nothing. When we say that the NSA is spying in France, we must realize that the agency is using satellites or underwater cables that are not on the French territory. The French authorities have no control over it. Paris may well protest against these acts. But then what? Even if the European Court of Human Rights condemned the NSA for violating privacy, it would not prevent the intelligence agency from continuing to listen to telephone conversations in France and elsewhere.
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Date created : 2013-10-21