France convenes security chiefs over US spy claims from WikiLeaks

24th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande convened his security chiefs on Wednesday after secret documents leaked by WikiLeaks indicated that the US had spied for years on him and two former leaders.

Spying between allies was "unacceptable", said French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, shortly before the emergency meeting of the defence council.

The documents -- labelled "Top Secret" and appearing to reveal spying on Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande from 2006 to 2012 -- were published online by WikiLeaks, in partnership with French newspaper Liberation and the Mediapart website.

The leak comes just weeks after President Barack Obama approved landmark legislation ending the US government's bulk telephone data dragnet, significantly reversing US policy by reining in the most controversial surveillance programme since 9/11.

The White House did not comment on past activity, but said it was not targeting Hollande's communications and will not do so in the future.

"We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande," said National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Ned Price late Tuesday, calling the US partnership with France "indispensable".

The meeting of France's top ministers and intelligence chiefs was set "to evaluate the nature of the information published by the press on Tuesday evening and to draw useful conclusions", said one of Hollande's aides.

Among the documents are five from the US National Security Agency (NSA), including the most recent dated May 22, 2012, just days after Hollande took office.

It claims the French leader "approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone".

It also says Hollande believed after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she "had given up (on Greece) and was unwilling to budge".

"This made Hollande very worried for Greece and the Greek people, who might react by voting for an extremist party," according to the document.

The same file also alleges that the French leader went behind Merkel's back to schedule meetings in Paris with members of the Social Democrats -- Germany's main opposition party at the time.

In 2013, the NSA was accused of spying on Merkel.

- 'Difficult to accept' -

"It is difficult to accept that between allies... there can be this kind of activity, particularly related to wiretapping linked to the president of the Republic," said Le Foll.

But the French spokesman also tried to play down the controversy, saying it was not something that should trigger a major crisis.

"There are enough dangerous crises in the world today," he said.

Another document, dated 2008, was titled "Sarkozy sees himself as only one who can resolve the world financial crisis", and said the former French president "blamed many of the current economic problems on mistakes made by the US government, but believes that Washington is now heeding some of his advice".

Chirac's choice for appointments at the United Nations was the subject of a file dated 2006. In that same document, then foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was described as someone who has the "propensity... for making ill-timed or inaccurate remarks".

In Washington, NSC spokesman Price echoed a statement issued earlier Tuesday by the security council, saying: "We do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike."

He added: "We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners."

France's ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, appeared to downplay the revelations, saying on Twitter: "Every diplomat lives with the certainty that their communications are listened to, and not by just one country. Real world."

Important, confidential discussions are held by "secure methods of communication", he continued, but "all our other devices are, by definition, listened to".

But an aide of Sarkozy blasted the alleged spying as "unacceptable methods as a general rule and more particularly between allies".

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said French citizens had a right to know their government was "subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally", and promised more "timely and important" revelations soon.

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 had revealed mass US surveillance activities, sparking global outrage.

They included the allegation that the US had spied on Merkel.

At the time, Washington made no outright denial, but said Merkel's phone was not being tapped currently and would not be in future.

British newspaper The Guardian reported at the time that the NSA had listened in on the phone calls of 35 world leaders. According to various reports they include the leaders of France, Mexico and Brazil.

While it was not known then if Hollande's phone was bugged, the French leader had said on a visit in Washington in February 2014 that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

"Mutual trust has been restored," Hollande said then.

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© 2015 AFP

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