France demands explanation from US over spying scandal

France expects answers from US over spying scandal as Paris raises concerns over Washington’s intelligent operations on its soil after release of NSA’s ‘Espionnage Élysée’ documents by Wikileaks

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

France has been angered since Tuesday when the WikiLeaks published a series of documents called "Espionnage Élysée" that revealed a spying scandal committed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) for which Paris immediately demanded an explanation from Washington on Wednesday.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday that the US must "do everything in its power" to repair bilateral relations that were harmed by the NSA’s intelligence acts regarding the wiretapping of communications of the ex-French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the incumbent François Hollande.

"The US should recognise not only the danger that such actions represent for our freedom, but should also do everything in its power - and quickly - to repair the damage they have done to relations...between the United States and France," Valls told in the French parliament.

"These practices ... constitute a very serious violation of the spirit of trust," Valls said, by adding that a new "code of conduct" should be established on questions of intelligence.

The WikiLeaks published on Tuesday a collection of top secret intelligence reports and technical documents which revealed year of NSA intelligence activities that targeted the communications of three French Presidents in Élysée Palace from 2006 to 2012.  

“The top secret documents derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications of French Presidents Francois Hollande (2012 - present), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007 - 2012), and Jacques Chirac (1995 - 2007) as well as French cabinet ministers and the French Ambassador to the United States,” the whistleblower group said in a press release on Tuesday.

Upon the spying scandal, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also summoned the US ambassador to Paris on Wednesday to get an explanation from the US side over the spying move.

"The minister will summon Jane Hartley, US ambassador to France, at 6.00pm [1600GMT] to discuss the WikiLeaks revelations," the press office of the French Foreign Ministry told reporters.

The outspoken French media like Liberation blamed the US embassy in Paris for being the centre of NSA spying activities regarding the presidential palace.

The French presidential office released a statement as saying it "will not tolerate" any threats to its security following a defence council meeting on Wednesday.  

"These are unacceptable facts that have already arisen between the United States and France, particularly in late 2013 when the first [spying] revelations during the state visit of the president of the Republic to the United States in February 2014," the presidential statement said.

"At the time commitments were made by US authorities. They should be remembered and strictly observed," it added.

"France, which has further strengthened its control and protection, will not tolerate anything that could jeopardize the security and protection of his interests," said the French presidency.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday made a phone call with his French counterpart Hollande, whose name was also in question in the Wikileaks documents, and reassured Paris for terminating such spying practices that were deemed “unacceptable” by the French side.  

Obama “reiterated that we have abided by the commitment we made to our French counterparts in late 2013 that we are not targeting and will not target the communications of the French president,” during the phone call, according to the White House.

"President Obama reiterated unequivocally his firm end the practices that may have happened in the past and that are considered unacceptable among allies," the French presidential office also underlined.

The name of the NSA had come to fore with the US espionage moves which were revealed by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden when he previously released some documents accusing the US spy agency of listening to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conversations.

The German prosecutors however did not follow a legal suit saying there was not enough evidence for it, rather that Germany's own BND intelligence agency had also cooperated with the NSA to spy on officials, institutions and companies elsewhere in Europe.

WikiLeaks referred to the documents about spying on German authorities in its press release but added “Publication today provides much greater insight into US spying on its allies, including the actual content of intelligence products deriving from the intercepts, showing how the US spies on the phone calls of French leaders and ministers for political, economic and diplomatic intelligence.”

France is a close ally of the US as both are members of the Group of 7 (G7), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization and hold permanent seats at the UN Security Council.

One of the released intelligence reports suggests that then French president Nicola Sarkozy was intending to resume peace talks between Israel and Palestine without the involvement of the US government.

Another document shows the NSA intercepted communication between Francois Hollande and high-ranking officials in 2012 where the French president has approved holding a secret meeting with German opposition to discuss the Greek debt crisis, without the knowledge of Merkel.

WikiLeaks said “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future,” signalling more leaks.


TRTWorld and agencies