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New WikiLeaks Documents Allege ‘Economic Espionage’ Against France By US and Allies

Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand stood to be big beneficiaries of the alleged snooping, which extended to a French economic official who was purportedly intercepted complaining about 'narcissism' in Washington.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo par Ian Langsdone/EPA

Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand stood to be big beneficiaries of America's alleged economic snooping on France, according to the newest raft of WikiLeaks documents.

The leaked documents reveal long-standing intelligence reports prepared by the National Security Agency (NSA) that chronicle strengths and weaknesses of France's economy and act as open invitations to intercept sensitive intelligence from French ministerial phone lines, WikiLeaks claims.


The intelligence reports are the second part of a document dump that has already hurt the relationship between Washington and Paris and prompted the American president to apologize to his French counterpart last week.

"The president 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," according to a read-out of a phone conversation between the two leaders from last week.

Monday's documents — one entitled: "France: Economic Developments" and the other "Foreign Contracts/Feasibility Studies/Negotiations" — show that the American spy agency was actively collecting information on French trade practices, tendering requirements, and international development plans along with its Five Eye partners (Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand), then putting it together in reports that would be shared inside the secretive intelligence alliance.

WikiLeaks says these orders to intercept, which VICE News cannot independently verify, were issued inside the NSA for information collection on French economic and trade policy, and to help domestic companies get a leg-up on the competition.

"The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement. "The United States not only uses the results of this spying itself, but swaps these intercepts with the United Kingdom. Do French citizens deserve to know that their country is being taken to the cleaners by the spies of supposedly allied countries? Mais oui!"


Some of the reports were marked "U/FOUO" (unclassified, for official use only) and imply that they were intended to stay inside the American intelligence community, while others were "S/REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL," (secret, but releasable to the members of the Five Eyes partnership.)

Profiles of Paris' trade policies, macroeconomic policy development, business practices, and general "French views" were all intended to be releasable to the four other partners of the intelligence partnership.

The NSA indicated it planned to pass on intelligence about upcoming deals or projects "of significant interest to the foreign host country or $200 million or more in sales and/or services, including financing information," especially in the telecommunications and technology, energy, transportation, healthcare and infrastructure industries.

That sort of intelligence would be a significant aid to any major industry looking to do business in France. Canadian company Bombardier, for example, has won major contracts to build high-speed rail in France. High-speed rail is specifically noted as an area of interest in the WikiLeaks documents.

Things like "relations with international financial institutions," "budgetary constraints/contributions to NATO," and "questionable trade activities" were intended to be for American eyes only.

The reports began in 2002, and appeared to have had hundreds of updates since then. WikiLeaks writes that the documents they obtained are dated until 2012.


"The documents make clear that the NSA has been tasked with obtaining intelligence on all aspects of the French economy, from government policy, diplomacy, banking and participation in international bodies to infrastructural development, business practices and trade activities," reads a WikiLeaks press release published on Monday.

WikiLeaks goes on that sharing amongst the Five Eyes show that the whole intelligence union "also benefited from the United States' economic espionage activities against France."

While the full contents of the reports on France's economic policies were not published by WikiLeaks, it did release additional NSA memos purporting to feature intercepted communications of various French and European officials.

One of the reports appears to be based on a conversation between Jean-Francois Boittin, an official in the French economic ministry, and head of the European Union trade section.

"Boittin expressed astonishment at the level of 'narcissism' and wasteful contemplation currently on display in Washington," the report reads, referring to foot-dragging from the White House on signing a new development agreement with the World Trade Organization.

"Houben insisted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a US initiative, appears to be designed to force future negotiations with China," it goes on.

Houben goes on to say that while Washington is gearing up to "confront Beijing," its strategy will likely backfire, as the deal will take so long to negotiate that the China question will probably be resolved by the time it is signed.


Other interception reports, like one on France's objections to being singled out for alleged misdeeds in the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, was releasable to the other Five Eyes countries.

If the NSA did intercept that conversation, it speaks volumes to the size, scope, and focus of the agency's surveillance mandate.

As VICE News reported last week, WikiLeaks had previously published a spreadsheet which included phone numbers for a host of French officials, including the president, and listed them by order of priority. The president's cell phone was priority level two, while the line for the French economic ministry had a priority of three.

The explainer note next to the telephone interception records contained notes like "international finance developments" and "economic developments."

These leaks are just the latest in a trove of documents published by WikiLeaks in recent weeks, with more on the way.

Follow Justin Ling on Twiter: @justin_ling