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Leaked NSA Reports Allegedly Show the US Spied on France's Last Three Presidents

WikiLeaks unveiled a bombshell series of classified National Security Agency reports that indicate the US has spied extensively on France’s leaders and diplomats.

by Samuel Oakford
Jun 24 2015, 8:53am

Photo par Julien Warnand/EPA

WikiLeaks unveiled a bombshell series of purportedly classified National Security Agency (NSA) reports on Tuesday that, if legitimate, indicate the US eavesdropped on the communications of France's last three presidents, as well as the country's ambassador to Washington and several cabinet ministers.

According to the documents, the NSA intercepted telephone conversations and other communications of former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as current leader Francois Hollande as they discussed the Greek debt crisis, appointments at the UN, the Middle East peace process, and even American espionage against France. The WikiLeaks release, titled Espionnage Élysée, also includes a "target list" that contains a cell number identified as "FR PRES CELL."

In one intelligence summary dated March 10, 2010, the NSA describes intercepted communications between Pierre Vimont, the French ambassador to the US, and Sarkozy's diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte ahead of a meeting between Sarkozy and President Barack Obama in Washington later that month.

"Vimont conveyed that the French president will express his frustration that Washington has backed away from its proposed bilateral intelligence cooperation agreement and Sarkozy intends to continue to push for closure," the report said. "As Vimont and Levitte understand it, the main sticking point is the US desire to continue spying on France."

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VICE News could not immediately verify the authenticity of the documents, which WikiLeaks published in cooperation with French newspaper Liberation and online investigative outlet Mediapart. In a statement accompanying the release, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "the French people have a right to know that their elected government is subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally." Assange also indicated that WikiLeaks would release further materials "in the near future."

A June 10, 2011 summary of an intercepted communication from Sarkozy discusses the president's reported "determination of [sic] go forward with an initiative to restart direct Mideast peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians."

"The president was giving thought to appealing to Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev for a possible joint initiative without the United States or, as another option, issuing an ultimatum to the US President regarding Palestinian statehood," the intelligence summary said.

In response to Tuesday's revelation, Hollande called an emergency meeting of his defense council, the Associated Press reported, citing a presidential aide. France's parliament is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would authorize broad surveillance powers, specifically against terrorism suspects.

Ned Price, a spokesperson for the National Security Council in Washington, said he would not comment on the documents, but added that, "as a general matter, 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."

It was not clear how WikiLeaks obtained the reports, though numerous other NSA documents have emerged since whistleblower Edward Snowden first leaked information on the agency's spying programs in 2013. In October of that year, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing Snowden's archives, reported that the NSA had established a "spy hub" in Berlin, where the agency reportedly listened in on the cellphone conversations of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Snowden also revealed spying on other countries, including Brazil.

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Though Western leaders and diplomats privately admit they assume some degree of spying among allies, the latest round of evidence will likely reopen wounds that Obama has attempted to suture with European leaders over the past two years.

The oldest intelligence summaries released Tuesday date back to 2006 and describe intercepted discussions between Chirac and then French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy concerning matters at the United Nations, including high-level appointments. In a comment, the NSA noted that Chirac's "detailed" instructions to Douste-Blazy "may be in a response to the foreign minister's propensity, amply demonstrated in the past and the impetus behind a number of presidential reprimands, for making ill-timed or inaccurate remarks." Douste-Blazy, for his part, reportedly argued that the division of the UN's peacekeeping department into two parts — which did take place the following year — would be "a catastrophe."

Other summaries deal with 2012 "secret meetings" on the Eurozone financial crisis. Four years earlier, the NSA titled one summary, "Sarkozy Sees Himself as Only One Who Can Resolve World Financial Crisis."

"The 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," the NSA wrote in 2008.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford