WikiLeaks: NSA snooped on French leaders

WikiLeaks: NSA snooped on French leaders
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Documents released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Tuesday assert that the U.S. routinely spied on the communications of multiple French leaders over the course of a decade, including current President Francois Hollande.

The trove of classified documents contains apparent summaries that the National Security Agency compiled by monitoring conversations between top French government officials, dating back at least to the administration of Jacques Chirac.

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Those talks covered high profile and sensitive issues such as the global financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis and even French opposition to U.S. spying.

The disclosure is reminiscent of the public revelations in late 2013 that the NSA spied on the personal cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. That news sparked major diplomatic friction between the U.S. and Germany that has only recently taken a back seat to other bilateral issues. 

Former intelligence officials suggest that monitoring of foreign leaders’ communications is routine spycraft, yet the new revelations could spark a firestorm for the Obama administration just as criticism over the NSA had receded into the background. 

"The French people have a right to know that their elected government is subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement. “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future.”

WikiLeaks did not say whether the trove of documents came from Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who has provided the lion’s share of information about the NSA. That could signal that the source was another leaker with access to the highly classified materials.

In one top secret message from 2012, the NSA reported that Hollande had ordered “secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone.”

An NSA official’s comment suggested that Hollande wanted to ensure the secrecy of the meeting to hide the fact that the government was taking seriously the prospect that Greece would leave the Eurozone. 

The same message reported that Hollande was secretly meeting with members of the German opposition party behind the Merkel’s back, seemingly on the issue of Greece.

In a separate top secret message, from 2011, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister were reportedly “wary” about including an international coalition in Middle East peace talks “because that group might not bow to Paris's wishes.”

In 2010, meanwhile, the NSA reported on the then-French ambassador to Washington’s conversations with Sarkozy’s diplomatic advisor, in which the ambassador expressed “frustration” that the U.S. had “backed away from” a bilateral intelligence cooperation deal. 

Other messages mentioned Chirac discussing appointments to the United Nations in 2006 and discussions about Sarkozy’s reactions to the global financial crisis.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents.

“We are not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations,” he said in a statement.

“As a general matter, we do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose,” he added. “This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.”