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US spying on French presidents shows mistrust of 'allies', experts

Wikileaks reveal at least three French presidents' phones were tapped
Wikileaks reveal at least three French presidents' phones were tapped Reuters/Stephane Mahe/files

Wikileaks' revelations that the US's NSA agency tapped the phones of three French presidents and other officials have sparked angry reactions in Paris. The scandal raises the question of how much confidence Washington has in countries it dubs its "allies", journalists involved in the sccop say. 


The "Top Secret" leaked documents reveal that the NSA has been tapping the phones of high-profile officials in France, notably those of former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as that of current President François Hollande.

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Five documents were leaked, the most recent one being from 22 May 2012, only days after Hollande took office.

The files claim Hollande "approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone". 

The documents show several columns: phone numbers, "needed information", and the level of priority given to the calls.

The NSA was mostly gathering intelligence, trying to get as much information as possible about French political affairs, Amaelle Guiton, one the journalists who broke the story in French newspaper Libération, told RFI. 

It is a well-known fact that the NSA has been spying on foreign countries, Germany being one of the most recent example.

On a visit in Washington in February 2014 Hollande declared that Paris and Washington had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping and that mutual trust had been restored.

That no longer seems to be the case.

The phone-taps are not unusual methods for the NSA, Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson says, but they beg the question of why it is considered necessary to record phone conversations of high officials in the first place.

"Usually there is a rationalisation behind intercepting communications of high officials and that is security concerns," he said Wednesday. "But why is the French president categorised as a threat to national security? They spy on foreigners for security reasons and one can deduce from that that the NSA considers the French president in some manner a threat to United States national security".

Jacques Myard, an MP for the right-wing opposition Les Républicains, explained that even though the two countries were allies, there is some behaviour that the French government cannot accept.

Ties between France and the United States might not suffer from this, even though Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday that "the United States needs to do everything in their power to repair relations".

These documents were leaked on the same day the French parliament was voting on a controversial bill on mass surveillance in France, although Kristinn Hrafnsson insists the timing of the leak is a coincidence.

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