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Allies queue to demand answers on US snooping

France is the latest in a growing list of nations – Germany, Brazil and Mexico included – that are demanding explanations from Washington.

US ambassador to France Charles Rivkin, right, leaves the Foreign Ministry in Paris, after he was summoned to explain why the Americans spied on one of their closest allies. Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Claude Paris / AP
US ambassador to France Charles Rivkin, right, leaves the Foreign Ministry in Paris, after he was summoned to explain why the Americans spied on one of their closest allies. Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Claude Paris / AP

Outrage in France over new revelations

National Security Agency ‘collected 70 million French phone records and taped private calls’

WASHINGTON // Anger at the scope of snooping by the US in other countries has again forced the president, Barack Obama, to hear complaints from an ally furious about the surveillance net that has sparked an international debate.

France is the latest in a growing list of nations – Germany, Brazil and Mexico included – that are demanding explanations from Washington.

A newspaper report this week that said the National Security Agency (NSA) had swept up 70 million French telephone records and text messages, and recorded some private conversations.

The office of the French president, Francois Hollande, expressed “profound reprobation”, saying the spying breached the privacy of French citizens.

The White House said some news reports had distorted the work of US surveillance programmes, but that Mr Obama acknowledged to Mr Hollande during a telephone conversation that some reports have raised “legitimate questions for our friends and allies”.

“The president made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” a White House spokesman said.

The report was published in Le Monde and co-written by Glenn Greenwald, who revealed the surveillance programme based on leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.

It said that when certain phone numbers were called the conversations were recorded automatically, and the surveillance operation also gathered text messages based on key words.

On Tuesday night, James Clapper, the national intelligence director, disputed the newspaper’s report, saying recent articles “contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding US foreign intelligence activities”.

“The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million recordings of French citizens’ telephone data is false,” he said.

He declined to discuss details of NSA activities, but said: “We have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations ... to protect the nation, its interests and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr Hollande’s office said the French leader had asked Mr Obama to make available all information about NSA spying on French communications.

“This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens,” said the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.

“We fully agree that we cooperate to fight terrorism. It is indispensable. But this does not justify that personal data of millions of our compatriots are snooped on.”

Earlier, the French government summoned the US ambassador, Charles Rivkin, to give answers.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who visited Paris on Monday, would not confirm the report or discuss intelligence-gathering.

He said that the US would discuss NSA surveillance with French officials.

Le Monde reported that between December 10, 2012, and January 8 this year, 70.3 million recordings of French citizens’ telephone data were made by the NSA.

Intercepts peaked at almost 7 million on December 24 and again on January 7, the report said.

The targets were people with suspected links to terrorism and people chosen because of their roles in business, politics or the French government, the report said.

Bob Baer, a former CIA officer who was stationed in Paris for three years, said the French intelligence service regularly spied on US diplomats and businesspeople. The spying had included rifling through possessions of targets in Paris hotel rooms and installing listening devices in the first-class seats of Concord aircraft to record Americans’ conversations, he said.

In another instance, a former French intelligence director stated that the spy agency had compiled a detailed secret dossier of the proprietary proposals that US and Soviet companies wrote to compete with a French company for a US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) contract to supply fighter jets to India.

But while corporate and government espionage may be common, the report said French citizens were unwittingly drawn into US surveillance.

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, tried to broker a closer intelligence-sharing relationship with France, so that the countries would simply ask each other to explain political or economic policies directly instead of resorting to snooping.

“The US is overwhelmed by cooperation by France on things like ... terrorism and organised crime,” Mr Blair said. “It dwarfs the amount of time we spend spying on each other.”

So far, the strongest objection to the NSA surveillance abroad has come from Brazil.

The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, cancelled a state visit to Washington over a dispute involving Brazil’s desire to question Mr Snowden.

Information he leaked indicated that the US had intercepted Ms Rousseff’s communications with aides, hacked the state-run oil company’s computer network, and snagged data on emails and telephone calls flowing through Brazil.

In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel’s government cancelled a Cold War-era surveillance agreement over reports that NSA snooping had swept up communications in Europe.

Mexico has also expressed outrage over an alleged NSA programme that the German magazine, Der Spiegel, said had accessed a domain linked to former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, and his cabinet.

* Associated Press

WASHINGTON // The sweep and scope of National Security Agency snooping abroad forced President Barack Obama once again to hear complaints from a US ally angry about the surveillance net that has sparked an international debate over the limits of American spying.

France is the latest in a growing list of nations — Germany, Brazil and Mexico included — demanding explanations from Washington. A report published this week said the US swept up 70 million French telephone records and text messages and recorded some private conversations.

President Francois Hollande’s office expressed “profound reprobation,” saying the spying violated the privacy of French citizens. The White House said some news reports have distorted the work of US surveillance programmes, but said Mr Obama acknowledged to Mr Hollande in a telephone conversation that some reports have raised “legitimate questions for our friends and allies.”

“The president made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” the White House said.

The report in Le Monde, co-written by Glenn Greenwald, who originally revealed the surveillance programme based on leaks from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, found that when certain phone numbers were used, conversations were recorded automatically. The surveillance operation also gathered text messages based on key words, Le Monde reported.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper late on Tuesday disputed the French newspaper’s reporting, saying recent articles “contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding US foreign intelligence activities.”

“The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million ‘recordings of French citizens’ telephone data’ is false,” Mr Clapper said.

He declined to discuss details of NSA activities, but said, “We have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations ... to protect the nation, its interests and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr Hollande’s office said the French leader asked Mr Obama to make available all information on NSA spying of French communications.

“This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. “We fully agree that we cooperate to fight terrorism. It is indispensable. But this does not justify that personal data of millions of our compatriots are snooped on.”

Earlier, the French government summoned US Ambassador Charles Rivkin for answers. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Paris on Monday, would not confirm the newspaper account or discuss intelligence-gathering. He told reporters that the US would discuss the NSA surveillance with French officials.

Le Monde reported that from December 10, 2012, to January 8 of this year, 70.3 million recordings of French citizens’ telephone data were made by the NSA. Intercepts peaked at almost 7 million in December 24 and again on January 7, the newspaper said. The targets were people with suspected links to terrorism and people chosen because of their roles in business, politics or the French government, the report said.

Former CIA officer Bob Baer, who was stationed in Paris for three years, said the French intelligence service regularly spies on Americans — both on US diplomats and business people. The spying has included rifling through possessions of a diplomat, businessman or spy in Paris hotel rooms and installing listening devices in first-class seats of the now-defunct Concord aircraft to record Americans’ conversations, he said.

In another instance, a former French intelligence director stated that the spy agency compiled a detailed secret dossier of the proprietary proposals that US and Soviet companies wrote to compete with a French company for a US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) contract to supply fighter jets to India.

But while corporate and spy-vs-spy espionage may be common, the newspaper report indicated that French citizens were unwittingly drawn into US surveillance, too.

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, tried to broker a closer intelligence-sharing relationship with France, so the two would simply ask each other to explain political or economic policies directly instead of resorting to snooping.

“The US is overwhelmed by cooperation by France on things like ... terrorism and organised crime,” Mr Blair said. “It dwarfs the amount of time we spend on spying on each other.”

So far, the strongest objection to the NSA surveillance abroad has come from Brazil.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington over a dispute involving Brazil’s desire to question Mr Snowden after information he leaked indicated that the US intercepted Ms Rousseff’s communications with aides, hacked the state-run oil company’s computer network, and snagged data on emails and telephone calls flowing through Brazil.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government cancelled a Cold War-era surveillance agreement over reports that NSA snooping swept up communications in Europe.

Mexico has also expressed outrage about an alleged NSA programme that the German magazine Der Spiegel said accessed a domain linked to former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his cabinet.

*Associated Press