France summons US envoy over Wikileaks spy claims

France summoned the US ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and the French president held a high-level emergency meeting yesterday following revelations by WikiLeaks that the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped on the past three presidents. President Francois Hollande called any US spying an “unacceptable” security breach.

French President Francois Hollande and his two predecessors were spied on by the US. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The documents appear to capture top French officials in Paris between 2006 and 2012 talking candidly about Greece’s economy, relations with Germany, and American spying on allies. While there were no huge surprises, the release of the documents on Tuesday angered and embarrassed France. US Ambassador Jane Hartley was summoned to the French Foreign Ministry, according to government spokesman Stephane Le Foll. Mr Hollande is also sending France’s top intelligence coordinator to the United States shortly, to ensure that promises made after earlier NSA spying revelations in 2013 and 2014 have been kept, Mr Le Foll said.

Calling the spying “incomprehensible,” he said “France does not listen in on its allies.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The US Embassy had no immediate comment on the WikiLeaks revelations.

US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price released a statement on Tuesday evening saying the US is “not targeting and will not target the communications of President Holland”.

Mr Price did not address claims that the US had previously eavesdropped on Mr Hollande or his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy or Jacques Chirac.

Mr Hollande convened two emergency meetings yesterday as a result of the disclosures: first with France’s top security officials, then with leading legislators.

At a Cabinet meeting Mr Le Foll said “we reminded all the ministers to be vigilant in their conversations”

Two of the cables – dealing with then-President Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac – were marked “USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL” suggesting that the material was meant to be shared with Britain, Canada and other members of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

The disclosures, which emerged on Tuesday, mean that France has joined Germany on the list of US allies targeted by the NSA.

“This involves unacceptable acts that have already given rise to discussions between the United States and France,” Mr Hollande said in a statement after an emergency defence council meeting.

The statement said France has reinforced protective measures, without elaborating.

The release appeared to be timed to coincide with a vote in the French Parliament on a bill allowing broad new surveillance powers, in particular to counter terrorist threats. The Senate approved it on Tuesday and the lower house of parliament was expected to give it final assent yesterday.

There was no immediate confirmation on the accuracy of the documents, which covered 
intercepts from 2006-12.

WikiLeaks, however, has a track record of publishing intelligence and diplomatic material.

An aide to Mr Sarkozy said that the former president considers these methods unacceptable. There was no immediate comment from Mr Chirac.