French president holds emergency meeting over NSA intercepts

AP News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 3:52 AM
French president holds emergency meeting over NSA intercepts

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande is holding an emergency meeting with the country's top security officials to respond to WikiLeaks documents saying that the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on the last three French presidents.

A French presidential aide said Wednesday's meeting was convened to evaluate the information released and draw relevant conclusions. The aide was not authorized to be publicly named.

The documents published in French daily newspaper Liberation and investigative website Mediapart late Tuesday include material that appeared to capture officials in Paris talking candidly about Greece's economy and relations with Germany.

Ironically, they also include discussions about American espionage of its allies.

There was no instant confirmation of the accuracy of the documents, though WikiLeaks has a track record of publishing intelligence and diplomatic material.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Associated Press he was confident the documents were authentic, noting that WikiLeaks' previous mass disclosures — including a large cache of Saudi diplomatic memos released last week — have proven to be accurate.

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 Tuesday and the lower house of parliament is expected to give it final approval Wednesday.

The release prompted uproar among French politicians, although it didn't reveal any huge surprises or secrets. France is among several U.S. allies that rely heavily on American spying powers when trying to prevent terrorist and other threats.

Hollande's office didn't comment beyond announcing Wednesday's security meeting, though his Socialist Party issued an angry statement saying the reports suggest "a truly stupefying state paranoia." Even if the government was aware of such intercepts, the party said, that doesn't mean "that this massive, systematic, uncontrolled eavesdropping is tolerable."

An aide to Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy told The AP that the former president considers these methods unacceptable, especially from an ally. The aide was not authorized to be publicly named.

There was no immediate comment from former President Jacques Chirac, also reportedly targeted by the eavesdropping.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price released a statement Tuesday evening saying the U.S. is "not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande."

"We do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose," Price added. "This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike. We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners."

Price did not address claims that the U.S. had previously eavesdropped on Hollande or his predecessors.

Ever since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed in 2013 that the NSA had been eavesdropping on the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it had been understood that the U.S. had been using the digital spying agency to intercept the conversations of allied politicians.