America spied on three French presidents, says Wikileaks

One of the top leaked communiques appeared to show that France's president had arranged secret talks with German opposition without the knowledge of Angela Merkel

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The Independent Online

France reacted angrily today to a revelation by Wikileaks that the US had bugged the phones of the last three French presidents and many other senior French officials.

The French government spokesman said that spying "between allies" was "unacceptable". President François Hollande called an emergency meeting of his defence council to discuss how Paris should respond.

The Elysee Palace said France "will tolerate no behaviour which places its security at risk". The American ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry this afternoon.

French politicians of Left and Right competed to find strong enough words to describe the US behaviour – even though it had been known, or assumed, for years that France and other allies were under American surveillance.

A statement by President Hollande’s Socialist Party accused the United States of suffering from a "truly stupefying state paranoia". Sources close to former president Nicolas Sarkozy said that he was "outraged" to discover that his private phone lines had been systematically bugged by US intelligence when he was in the Elysée Palace.

The timing of the revelations was especially awkward for President Hollande because his own government is on the point of passing legislation giving France sweeping new electronic surveillance powers to assist in the fight against terrorism. French officials suspect that this is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to embarrass the president by French left wing publications which shared in the Wikileaks "scoop".

There was little startlingly new in the information gathered from the bugged phone calls by the US Nationals Security Agency (NSA) – at least not in the extracts or summaries published today by Wikileaks, the French newspaper Libération, and the news website, Mediapart. Further revelations are expected, however, on US spying on the 2012 French election.

One "Global sigint highlight" revealed that Mr Sarkozy, when president in 2008, thought that he was the only world leader capable of responding effectively to the banking crisis and the threatened global recession. The US message, based on telephone intercepts, also spoke of his sense of rivalry  with the then British prime minister, Gordon Brown. All of this was widely reported in the French and British press at the time.

More interestingly, a Signals Intelligence ('Sigint') summary from the earliest weeks of the Hollande presidency in 2012 reported that the newely elected French leader was worried, even at that stage, that Greece might be forced out of the Euro.

The leaked US intelligence report says that Mr Hollande was concerned that Chancellor Angela Merkel was "unwilling to budge" and had "given up" on Greece. Such a hard line, the French president thought, might force the Greek people to "react by voting for an extremist party".

All of this shows that Mr Hollande is a fine political analyst; it does not change dramatically  the state of the world’s knowledge.

There may, however, be more dramatic revelations to come. Edwy Plenel, the director and founder of Mediapart, said this morning that he expected to publish soon “explosive”new information on how the US has spied on the “inner workings” of the French presidential election campaign in 2012.

The French government’s spokesman, Stephane Le Foll, said that Paris would ask the US government for an “explanation”. Spying between friends and allies was “unacceptable”, he said.

“We cannot accept this type of behaviour targeting presidets of the (French) Republic),” he said.

Mr Le Foll denied reports that France also spies on its allies.

Other French politicians were less diplomatic. A Socialist parliamentarian, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, tweeted in French and English: "And one more time we find out that the US has no allies, they only have targets or vassals."