US says not targeting Hollande's communications in new WikiLeaks furore
PARIS, France (UPDATED) – The US is not targeting French leader Francois Hollande's communications and will not do so in the future, the White House said, after documents published by WikiLeaks showed Washington had wiretapped the president and his two predecessors.
France is to convene a meeting of its defense council Wednesday, June 24, after the communications – classed as "Top Secret" and revealing spying from 2006 to 2012 – were published online by WikiLeaks, in partnership with French newspaper Liberation and the Mediapart website.
They come just weeks after President Barack Obama signed into law landmark legislation ending the US government's bulk telephone data dragnet, significantly reversing American policy by reining in the most controversial surveillance program since 9/11.
"We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in Washington late Tuesday, calling the US partnership with France "indispensable" but without addressing what might have been done in the past.
The revelations prompted the French leader to call the defense council meeting first thing Wednesday "to evaluate the nature of the information published by the press on Tuesday evening [June 23] and to draw useful conclusions", said one of his aides.
Among the documents, which showed that former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy were also spied on, are 5 from the US National Security Agency, including the most recent dated May 22, 2012, just days after Hollande took office.
It claims the French leader "approved holding secret meetings in Paris to discuss the eurozone crisis, particularly the consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone".
It also says that Hollande believed that after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she "had given up (on Greece) and was unwilling to budge".
"This made Hollande very worried for Greece and the Greek people, who might react by voting for an extremist party," according to the document.
The same file also alleges that the French leader went behind Merkel's back to schedule meetings in Paris with members of the Social Democrats – Germany's main opposition party then.
Another document, dated 2008, was titled "Sarkozy sees himself as only one who can resolve world financial crisis", and said the former French president "blamed many of the current economic problems on mistakes made by the US government, but believes that Washington is now heeding some of his advice".
Chirac's choice for appointments at the United Nations was the subject of a file dated 2006. In that same document, then foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was described as someone who has the "propensity... for making ill-timed or inaccurate remarks".
Contacted Tuesday by Agence France-Presse, Hollande's aide would not comment on the revelations, saying only: "We will see what it is about".
In Washington, NSC spokesman Price echoed a statement issued earlier Tuesday by the security council, saying: "We do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike."
He added: "We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners."
The French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud appeared to downplay the revelations, stating on Twitter: "Every diplomat lives with the certainty that their communications are listened to, and not by just one country. Real world."
Important, confidential discussions are held by "secure methods of communication", he continued, but "all our other devices are, by definition, listened to".
But an aide of Sarkozy blasted the alleged spying as "unacceptable methods as a general rule and more particularly between allies".
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said French citizens had a right to know their government was "subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally", and promised more "timely and important" revelations soon.
Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 had revealed mass US surveillance activities, sparking global outrage.
British newspaper The Guardian reported at the time that the NSA has listened in on the phone calls of 35 world leaders. According to different reports they include the leaders of France, Mexico and Brazil.
While it was not known then if Hollande's phone was tapped, the French leader had said in a visit in February 2014 to Washington that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.
"Mutual trust has been restored," Hollande said then. – Nadège Puljak, AFP / Rappler.com