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French Are Fuming Over Report That NSA Spied On 3 Presidents

French President Francois Hollande leads a meeting about new WikiLeaks allegations of U.S. spying on French presidents.
Charles Platiau/Pool
French President Francois Hollande leads a meeting about new WikiLeaks allegations of U.S. spying on French presidents.

The U.S. ambassador to France has been summoned to the French Foreign Ministry to answer new claims that the NSA monitored the communications of three sitting French presidents and their top staff.

Those said to be targeted include President Francois Hollande, who is holding an emergency meeting today with top French lawmakers.

From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports:

"Newspaper Liberation and online news outlet have published what they say are excerpts from U.S. secret documents from WikiLeaks that show the NSA eavesdropped on the last three French presidents and their advisers between 2006 and 2012.

"Speaking on French radio this morning, the chief of staff of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not hide his indignation.

" 'This is shocking and regrettable,' said Claude Geant. 'Considering the extremely close relations we have with the U.S., this is a rupture of confidence.' "

Responding to the new allegations, American officials say the U.S. is not spying on President Hollande and has no plans to do so.

WikiLeaks says the U.S. documents were classified as top secret, and that they "derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications of French Presidents Francois Hollande (2012–present), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012), and Jacques Chirac (1995–2007), as well as French cabinet ministers and the French Ambassador to the United States."

In one example, the group published what it says is a 2010 report on intercepted communications between France's U.S. ambassador and Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser, ahead of Sarkozy's visit to Washington.

According to the document published by WikiLeaks, Sarkozy was frustrated that "Washington has backed away from its proposed bilateral intelligence cooperation agreement." It added that for Sarkozy, "the main sticking point is the U.S. desire to continue spying on France."

On the document, its source is characterized as "unconventional."

Other topics discussed in the documents include the European financial crisis, U.N. appointments, and Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"The revelations come at a time when France and the U.S. are cooperating closely on several strategic issues such as fighting the Islamic State and dealing with Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine," Eleanor reports from Paris. She adds, "Coincidentally or not, the news also comes as the French Parliament prepares to adopt a far reaching surveillance bill."

The allegations come after months of reports about NSA documents released by Edward Snowden, showing that the U.S. had tapped into the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On its Web page about the U.S. surveillance program in France, WikiLeaks included a satirical cartoon of France's three presidents in which they're saying, "At least they think we're as important as the Germans."

The French government will send its intelligence director to the U.S. in the coming days, reports Liberation.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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