The international whistle-blower WikiLeaks says the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.
This is according to documents published in the French daily newspaper Liberation and the investigative website Mediapart, late on Tuesday. WikiLeaks said the NSA directly monitored the three presidents, French cabinet ministers and the French ambassador to the US.
In a 2008 intercept transcript, in the heat of the global financial crisis, WikiLeaks claims, Sarkozy — steering the rotating EU presidency at the time — said he felt only he could fix the crisis. This note says he blamed US mistakes for many of the economic problems, but believed Washington was finally paying attention to some of his advice.
In a document dated June 10, 2011, Sarkozy is said to have entertained giving President Obama an ultimatum on Palestinian statehood and considered restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and appealing to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev for a possible joint initiative without the US.
After Sarkozy came Hollande. The NSA bugged him from the moment he took office, the leaks say.
They claim that after just days in power, in May 2012, Hollande called a secret cabinet meeting — already then — to discuss the possible impact on the French economy and banks if Greece left the euro zone. Another document says the Socialist was disappointed by his first presidential meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, conservative, and requested secret talks with leaders of her centre-left junior coalition partners the Social Democrats.
There is even a WikiLeaks cartoon with the three French heads of state ironising they are as worthy of bugging as the Germans.
Former NSA employee Edward Snowden unleashed a storm when he shone a light on Washington’s major electronic spying on Berlin, including claims the NSA bugged Merkel’s phone for years.
Longstanding allies France and the US are fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council and NATO. Both sides have said they are looking into the new alleged leaks, reluctant to either confirm or deny anything.
We spoke to François Bonnet, one of the founders of Mediapart and the French version of Wikileaks – Frenchleaks – which launched in 2011.
Euronews “You’ve published top secret documents in the Liberation newspaper that are sure to create a stir, papers which reveal that the Americans spied on three French presidents. How did you get access (to these files)?”
François Bonnet: “We have been a longstanding partner of Wikileaks and we were one of the first French media outlets to support the whistleblower Julian Assange. So what happened (this time)? Well while completely ignoring international treaties, the US massively spied on governments and foreign powers including one of their best allies, in this case the French government.
“And this was not just during a crisis, this was over a long period of time. So for a decade, we saw a monitoring mechanism put in place – which included wiretapping and interception of all electronic communications concerning not only the three presidents Chirac, Hollande, Sarkozy – but also senior officials, administrative officers, business leaders and ministerial advisors; and this of course is where this story takes on all the dimensions of a major crisis.”
Euronews: “Have you published everything or are there still some surprises?”
François Bonnet: “Alas no (we haven’t published everything). These are important documents which I think tell very different stories of surveillance and espionage. We are going to publish them in several parts so that we can have enough time – each time – to analyse the exact scope of these documents.”
Euronews: “So what do these revelations tell us about the relationship between the US and its allies?”
François Bonnet: “What it tells us is that suspicion is at the heart of relations with their allies.”
Euronews: “But that’s not exactly new right?”
“It’s not new but all the same – on this scale -we need to understand the National Security Agency and the CIA’s errors which have undermined the image of the United States as a truly democratic country.
“While the US wants to protect itself with incredibly sophisticated surveillance systems, the first lesson is that these systems can’t truly protect them. The second lesson is that these systems are destroying America’s reputation as a democratic power.”
Euronews: “A word about Julian Assange. He’s still holed up in the Equador Embassy in London right? Is he involved?”
François Bonnet: “Julian Assange is still very active. At the same time, I want to highlight the unbearable situation that he has found himself in over the past 3 years. He lives as a recluse in a small room in the Equador embassy in London and he can’t leave without the threat of immediate arrest.
“Meanwhile Edward Snowden lives as a recluse in Russia. So I think that a country the size of France should grant both Assange and Snowden asylum.”
Euronews: “Several people have suggested that today.”
François Bonnet: “More and more people are suggesting France because these people are fighting for our liberty. And for that reason, I think it’s essential that France and other European countries grant political asylum to Assange and Snowden.”
Euronews: “Thank you François Bonnet, editor in chief of Mediapart.”