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Mediapart Fri 29 Jul 2016 29/7/2016 Latest edition

Revealed: how US tapped phones of three French presidents

June 23, 2015 | By Fabrice Arfi, Jérôme Hourdeaux and Julian Assange (Wikileaks)

The United States has eavesdropped on at least three French presidents and a whole raft of senior officials and politicians in France for at least six years, according to secret documents obtained by WikiLeaks and revealed here by Mediapart. The top secret reports from America's National Security Agency (NSA) show that the phones of presidents François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac were all tapped. But they also show that the espionage carried out on a supposedly key ally of Washington's went even further and deeper, and that senior diplomats, top civil servants and politicians also routinely had their phones tapped. The documents seen by Mediapart reveal proof of the spying on the French state that took place from 2006 to 2012 but there is no reason to suggest that this espionage did not start before 2006 and has not continued since. The revelations are certain to spark a major diplomatic row and highlight once again the uncontrolled and aggressive nature of American spying on friends and foes alike, as first revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. Mediapart's Fabrice Arfi and Jérôme Hourdeaux and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks report.

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The United States has eavesdropped on at least three French presidents and a whole range of senior officials and politicians in France for at least six years, according to confidential documents obtained by WikiLeaks and revealed here by Mediapart. The top secret reports from America's National Security Agency (NSA) show that the phones of presidents François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac were all tapped, as were those of senior diplomats, senior civil servants and politicians.

The documents seen by Mediapart working with WikiLeaks as part of Operation Espionnage Elysée (Operation Elysée Espionage), show the extent of spying on the top echelons of the French state between 2006 and 2012. But there is no reason to suppose that the spying did not start before 2006 – and that it has not continued since.

However, after Mediapart's disclosures on Tuesday June 23rd, the White House insisted that it was not targeting François Hollande's communications, and  nor would it do so in the future. “We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price. “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 said. “We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners.” Significantly, the spokesman did not deal with the revelations about surveillance in the past.

For these leaked documents – all marked 'Top Secret' and also seen by Libération – detail the background to an obsessive spying by the United States on France on all manner of diplomatic, political and economic issues. That Washington was eavesdropping on the leaders of allies such as France has long been suspected but these revelations from NSA reports now provide firm and detailed evidence of that spying.

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And above all the documents reveal the hitherto unsuspected scale of the American spying, which was carried out outside any legal framework and without being subject to any real control. For it is not just successive presidents of the French Republic who have been eavesdropped in recent years, but senior figures at all layers of state power who have, at one time or another, been the target of the US. This spying has been carried out on directors of major French organisations, ministers, presidential and ministerial advisors, diplomats and spokespeople. For example, even at the very heart of the Elysée, the official residence of the French president, numerous telephone lines, both landlines and mobile, have been tapped.

The image of the NSA has already been severely tarnished by the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 and these latest documents will once again throw the spotlight on the aggressive and underhand practices on the part of the world's major power in respect of a country, France, which is normally considered to be a “friend”.

Like his two right-wing predecessors, presidents Sarkozy and Chirac, socialist president François Hollande has not escaped the US eavesdropping. The leaked documents include a NSA report from May 22nd, 2012 which makes an explicit reference to a conversation held four days earlier between the newly-elected French president and his then-prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The conversation deals with François Hollande’s desire to organise “secret consultations” with the German opposition about a potential Greek exit from the Eurozone – a subject very much in the news today.

In the same document (see below) the NSA analysts mention the existence of “previous reports” concerning past discussions on the subject of German chancellor Angela Merkel. This suggests that the American intercepts of the French president's calls were certainly common practice.

Contacted by Mediapart, sources at the Elysée said that, while they had not kept a trace of this conversation, the claim that it took place was “absolutely credible”. But on the underlying allegations the French presidency declined to comment. Presidential sources did, however, note that ahead of the meeting between François Hollande and American president Barack Obama in Washington on February 11th, 2014, and then during the meeting itself there was an “undertaking to no longer carry out indiscriminate eavesdropping of the state services of an allied country”.

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This article was updated on the morning of Wednesday June 24th, 2015, to take account of the reaction from the White House.

Julian Assange, who contributed to this article, is the founder of WikiLeaks.