Revealed: how US tapped phones of three French presidents

By , and Julian Assange (Wikileaks)
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'Top Secret' documents

Le siège de la NSA dans le Maryland. © Reuters Le siège de la NSA dans le Maryland. © Reuters

As with the majority of documents obtained by Wikileaks, the NSA report from May 2012 that targets François Hollande is headed with numerous initials and acronyms which, once they are decrypted, reveal the ultra-sensitive nature of the information that is now being published. Marked “Top Secret” (TS), these notes deal with intelligence obtained through electronic signals (marked SI for SIGINT, meaning “signal intelligence”) and which on no account were to be shared with a foreign country (NF for NOFORN or “No foreigners”). The report on Hollande, like many others, also has the word “unconventional”, which in NSA language means that the intelligence has been obtained from non-conventional operations.

In the same report on Hollande there is also an additional phrase which is of critical importance: “Foreign Satellite”. This means that the telephone interception was carried out by non-American equipment. Today all the suspicion centres on German satellites as being the equipment involved, though there is as yet no absolute proof of this. In recent months various media outlets have revealed the way that the German intelligence services, the BND, have carried out spying operations on behalf of the Americans. This has sparked a huge outcry in Germany where a Parliamentary inquiry has been opened to unearth precisely the kind of documents that Wikileaks has obtained.

In additional to the current French head of state, other senior French figures have been eavesdropped. According to documents in Mediapart's possession, former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, the former socialist economy minister, now European Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici and the former French ambassador to Washington, Pierre Vimont, have also been spied on.

Judging from the leaked documents, the American appetite for intelligence on France is vast. Another secret NSA document (see below), written during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy (2007 to 2012), reveals the list of French targets drawn up by the United States. The targets were: Nicolas Sarkozy via his personal mobile phone, plus the mobiles of the presidential diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte, the secretary general at the Elysée Claude Guéant, the foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, an unidentified senior figure at the foreign ministry and the minister of overseas trade Pierre Lellouche.

La liste des cibles françaises établie par la NSA sous la présidence Sarkozy La liste des cibles françaises établie par la NSA sous la présidence Sarkozy

Claude Guéant, who was also interior minister under Sarkozy, described the eavesdropping as “scandalous”. He said: “The French government must react as it sees fit. As a minimum it requires an explanation at the very highest level, an absolute commitment to put an end to these practices.”

Former minister and current MP Pierre Lellouche said he was “not surprised” by the revelations. “I was a great friend of America. I am less and less so,” he said. “It doesn't surprise me to have been listened to because I was at overseas trade and that interests the Americans a great deal, industrial espionage.”

But it was not only mobile phones that were targeted. The landlines of the African advisors at the Elysée were also tapped, as were the phone exchanges at the ministries of agriculture and finance. The list of targets also included the antenna of the Centre de transmission gouvernemental (CTG) which is based at the Elysée. This centre's role is to maintain, under the cloak of the strictest secrecy, the continuity of government communications and, in particular, those of the head of state and the prime minister. Another phone number, referred to under the heading “FR VIP AIRCRAFT REL”, refers to a line used by the French government’s fleet of aircraft, ETEC, which is run by the French air force.

Over and above the scandal which the American espionage revealed today will cause, there will also be serious questions over how easy it seems to have been for the US to intercept conversations of the most senior figures in France, and over the effectiveness of the counter-interference techniques employed by France's own intelligence services.


  • The French version of this article can be found here.


English version by Michael Streeter

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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.