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US Spied On French Presidents Through NSA, Says WikiLeaks

PARIS – The National Security Agency of the United States spied on French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, whistleblower website WikiLeaks said on Tuesday, citing top secret intelligence reports and documents.

The claims were first reported in French daily Liberation and news website Mediapart, which said the NSA spied on the presidents during a period of at least 2006 until May 2012, the month when Hollande took over from Sarkozy.

“The top secret documents 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,” WikiLeaks said in its release published on Tuesday.

“Prominent within the top secret cache of documents are intelligence summaries of conversations between French government officials concerning some of the most pressing issues facing France and the international community, including the global financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis, the leadership and future of the European Union, the relationship between the Hollande administration and the German government of Angela Merkel, French efforts to determine the make-up of the executive staff of the United Nations, French involvement in the conflict in Palestine and a dispute between the French and US governments over US spying on France,” it added.

The move came after WikiLeaks published more than 500,000 Saudi diplomatic documents on the internet, a move that was similar to its release of US State Department cables in 2010.

The release coincided with the three-year anniversary of its founder, Julian Assange, seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

On Tuesday, Assange said: “The French people have a right to know that their elected government is subject to hostile surveillance from a supposed ally. We are proud of our work with leading French publishers Liberation and Mediapart to bring this story to light. French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future.”

There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the documents. There was no instant comment from the offices of Hollande or previous president Chirac.

US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the American government would not comment on the specifics of the leak.

“As a general matter, 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.

Ever since documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed in 2013 that the NSA had been eavesdropping on the cellphone of Angela Merkel, it had been understood that the US had been using the digital spying agency to intercept the conversations of allied politicians. Still, the new revelations are bound to cause diplomatic embarrassment for the Americans, even though friends have been spying on friends for thousands of years.

Late Tuesday, several French politicians posted messages to social media voicing their disgust with the reports.

“And one more time we find out that the U.S. has no allies, they only have targets or vassals,” Socialist lawmaker Jean-Jacques Urvoas said in a message posted on Twitter in both French and English.

Hollande said last year that he discussed his concerns about NSA surveillance with President Barack Obama during a visit to the US, and they patched up their differences.

After the Merkel disclosures, Obama ordered a wholesale review of NSA spying on allies, after officials suggested that senior White House officials had not approved many operations that were largely on auto-pilot. After the review, American officials said Obama had ordered a halt to spying on the leaders of allied countries, if not their aides.

The WikiLeak release came a day before the French Parliament is expected to definitively pass a surveillance bill, legalizing broad surveillance of terrorism suspects, including allowing intelligence services to vacuum up metadata in hopes of preventing imminent attacks.

Privacy advocates and human rights groups have protested, but the government argues that it is just updating a 1991 law to grapple with modern threats and has tried to distance itself from US-style mass surveillance.

The bill was proposed last year but deadly Paris attacks by Islamic extremists in January gave it added urgency for the government.

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