France calls in US envoy over spying, holds security meeting

Updated: 2015-06-24 20:11


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PARIS - France summoned the US ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and the French president held a high-level emergency meeting Wednesday following revelations by WikiLeaks that the US National Security Agency had eavesdropped on the past three French presidents.

President Francois Hollande called the US spying an "unacceptable" security breach.

The documents appear to capture top French officials in Paris between 2006 and 2012 talking candidly about Greece's economy, relations with Germany, and American spying on allies. While there were no huge surprises, the release of the documents late Tuesday angered and embarrassed French officialdom.

US Ambassador Jane Hartley was summoned to the French Foreign Ministry, according to government spokesman Stephane Le Foll. Hollande is also sending France's top intelligence coordinator to the United States shortly, to ensure that promises made after earlier NSA spying revelations in 2013 and 2014 have been kept, Le Foll said.

Calling the spying "incomprehensible," Le Foll told reporters "France does not listen in on its allies."

The US Embassy had no immediate comment on the WikiLeaks revelations.

US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price released a statement Tuesday evening saying the US is "not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande." Price did not address claims that the US had previously eavesdropped on Hollande or his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy or Jacques Chirac.

Hollande convened two emergency meetings Wednesday as a result of the disclosures: first with France's top security officials, then with leading legislators.

At a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Le Foll said "we reminded all the ministers to be vigilant in their conversations."

Two of the cables - dealing with then-President Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac - were marked "USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL" suggesting that the material was meant to be shared with Britain, Canada and other members of the so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance.

The disclosures, which emerged late Tuesday in French daily newspaper Liberation and investigative website Mediapart, mean that France has joined Germany on the list of US allies targeted by the NSA.

"This involves unacceptable acts that have already given rise to discussions between the United States and France," Hollande said in a statement after an emergency defense council meeting. The statement said France has reinforced protective measures, without elaborating.

The release appeared to be timed to coincide with a vote in the French Parliament on a bill allowing broad new surveillance powers, in particular to counter terrorist threats. The Senate approved it Tuesday and the lower house of parliament is expected to give it final approval Wednesday.

There was no instant confirmation on the accuracy of the documents, which covered intercepts from 2006-12. WikiLeaks, however, has a track record of publishing intelligence and diplomatic material.

An aide to Sarkozy told The Associated Press that the former president considers these methods unacceptable. There was no immediate comment from Chirac.

France is among several US allies that rely heavily on American spying powers when trying to prevent terrorist and other threats.