French PM demands answers on US surveillance

Snowden document showed US intercepted 3m French calls daily

US secretary of state John Kerry shaking hands with US ambassador to France Charles Rivkin upon arriving in Paris yesterday. The National Security Agency has carried out extensive electronic surveillance in France, ‘Le Monde’ has reported. Photograph: New York Times/US State Department

US secretary of state John Kerry shaking hands with US ambassador to France Charles Rivkin upon arriving in Paris yesterday. The National Security Agency has carried out extensive electronic surveillance in France, ‘Le Monde’ has reported. Photograph: New York Times/US State Department

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 08:43

Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has demanded “clear answers explaining why such practices were used and the creation of conditions of transparency so that they be ended” after Le Monde newspaper revealed massive interception of French telephone communications by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

An NSA graphic among documents stolen by the former NSA subcontractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the US intercepted three million French telephone data daily, sometimes up to seven million, from December 10th, 2012, until January 8th, 2013, for 70.3 million recordings. Equipment is programmed to record all calls to or from certain numbers, and to keep a log of all traffic on those lines, Le Monde reported.

The use of key words triggers the recording of text messages.

Asked whether he would challenge US president Barack Obama over the phone intercepts, Mr Ayrault said president François Hollande would “take the necessary measures”.

The foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, summoned US ambassador Charles Rivkin to the quai d’Orsay. “This type of practice between partners . . . is totally unacceptable,” Mr Fabius said. “We must be certain, very quickly, that they are no longer taking place.”

Mr Fabius will raise the subject with US secretary of state John Kerry at a meeting on Syria in Paris this morning.

Le Monde mobilised 10 journalists since August to work with Glenn Greenwald, the former business lawyer turned blogger to whom Mr Snowden entrusted some 20 million documents last June.

In a front-page editorial, “Fighting Big Brother”, Le Monde said the information it obtained should spark a debate in France like those in Germany and Britain. It called on the EU – whose Washington, New York and Brussels offices were bugged by the US – to react.

Two programmes were used to achieve the 70.3 million recordings: “Drtbox” which collected 62.5 million pieces of data and “Whitebox” which retained 7.8 million elements.

Details of these programmes are not known. Some of those targeted are suspected of links with terrorism. But others are businessmen, politicians or French government staff.

In a recent conversation with The Irish Times, an aide to a high-ranking cabinet minister lamented that his boss works on an open computer, with Google as his home page.

Mr Snowden revealed last summer that the NSA’s “Prism” programme gives the spy agency access to users of Google, Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, Yahoo and other web giants.

In addition to the data they collect from Google and other servers, intelligence analysts were advised to use “Upstream”, a programme for intercepting information transmitted via undersea cables. Among 35 examples provided in an instruction manual obtained by Mr Snowden were two French websites: Wanadoo and Alcatel Lucent.

 

Some 4.5 million French people use wanadoo.fr email addresses. Alcatel merged with the US company Lucent in 2006. The Franco-American group employs 70,000 and works in the sensitive area of routers and undersea cables. Ninety-nine per cent of global communications transit undersea.

Mr Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro. His Brazilian partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours at Heathrow in August.

“There’s never been an intelligence leak this size. The US government hates me,” Mr Greenwald told Le Monde.

He buys a new computer every three weeks and never goes on the internet, for security reasons.

Russian president Vladimir Putin granted Mr Snowden a year’s asylum in Russia on condition that he refrain from revelations that could hurt US interests. Mr Snowden’s Russian lawyer, Anatoli Koutcherena, says the whistleblower has received many job offers, is reading Dostoyevsky, learning Russian and walks freely in the street.

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