Sarkozy had 'surveillance unit spy on journalists'

 

FRANCE’S SOCIALIST Party has called for the head of domestic intelligence to be brought before a parliamentary commission after a newspaper claimed a specialist surveillance unit had been established to spy on journalists.

In a report signed by its editor, Claude Angeli, yesterday, the weekly Le Canard Enchaînéalleged that President Nicolas Sarkozy personally supervised the surveillance of journalists covering sensitive stories. The claim was described as “totally far-fetched” by the Élysée Palace.

Le Canardalleged that, “since the beginning of the year, at least”, whenever journalists undertook “annoying” investigations, the head of state asked Bernard Squarcini, the head of the DCRI counter-intelligence service to “place [them] under surveillance”.

Citing unnamed intelligence sources, the paper said a specialist group composed of former intelligence operatives was set up for this purpose. They would study journalists’ itemised landline and mobile phone bills in order to trace their sources.

The interior ministry said it would not comment on the claims, but a source close to Mr Squarcini offered Le Monde a qualified denial. The source said the DCRI “never received instructions from Nicolas Sarkozy since he became president of the Republic”. The source did not deny that surveillance of journalists took place, however. “The DCRI is not interested in journalists but, if necessary, in their sources,” Le Mondequoted the source saying. The DCRI was charged with anti-terrorism work but also with “defending the interests of the state”, which implied a “duty” to act in the event of high-level leaks from a government department.

“What has been revealed is very serious and we ask that the head of the DCRI, Bernard Squarcini . . . be called for questioning by the legal affairs commission at the National Assembly,” said Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie, the Socialist Party’s justice spokeswoman. “All of this must be clarified. Suspicion is always a very toxic thing in a democracy.”

Cécile Duflot, the leader of the Greens, called for an “independent commission” to inquire into the claims.

Le Canard’sreport came just a week after investigative journalists from three publications revealed their computers had recently been stolen.

Reporters from Le Monde, the magazine Le Pointand the website Mediapart, all of which have been covering the long-running Bettencourt scandal, were the victims of burglaries.

Le Mondeinitiated legal action last month after claiming the Élysée ordered the DCRI to carry out an inquiry into the paper’s coverage of the Bettencourt party funding scandal. It alleged the Élysée wanted to trace the source of an embarrassing story by reporter Gérard Davet and used telephone records to pinpoint an official in the justice ministry.

The official has since been removed from his post and sent to work on a project in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana.

La Canard Enchaînéhas aggressively pursued the Bettencourt scandal and has broken a series of major stories this year. However, Xavier Bertrand, the president of Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party, said this wouldn’t be the first time the paper had got a story wrong.

“Remember that Le Canardsaid the president’s new jet would come with a bathtub,” he said. “That was nonsense.” Interviewed on RTL radio, Mr Angeli stood by his claims. “We wouldn’t have run such a headline if our sources were not solid,” he said.