A dangerous game being played on espionage fronts

If few are surprised that Washington is spying on Paris, many will be shocked by the scale of US surveillance of the French government

 

The revelation by Wikileaks that the United States spied on French president François Hollande and his two immediate predecessors has been met with a by now familiar set of reactions. The French, expressing outrage and disbelief at an “unacceptable” threat to their national security, summoned the American ambassador for a dressing down.

The Americans were careful not to deny the spying allegations which relate to the years up to 2012, sticking to the present and future tenses in their reassurances that they are not currently spying on Mr Hollande and will not do so in the future. Meanwhile, assorted American and British security “experts” took to the media to dismiss the French reaction as rank hypocrisy. Everyone knows, they purred, that everyone spies on everyone else. It’s all part of the game.

If few are surprised that Washington is spying on Paris, many will be shocked by the scale of US surveillance of the French government. The leaked documents show that it was not just successive presidents who were targeted, but ministers, officials and diplomats at every level. Numerous phone lines within the Elysée Palace were monitored, including the president’s personal mobile phone. The documents detail conversations between French officials on issues including the global financial crisis, the future of the EU, and France’s relationship with Germany.

The French authorities may be reluctant to take their outrage over the spying revelations too far, not least because of the recent experience of their neighbours across the Rhine. After Edward Snowden revealed that the Americans were listening in to Angela Merkel’s phone, Germany set up a parliamentary inquiry into the actions of the US spies. It found widespread collusion between the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Germany’s intelligence agency the BND. Merkel has now put the spying row behind her but the German public is less forgiving. A new poll shows that Germans’ view of the US has worsened dramatically since the spying revelations. The French could soon follow suit.