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France and Mexico demand answers over US spying

Last updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 12:19 AM
US Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin, right, leaves the Foreign Ministry in Paris, after he was summoned Monday. — AP



PARIS — France and Mexico have angrily demanded prompt explanations from the United States over new spying allegations leaked by former US security contractor Edward Snowden.

French daily Le Monde and German weekly Der Spiegel said in separate reports published Monday that the US National Security Agency (NSA) secretly monitored tens of millions of phone communications in France and hacked into former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s email account.

The allegations come on top of revelations already leaked by Snowden and published in June that the US had a vast, secret program called PRISM to monitor Internet users, which French prosecutors are already investigating.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “deeply shocked” by the revelations and demanded an explanation from US authorities.

“It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this point goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense,” he told journalists on a trip to Copenhagen.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on a visit to Luxembourg for a meeting with his EU counterparts, said US Ambassador Charles Rivkin had been summoned to his ministry for a meeting Monday morning.

“These kinds of practices between partners that harm privacy are totally unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that France needed assurances that the United States was no longer monitoring its communications.

His comments were relayed to the US ambassador during the meeting, a ministry spokesman said – the second time in less than four months that America’s top representative in France has been hauled in over revelations about US snooping.

The latest leak is also expected to prove embarrassing for US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was due in Paris on Monday for talks with Arab officials.

Fabius will raise the issue with him in talks planned for Tuesday morning, the spokesman said.

According to the Le Monde report, which cited documents from Snowden, the NSA monitored 70.3 million telephone exchanges in France over a 30-day period between December 10 and January 8 this year.

According to the paper, the spy agency automatically picked up communications from certain phone numbers in France and recorded certain text messages under a program code-named “US-985D”.

Le Monde said the documents gave grounds to believe that the NSA targeted not only people suspected of being involved in terrorism but also high-profile individuals in business and politics.

In a statement, the US embassy in Paris refused to comment on “alleged intelligence activities” but said Rivkin had promised to convey France’s concerns back to Washington.

“We have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we can properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” it said, reiterating comments made by US President Barack Obama.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Paris was entitled to feel outraged. “I understand the outrage and the anger in France at spying actions wholeheartedly – that is not how it should work between partners, between friends.”

“It is important that everything will be clarified,” he told reporters in Luxembourg. “That concerns France, that concerns other countries and especially Germany.”

Der Spiegel also revealed Monday that US agents had hacked into the Mexican presidency’s network, gaining access to Calderon’s account.

According to the report, the NSA said this contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.”

The agency reportedly said the president’s office was now “a lucrative source.”

Mexican authorities said they would be seeking answers from US officials “as soon as possible.”

“This practice is unacceptable, illegitimate and contrary to Mexican law and international law,” the foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday.

This is not the first time that France and Mexico have been hit by NSA spying allegations since information leaked by Snowden first emerged in June.

Mexico’s current President Enrique Pena Nieto has already complained to Obama over reports US spies have gone through his emails.

And Der Spiegel reported last month that in 2010 the NSA monitored the internal computer network of France’s diplomats and that of the foreign ministry.

But France itself has also been accused of spying. Le Monde reported over the summer that intelligence services intercepted all communications in the country, stocking telephone and computer data for years – accusations denied by the government.

Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, is wanted in the United States for espionage and other charges after the leaks.

The fugitive went into hiding in Hong Kong in May and flew to Moscow on June 23, where he stayed in the airport transit area for more than a month before being given temporary asylum. — AFP

 
   
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