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Front: Obama tries to calm French fury over mass surveillance
[October 22, 2013]

Front: Obama tries to calm French fury over mass surveillance

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Barack Obama phoned the French president Francois Hollande last night in an attempt to limit the damage from mounting anger in Paris over claims that the National Security Agency engaged in widespread phone and internet surveillance of French citizens.

The French government had earlier summoned the US ambassador in Paris , to demand an urgent explanation after the French daily Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggesting that the US agency had been intercepting French phone traffic on what it termed "a massive scale". Le Monde said more than 70m French phone calls had been recorded in one 30-day period late last year. Techniques included the automatic recording of conversations from certain numbers, and sweeping up text messages based on keywords. The paper warned that the interceptions were likely to have targeted not just those with suspected terrorist links but also people in business, politics and the French administration.

However, the White House conceded that revelations about how its intelligence agencies intercepted enormous amounts of French phone traffic raised "legitimate questions for our friends and allies".

In a statement released after the phone call between Obama and Hollande, the White House said: "The president and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press - some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed.

"The president made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share. The two presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels moving forward." The statement echoed a response the White House issued to Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff last month after details from Snowden showed the US had monitored Brazilian communications, spied on Rousseff and her aides, and on Brazil's biggest oil company, Petrobras.

The French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said he was shocked and demanded the US provide "clear answers, justifying the reasons these practices were used and above all creating the conditions of transparency so these practices can be put to an end".

Asked if France should be directly voicing its concerns to Obama, Ayrault said it was up to Hollande to take any action, but "clearly there must be measures and they will be taken".

The White House responded by saying that the US "gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations".

The claims were published as John Kerry, US secretary of state, arrived in Paris for the start of a European tour to discuss Syria and the Middle East, and keen to stress close military and intelligence ties with Paris, which Kerry recently called the "oldest ally" of the US.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, is due to meet Kerry this morning to discuss Syria, but a French official said the NSA question would also be raised. Fabius warned: "This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens." Fabius added: "We co-operate in a useful way in the fight against terrorism, but that does not justify everything." The US ambassador, Charles Rivkin, was summoned to the French foreign ministry hours after Le Monde's investigation was published yesterday morning. A French official said Rivkin was met by the ministry's head of staff, who reminded the US "that these types of practices between partners are totally unacceptable and we must be assured that they are no longer happening". The French demanded a full explanation "and tangible response to our concerns as soon as possible".

Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson at the state department, said the US was keen to ensure that press reports of "alleged intelligence activities" would not damage relations with France and other countries.

The reports in Le Monde, which were co-written by the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald - who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA's actions - claimed that between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France.

According to the newspaper, the documents show that the NSA was allegedly targeting not only terrorist suspects but also politicians, businesspeople and members of the administration under a program codenamed US-985D. The paper said "French interests" were "targeted on a daily basis".

Le Monde highlighted what it called "techniques used to violate the secrets or simply the private life of French people". The paper said: "The agency has several collection methods. When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovered SMS and content based on keywords." Such methods, it added, allowed the NSA to keep a systematic record of the history of each target's connections. Le Monde said the unpublished Snowden documents it had seen showed "intrusion, on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens as well as into the secrets of major national firms".

The most recent documents cited by Le Monde, dated April 2013, indicated the NSA's interest in email addresses linked to Wanadoo, once part of France Telecom. About 4.5 million people still use email addresses in France. Also targeted was Alcatel-Lucent, a French-American telecoms company that employs more than 70,000 people and works in the sensitive sector of equipping communication networks.

One of the documents instructed analysts to draw not only from the electronic surveillance programme but also from an initiative dubbed Upstream, which allowed surveillance on undersea communications cables.

Captions: 70m The number of French phone calls that were recorded in a 30-day period last year, according to Le Monde (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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