The latest documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have the French government up in arms: the spying agency collected data on seven million calls and texts a day in the land of fine wine and cheese.
That's according to a dossier published by Le Monde on Monday.
The files reveal that the NSA had two spying operations running to capture French phone calls under the code names "DRTBOX" and "WHITEBOX". Between December 10, 2012 to January 8, 2013, French citizens' "telephone data" was logged in 70.3 million records by the agency for analysis: making a call in France is enough to trigger a recording of the conversation, we're told. Uncle Sam's spooks also intercepted text messages and kept logs of who was contacting whom.
The documents show the NSA, at its peak on Christmas Eve 2012, intercepted seven million French calls and texts a day – perhaps checking who had been naughty or nice – but that surveillance dropped to zero between December 28 and 31. That's possibly because the NSA was at the time waiting for Congress to approve its latest spying operations under Section 702 of the Patriot Act. The average interception rate was three million records a day.
France was the third most highly spied-on European state, according to the dossier, after the UK and Germany. The leak states that between February 8 and March 8, 2013, the NSA collected 124.8 billion telephone data items and 97.1 billion computer data items from foreign countries across the world.
The news of the leaks was timed for maximum embarrassment, as US Secretary of State John Kerry has just arrived in France and may have been hoping for an easy ride given the extent to which France and the US are willing to collaborate on Syria.
Instead of a welcome with open arms and cheek kissing, Kerry will be facing tough questions and the US ambassador has been summoned for an official complaint from the French government; its foreign minister Laurent Fabius described the spying as "unacceptable."
"We have extremely useful cooperation with the United States in the struggle against terrorism, but this cooperation does not justify everything," he told reporters, Reuters reports. "So we've asked the United States to provide clarifications, explanations and justifications extremely quickly."
US ambassador Charles Rivkin declined to comment on the content of the meeting, but said the French government's concerns would be relayed to Washington and commented that US-French relations were the best they have been in a generation. ®