WikiLeaks published documents from the National Security Agency showing details of economic espionage against France by the “Five Eyes’ alliance, which consists of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
One document is an “information need” spying order that was first created in 2002. It shows that the alliance sought information on economic relations with the United States, French business practices, relations with least developed countries and transitional states, foreign contracts, French trade, French views, views on G8/G20 developments/issues, budgetary constraints/contributions to NATO, and “questionable trade activities.”
The information gathered was supposed to support the CIA, Commerce Department, Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, State Department, US Trade Representative and Homeland Security Department. Any information collected was designated “releasable” to any of the “Five Eyes” countries.
Another document from 2012 shows particular interest in uncovering information on any “French contract proposals” or “negotiations for international sales or investments in major projects or systems of significant interest to the foreign host country,” especially those involving more than $200 million in sales and/or services.
Of particular interest was information on telecommunications networks or technology, electric power, natural gas or oil facilities and infrastructure, including nuclear power and renewable energy, transportation infrastructure, environmental technology, and health care infrastructure, services, and technology.
In one intercepted communication from about 2008, European Union Trade Section head Hiddo Houben and French Minister-Counselor for Economic and Financial Affairs Jean-Francois Boittin criticized US trade policy toward the World Trade Organization (WTO). Boittin was astonished at the “level of ‘narcissism’ and wasteful contemplation currently on display in Washington.”
Houben was especially critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative and how the US seemed to want to negotiate with every nation bordering China, “asking for commitments that exceed those countries’ administrative capacities so as to ‘confront’ Beijing.” If this took 10 years, Houben maintained China would grow disinterested in the process because the world would have changed so much. The US would have to return to the WTO, and it would prove that Washington had “no real negotiating agenda” for nations like China or Brazil.
In another summary of an intercepted communication that is believed to be from 2008, it is clear there was spying against French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte. The diplomat considered confronting the US over corruption related to the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq after a report from the Iraq Survey Group.
“The ambassador termed the report scandalous, since it named no US companies and he claimed that many French companies with contracts under the OFF program were actually subsidiaries of US firms that also profited from the business dealings. He therefore planned, with foreign ministry backing, to present a list of these US companies to both the US Congress and the media,” according to the summary.
On July 31, 2012, a communication from Finance, Economy and Trade Minister Pierre Moscovici was intercepted. Moscovici indicated, “The French economic situation is worse than anyone can imagine and drastic measures will have to be taken in the next 2 years.”
The documents are the latest documents from WikiLeaks that have been released as part of a project, “Espionnage Élysée.”
“The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared. “Not only has it spied on the French Finance Minister, it has ordered the interception of every French company contract or negotiation valued at more than $200 million.”
“That covers not only all of France’s major companies, from BNP Paribas, AXA and Credit Agricole to Peugeot and Renault, Total and Orange, but it also affects the major French farming associations. Two hundred million dollars is roughly 3,000 French jobs. Hundreds of such contracts are signed every year. The United States not only uses the results of this spying itself but swaps these intercepts with the United Kingdom.”
Last week, WikiLeaks revealed the United States had targeted the communications of the three most recent presidents of France: Jacques Chirac, who was president from 1995 to 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was 2007-2012, and Francois Hollande, who has been president since 2012.
French cabinet ministers and diplomats in those successive governments were revealed to have been targeted as well. Much of the surveillance against officials appeared to be geared toward economic espionage.
Backlash was immediate, with France summoning the US ambassador to France Jane Hartley to respond to the revelations. Hollande described the spying as “unacceptable” and held two emergency meetings with top security officials and lawmakers (many who had just voted for legislation that gives the French government new spying powers). Hollande sent France’s “top intelligence coordinator” to ensure that the US government is keeping a promise made on surveillance after documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were published in 2013 and 2014.
In October 2013, it was revealed that the NSA had conducted extensive spying operations against French citizens, scooping up “70 million digital communications inside France in a single month from December 10, 2012, to January 8, 2013.” That, too, was deemed to be “unacceptable.”
The “Five Eyes” alliance goes all the way back to 1955, and has received quite a bit of attention as a result of Snowden’s disclosures. For example, it is now known that the “Five Eyes” alliance designed “spyware for iPhones and Android smartphones, enabling them to infect targeted phones and grab emails, texts, web history, call records, videos, photos, and other files stored on them.”
Snowden also revealed the TEMPORA program, which showed taps are being placed at key undersea fiber-optic cable landing stations to intercept huge amounts of data. Content is stored for three days and metadata for 30 days. The “Five Eyes” countries collaborate on the collection of this data.
French officials have been aware that they were targets of US surveillance since the 1990s. They have not been able to do much to stop the spying. In fact, one of the intercepted communications is a summary of a conversation about how Sarkozy was frustrated he could not get the US to agree to stop spying on France.
The new revelations of US spying against France have led French officials to openly remark about the possibility of France granting asylum to both Assange and Snowden. However, such a decision would have to be made by Hollande or Prime Minister Manuel Valls. If either supported asylum, the US would likely resort to strong arm tactics to convince the country’s leaders to change their minds.