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NSA 'spied on' French allies

September 1, 2013

A German magazine has said that the NSA spied on the electronic communications of the French foreign ministry. This comes as France looks to be the most likely ally to join the US in a military strike against Syria.

French foreign ministry, Paris Christophe Morin / IP3
Image: picture-alliance/maxppp/IP3 Press

A report published on the website of the German news magazine the Spiegel says the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) tapped into computers used by French diplomats to communicate with each other and the foreign ministry in Paris (pictured above) through virtual private networks (VPN).

VPN internet connections are generally considered to offer a high level of security.

The magazine report cites an NSA document dated June 2010, which said the agency had managed to place bugs in French diplomatic missions in both New York and Washington. It described this as a "success story" and said it had achieved "sensitive access" in a number of cases.

It also said the NSA was particularly "interested in foreign policy objectives, especially the weapons trade, and economic stability" of France.

It wasn't clear whether the source of the information was former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden, who is being sought by American authorities for releasing troves of secret documents from the intelligence agency. Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Spiegel also said the Qatari-funded broadcaster Al-Jazeera had been another NSA target.

Al-Jazeera's internal communications system was hacked due to its "high potential as sources of intelligence," according to a March 2006 NSA document cited by Spiegel.

Fresh tensions?

Previous reports of the NSA's alleged surveillance activities have created tensions between the US and its European allies.

"We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies," French President Francois Hollande said back in July in response to a report that suggested the NSA was spying on European Union governments. He also went as far as to threaten to suspend negotiations between the EU and Washington towards a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.

Earlier this week, the Paris prosecutors' office announced that it had launched a preliminary investigation into the NSA's Prism surveillance program, following a complaint by French rights groups in July.

The rights groups filed the complaint against "persons unknown," but listed US-based corporations Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple as "potential accomplices" of the NSA.

Ironically, the Spiegel report comes at a time when France appears to be the most likely European ally to join the United States in any punitive action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over last month's alleged chemical weapons attack.

President Hollande has said he backs US President Barack Obama's decision to launch military action. The National Assembly is to debate what to do about Syria on Wednesday, but France's constitution only requires the president to seek parliamentary approval for launching military action if it lasts longer than four months.

There was no immediate reaction from the French government to the latest Spiegel report.

pfd/ipj (AFP, dpa, AP, dpa)