French presidents spied upon by US government

This is just the latest in a string of embarrassing spy situations attributed to the Obama administration, and may signal a cooling off of relations to the once close allies.

This quote was culled from an article I wrote about a year ago which alluded to Germany’s reaction to US government agency (CIA) spying on German officials back then. But a year on, it could have been written regarding the most recent disclosure, in which American agents have reportedly spied on successive French presidents over the last 10 years.

In the German incident a year ago, leaders there opted to oust the CIA’s Berlin station chief. It will be interesting to gauge the French reaction to the revelations, and the result of President Francois Hollande’s hastily called emergency meeting of his country’s defense counsel.

The disclosures arrive compliments of WikiLeaks, and include the release of NSA documents marked “top-secret” and titled “Espionnage Elysée” (Elysée Spy), according to reports published in the French newspaper, Libération. It seems the US was listening to the conversations of former president Jacques Chirac, beginning in 2006, and continued through the administration of Nicholas Sarkozy, and even to the incumbent president Hollande from the moment he was elected.

French cabinet ministers were also captured on tape, as was the French Ambassador to the US. The information gleaned comprised not only innocuous items such as cell phone numbers dialed but, more importantly, monitored the direct cellphone calls of president Hollande.

The report, which comes out on the heels of France granting greater surveillance powers to its domestic intelligence services to combat jihadist networks, is indicative of the fine line spy agencies must walk when given such broad, increased powers, and of the dangers society engenders when acceding to their voracious information appetites

Moreover, it is evidence that all agencies have the capacity to overreach in their quest for terrorists and criminals. As the WikiLeaks report notes,

Spying abroad is the ultimate ‘grey zone’ in surveillance; it is also, in France, the real blind spot of the (latest) planned law on surveillance, expected to be adopted (this week).

That apparently the recorded conversations did not unearth any state secrets is of little consequence, as it highlights the fact that America will go to great lengths to keep tabs on its allies. The latest episode in US spying run amok is a thorn in the side of President Obama, just as he is trying to shore-up EU support for keeping pressure on the Kremlin over the Ukraine crisis and is a nagging reminder of transparency promises unfulfilled by his White House administration.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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