As American power declines, we take a perverse pride in sneering at friends and allies. This attitude differs from the one we adopted in the 1950s, when everyone in this country understood that urinating on a Cold War partner might not be the best long-term strategy.
The French have good reason to be angry with us. The following is my translation of an important story published two days ago in Le Monde
. The authors are Jacques Follorou and Glenn Greenwald.
* * *
How the NSA spies on France
One day we may know why Paris, as opposed to Rio or Berlin, remained so quiet after the revelations about the U.S. electronic spying programs. For France also came under scrutiny and now has tangible proof that its interests are targeted.
According to National Security Agency (NSA) documents obtained by Le Monde
, telephone communications by French citizens are, in fact, intercepted a massive way. These documents, unveiled in June by former Agency consultant Edward Snowden, describe the techniques used to capture illegally the secret -- or simply the private -- lives of the French people. Some elements have been discussed by the German weekly Der Spiegel
and the British newspaper The Guardian
. Others are previously unreleased.
Among the thousands of documents removed from the NSA by the former employee is a graph that describes the extent of telephone surveillance carried out in France. It was found that over a period of thirty days, from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013, the NSA made 70.3 million recordings of French telephonic data.
The three parties
The agency has several collection methods. When certain telephone numbers are used in France, they activate a signal that automatically triggers the recording of particular conversations. This surveillance also captures text messages based on keywords. Finally, the NSA systematically keeps a history of each target's connections.
This espionage project is called the "US-985D" program. The exact explanation for this name has not been provided by the Snowden documents or by former members of the NSA. By way of comparison, the NSA cryptonyms for the same type of interception against Germany are "US-987LA" and "US-987LB." This series of numbers corresponds to what the United States calls the "third party" circuit, which would include France, Germany, Austria, Poland and even Belgium. The "second party" concerns Anglo-Saxon countries historically close to Washington -- the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, known as the "Five Eyes." The "first party" consists of the sixteen U.S. secret agencies.
The techniques used for these interceptions are conde-named "DRTBOX" and "WHITEBOX." Their characteristics are not known. But we know that, thanks to the first program, 62.5 million pieces of telephone data were collected in France between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013, while the second allowed the recording of 7.8 million items during the same period. The documents provide sufficient reason for thinking that the NSA focuses not just on people with suspected links to terrorist activities, but also on individuals who were targeted simply because they belong to the world of business, politics or the administration of France.
The NSA graph shows intercepts averaging 3 million data per day, with peaks of almost 7 million, between 24 December 2012 and 7 January 2013. But from 28 to 31 December, no interceptions seems to have been made. This apparent cessation of activity may be explained, in this instance, by the delay required for U.S. Congressional renewal (at the end of December 2012) of section 702 of the law governing wiretapping abroad. Similarly, nothing appears on 3, 5 and 6 January 2013. At this time, no one has advanced a plausible reason. Many questions remain, starting with the precise identity of the targets and the justification for such a massive collection of data on sovereign territory of a foreign ally.
When questioned, U.S. authorities did not wish to comment on documents which they consider "classified." However, they made reference to the June 8 statement of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence: "For those targeted outside our borders, we can not target them without legal grounds, such as the terrorist threat, cybersecurity or nuclear proliferation."
France is not the country in which the NSA intercepts the most digital or telephonic communications. The "Boundless Informant" program, revealed to the Guardian last June by Edward Snowden, allows a real-time overview of information collected around the world through the NSA's different eavesdropping systems. "Boundless Informant" collects not only telephone data (DNR), but also data from the digital world (DNI).
One of these documents, seen by Le Monde
, notes that between February 8 and March 8, NSA collected 124.8 billion DNR data pieces and 97.1 billion DNI data pieces throughout the world -- including, of course, war zones such as Afghanistan, as well as Russia and China. In Europe, only Germany and the United Kingdom exceed France in terms of the number of interceptions. But for the British, this was done with the consent of their government...