The NSA did not record 70 million French telephone calls, but it does carry out espionage in France, Intelligence Director James Clapper has said. Responding to media reports on NSA activities in France, he dismissed them as “false and misleading.”
The head of the National Security Agency (NSA) stopped short of
denying the US carried out espionage in France, but claimed the
contents of a report by Le Monde were “false.”
The French newspaper released an article on Monday describing the espionage activities of the NSA on the French people. Citing classified data leaked to the paper by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, Le Monde wrote the US recorded 70.3 million phone calls between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013.
"Recent articles published in the French newspaper Le Monde contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding US foreign intelligence activities," Clapper said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Specifically addressing the claims that the NSA had tapped French citizens’ phone calls, Clapper stated, “The allegation that the NSA collected more than 70 million 'recordings of French citizens' telephone data' is false.”
However, the intelligence chief did consent that “the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
Le Monde claimed it has reason to believe that the US was not only gathering data on citizens suspected to be involved in terrorist activities, but also high-profile politicians and businessmen.
The allegations of espionage provoked a volley of furious rhetoric from the French government who characterized the NSA’s activities as “unacceptable and shocking.” Furthermore, the French Foreign Minister summoned US Ambassador Charles Rivkin to personally account for the spy scandal.
Since the reports emerged, Washington has sought to placate the French government’s anger and downplay the NSA’s activities. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in France on Monday morning and was greeted by a political firestorm.
In a public address, responding to the spy scandal, Kerry stated that France was “one of the US’ oldest allies.” Reiterating the argument put forward by Washington that espionage can be justified in the interests of protecting national security, Kerry set Washington strikes a balance between privacy and defending against terrorism.
“Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens,” he said.
The US has faced massive criticism for its spy activities in Europe. On Tuesday Italy became the latest country revealed to be on the intelligence organization’s European watch list. Italy’s Corriere della Sera published an article saying that Italy’s spy watchdog COPASIR had recently learned of large-scale monitoring of Italians, including politicians.