France Demands Answers, Explanations over NSA Activity

Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Paris in an effort to calm French concerns over US intelligence gathering.

Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Paris in an effort to assuage French concerns over US intelligence gathering. Photo: U.S Department of State for flickr.

Following an article from Le Monde detailing the NSA’s invasive intelligence activity on French citizens on Monday, October 21, the United States has faced a firestorm of criticism from France. According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, the United States recorded data from 70 million phones in France over 30 days, including both phone calls and SMS texts.

On the heels of an embarrassing shutdown that incapacitated the US government for two weeks, the reemergence of the Snowden scandal arrives as more bad news for the Obama administration and a beleaguered Congress.

American Ambassador to France Charles H. Rivkin was called into a meeting with the French Foreign Ministry to answer for the Le Monde article. According to a ministry spokesman, French officials told Rivkin, “These kinds of practices between partners are totally unacceptable, and we must be assured that they are no longer being implemented.”

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault weighed in with his displeasure, declaring he was “shocked.” Ayrault demanded that President Obama provide “clear answers, justifying the reasons these practices were used and above all creating conditions of transparency so these practices can be put to an end.”

President François Hollande also condemned the espionage, stating France “could not accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies.” As one of the United States’ “oldest allies,” according to Secretary of State John Kerry, French outrage to this revelation is not surprising, though why France is so late to express it is something to consider.

When asked how France would respond, Ayrault deferred the decision to Hollande, but added, “clearly there must be measures and they will be taken.” Though Hollande has repeatedly expressed his objections to the NSA’s policies and actions since Snowden leaked the Agency’s documents last summer, he has not yet outlined an active response.

Hollande and President Barack Obama spoke on the phone Monday, October 21 to discuss the United States’ activity, and Obama reassured his French counterpart that he was working to manage the fears “all people share” with the “legitimate security concerns” of American citizens. The White House released a statement making clear that discussions would continue, stating, “The two presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels.”

Secretary Kerry, with a visit already scheduled to discuss plans for peace in Syria as well as Iran’s nuclear program, attempted to smooth over the situation at a news conference in Paris, assuring French officials, “the U.S. [is] currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence. And I think that is appropriate.”

Despite such diplomatic overtures, the situation remains tense between the two nations. While the NSA’s activities in Europe have been common knowledge for months, why France has chosen to express their outrage now, and what Hollande’s political motivations are for waiting, are both questions awaiting answers.

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