WASHINGTON, October 21 (RIA Novosti) – The White House on Monday brushed off French outrage over a report in Le Monde newspaper that said the US National Security Agency (NSA) had intercepted tens of millions of phone calls made by French citizens, saying “all nations” engage in espionage activities and vowing to review the way it spies on others.
The United States “gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said at the White House after France summoned the US ambassador to Paris to explain the allegations in Le Monde – that the United States had “intercepted on a massive scale” telephone communications made by French citizens and companies.
The report in Le Monde, which was culled from the reams of NSA information smuggled out of the United States by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia, said the NSA had a system in place that alerted it to certain French communications and allowed it to scoop up 70.3 million French phone records in a 30-day period.
In its report, Le Monde said one of the documents leaked by Snowden “shows that between Feb. 8 and March 8, the NSA collected 124.8 billion telephone data records and 97.1 billion digital data records from “around the world, including, obviously, in war zones like Afghanistan, as well as Russia and China.”
The report also said that, among the United States’ European allies, France was a top target for US intelligence gathering, along with Germany and Britain.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called “this type of practice between partners, which violates privacy, completely unacceptable.”
State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf addressed the French concerns at Monday’s daily news briefing, “Right now, we’re undertaking a review to determine what the best ways are to gather intelligence and what the balance should be,” Harf said.
“Because it’s all about the balance between legitimate security concerns that our citizens have and the privacy concerns that we and our allies have as well about some of these alleged intelligence activities. We have to determine where that balance lies,” Harf added.
In words very similar to what Harf said, the US Embassy in Paris confirmed in a statement released after Ambassador Charles Rivkin met with senior French foreign ministry official Alexandre Ziegler, that Washington was taking a fresh look at the way it gathers intelligence “so that we can properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
Harf said that the United States would use diplomatic channels and dialogue to make sure that “these alleged intelligence activities” would not hurt US-French relations.
“The Secretary (of State), everywhere, and certainly with the French wants us to have the best and closest working relationship that we can… and certainly doesn’t want to let these kinds of reports in the press hurt our work together on Syria,” Harf said.