The US National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping the French phone system “on a massive scale”, according to the latest revelations uncovered by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The latest documents suggest that the NSA collected 70.3 million records of French phone calls and text messages in one month alone – from 10 December 2012 to 8 January 2013 under a programme called “US-985D”.
Text messages were reputedly automatically intercepted based on certain key words and the NSA also collected the meta data associated with the communications, such as the numbers belonging to the correspondents.
It is not clear how targeted the NSA’s interception efforts were. “But they give sufficient explanation to lead us to think that the NSA targets concerned both people suspected of association with terrorist activities as well as people targeted simply because they belong to the worlds of business, politics or French state administration,” claims French newspaper Le Monde.
Full details about how the programmes operated are also sketchy. “The techniques used for these interceptions appear under the codenames ‘DRTBOX’ and ‘WHITEBOX’.
Their characteristics are not known either. But we do know that, thanks to DRTBOX, 62.5 million data were collected in France and that WHITEBOX enables the recording of 7.8 million elements,” says Le Monde.
The French government has demanded an explanation from the US government.
It also emerged over the weekend that the NSA hacked into the email of Mexican president Felipe Calderon.
From May 2010, it gained access to the “Mexican Presidencia” domain on the Mexican president’s network, enabling it to monitor Calderon’s email as part of an NSA operation called “Flatliquid”.
This programme, according to the leaked documents, was set up to provide information about political leaders direct to US cabinet members.
After the revelations of NSA spying first emerged in June, Le Monde the following month reported on the French government’s own domestic electronic surveillance programme, which was every bit as widespread as the NSA’s in the US.
And just last month, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the NSA conducted surveillance on the French Foreign Ministry’s computer networks in order to find out more about the country’s foreign policy objectives and arms trade agreements.