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Obama Tries to ‘Make Clear’ to Furious France That U.S. Is Reviewing Spy Practices

Do not disturb Kerry to deal with the latest NSA fallout: He was in Paris, but "focused on Middle East peace stuff."

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

October 21, 2013 - 5:33 pm

WASHINGTON — The White House only slightly scrambled today to mop up the latest diplomatic crisis sparked by the National Security Agency’s surveillance of friendly foreign countries, as revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

Le Monde cited documents handed over by Snowden in its article today claiming that U.S. intelligence intercepted some 70 million phone calls within France from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.

It follows testy exchanges with spied-upon Germany, Brazil and Mexico. Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled plans to visit Washington to meet with President Obama, angry about leaked NSA documents suggesting that she’s been a target of surveillance. White House press secretary Jay Carney tried to downplay the cancellation, saying President Obama “understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship.”

Carney said the new meeting date would be Oct. 23, but then in the next breath said they’d meet “at a date to be mutually agreed.” There is no meeting with Rousseff on Obama’s schedule for Wednesday.

The Brazilian president spent a good part of her UN General Assembly speech blasting the U.S. “In Brazil, the situation was even more serious since we, Brazil, feature as a target of such an intrusion. Citizens’ personal data and information have been indiscriminately targeted and intercepted. Business information, often times of high economic and even strategic value have been the target of spying activity,” Rousseff said last month. “…The problem, however, goes beyond the bilateral relations of two countries. It affects the international community itself and, as such, requires an answer from it.”

Today, Obama was forced to hop on the phone with French President Francois Hollande to attempt to make amends for the latest breach.

“According to the elements obtained by Le Monde, when a telephone number is used in France, it activates a signal which automatically triggers the recording of the call. Apparently this surveillance system also picks up SMS messages and their content using key words. Finally, the NSA apparently stores the history of the connections of each target – or the meta-data,” reads the English-language Le Monde article.

“One of the documents which Le Monde was able to consult notes that between 8 February and 8 March 2013, the NSA collected, throughout the world, 124.8 billion telephone data items and 97.1 billion computer data items. In Europe, only Germany and the United Kingdom exceed France in terms of numbers of interceptions.”

France quickly summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin to answer for the report.

“The American ambassador was received by the Quai d’Orsay’s chief of staff this morning. As the foreign minister indicated, we reminded him that such practices between partners are totally unacceptable and that he must assure us that they are no longer going on. We asked for a prompt and tangible response to our concerns,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandre Giorgini told reporters.

Giorgini added that “as soon as the first revelations emerged, we proposed to our EU partners that our negotiations with the United States include a data-protection track.”

“At our request, a US-EU working group was therefore established in July. It has already met twice,” he said. “The European Council of October 24 and 25, which will largely be devoted to digital challenges, will deal with this issue at the highest level, among heads of state and government. The digital economy cannot function properly without an effective guarantee of personal data.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Paris today, but was focused on Middle East peace goals and didn’t break away to address the crisis with our Revolutionary War ally.

“Look, France is one of our oldest allies in the world, and I have a very close working relationship with [Foreign Minister] Laurent Fabius since the day I started this job on many issues, ranging from Syria to protecting the security of our citizens. And protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task, and it is an everyday, 24/7, 365 task, unfortunately, because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people. We see much more suicide bombs taking place in various parts of the world right now,” Kerry said at a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Atiyah before their meeting.

“So Ambassador Rivkin met today with Alexandre Ziegler, the cabinet director to Foreign Minister Fabius, at the request of the Government of France. And our ongoing – we will have ongoing bilateral consultations, including with our French partners, that address this question of any reports by the United States Government gathering information from some of the agencies, and those consultations are going to continue,” Kerry continued.

“Now, I’m not going to comment on the specifics. As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss intelligence matters,” said Kerry. “And lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens and the world. As the president – as President Obama said very clearly in a recent speech that he gave at the United Nations General Assembly just a few weeks ago, he said we in the United States are currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence. And I think that’s appropriate. And our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens. And this work is going to continue, as well as our very consultations with our friends here in France.”

At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Kerry was “focused on Middle East peace stuff.”

“I’m not speaking to any specific allegations or reports that are out there in the press about intelligence activities. Broadly speaking, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between security and privacy. The President has spoken to that, most recently at UNGA, and that’s the conversation we’re certainly having internally in the government, and are happy to have with our allies and partners around the world,” Harf said. “But I’m not speaking to the specific allegations in that report.”

When pressed on whether France had the right to be upset, she said, “I’m not going to talk about what other countries have the right to feel or not feel.”

“We’ve actually taken steps to be more transparent, both to our people but to other countries around the world. So I think that people do look at that as a positive step in the right direction,” Harf continued. “…I think people appreciate when the president or the secretary or other folks come out and say: I know there have been a lot of allegations out there. Here’s what we can say we’re doing, here’s how we’re looking at it. And when we have a path forward, we’ll let you know that as well.”

Harf didn’t know if Kerry had even reached out to the French side as he was wrapping up in his Arab Peace Initiative meetings.

“If issues of any kind arise, he, as you all know, is either happy to talk about them in person or over the phone with his counterparts, and certainly doesn’t want to let these kind of reports out there in the press hurt our efforts to work together on Syria, other issues that we work together with the French on, certainly,” she said. “He just happens to be there today, so I’m sure he’ll be having those discussions with them as well.”

The French Foreign Ministry confirmed “this topic will also be raised” when Fabius has Kerry’s ear on Tuesday.

“I am deeply shocked,” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters in Copenhagen. “…It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this points goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense.”

The relationship with France, though, has taken on greater strategic importance in the past few years as the republic led the air campaign to help oust Moammar Gadhafi, pushed al-Qaeda back in  the Mali campaign and seemed poised to strike Bashar al-Assad in Syria first as the White House wavered.

“Obviously we have an enormously important and valuable relationship between the United States and France, one of our closest allies and certainly our longest ally,” Carney said today at the White House. “…I would remind you that the National Security Agency is a foreign intelligence agency.  It is focused on discovering and developing information about valid foreign intelligence targets. Its activities are directed against these valid foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from U.S. leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

In his call with Hollande, the White House said Obama and the French leader “discussed recent disclosures in the press – some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed.”

“The President made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” the readout of the call said. “The two Presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels moving forward.”

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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my friend's step-mother makes $76 every hour on the internet. She has been unemployed for 10 months but last month her income was $17168 just working on the internet for a few hours. original site----www.Rush64.ℂom
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
You want to bet Obama (and JohnFn Kerry) tried to 'make sure' he blamed Bush?

"He started it (NSA)! I just inherited this mess......"
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
The bigger issue here is the miles and miles of laws that all nations find themselves mired in. Indiscriminate spying means there's always a law being broken by your target. So agencies can eliminate anyone they want to by "parallel discovery". Acting without accountability has never worked out well.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
John, talk frogie to them! The French LOVE it when you do.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is hilarious. When we get our yearly security briefing at work, they tell us who's currently spying on us. At the top of the list are always China, Russia, Iran, and France. France is an ally, but they make no bones about using their espionage apparatus to help their industrial sector.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
US/NSA under Obama adm. also spied the French in their diplomatic embassies in Washington,D.C. and NYC/UN. Secretary of State Kerry is busy trying to explain to Saudi Arabia why US/Obama adm.'s re-entente with Iran, ousting of Egypt's Mubarak, canceling last minute the Syria bombing for crossing Obama's red lines. Secretary Kerry had lunch with Saudi Arabia's Faisal in his residence in Paris. Pres.Obama himself cut the limb off the agreed upon assault in Syria's chemical /military target sites. France was ready- Saudi Arabia was ready but Obama adm. took the US Navy away from protecting Saudi Arabia's oil sites. Amidst all the brutal slayings, gassing of citizens,yielding all NASA stuff to Russia- after betraying US's closest allies in Europe and Mideast -asking Turkey to be the middleman in exposing spies to Iran, let alone NATO defenses- the fundamental question for US Congress- where on earth is your oversight? Quo vadis America?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
, here’s how we’re looking at it. And when we have a path forward, we’ll let you know that as well.”

A fine answer to a question that is not being asked. Just like Benghazi "we're going to find out what happened so it doesn't happen again." No explanation for what they actually did.

That is not the appropriate answer.

It seems that Obama is clueless about what his administration is doing.

How about this.

If you don't know what your administration is doing why not?

Just tell us what the Hell you and your administration are doing and have been doing and WHY.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment

Public outrage notwithstanding, most of these foreign worthies probably knew in advance that NSA was screening their domestic phone calls and why, and they may be better off for it if it helps them detect terrorists in their midst. They just can't publicly condone a foreign government listening to their citizens' phone calls.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
So Kerry is so involved with "Middle Easter Peace," which is a euphemism for the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process, that he cannot address any of the other international problems that would normally be the purview of the Secretary of State?

I guess that mean that Obama has discovered that Kerry cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jeez, I expect every nation worth its salt is spying on every other nation and others' citizens to the extent practical. Why does Britain have MI-6
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pretty much, and most other countries have no qualms about using their espionage capabilities to help their commercial and industrial sectors.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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