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July 05, 2013

Low-key Reaction to French Surveillance Allegations

by Lisa Bryant

With European anger still simmering over the U.S. Prism program on the eve of trade talks between Washington and the European Union, a report claiming that France is carrying out similar electronic surveillance has drawn a surprisingly low key reaction at home.  

France's Le Monde newspaper claims the French external intelligence agency, or DGSE, runs a vast electronic surveillance operation, gathering material from emails, phone calls, social media and other communications, not only in France but between this country and others.

In a video clip posted by the newspaper, Le Monde reporter Jacques Follorou said that according to one French intelligence chief, the activity was outside any clear authority or control.

The report follows European outrage over leaked documents about U.S. data collection program Prism.  On Thursday, the European Parliament called for scrapping two data agreements with the United States unless Washington disclosed the scope of its electronic spying operations in Europe.

But European lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have delayed the start of European Union-U.S. trade talks which are due to start on Monday.  

France has been among the most vocal critics of the Prism operation. On Monday, French President Francois Hollande said that if true, the operation was unacceptable among allies, and must stop immediately.
 
But the reaction to Le Monde's allegations of France's own surveillance operation has been low key. The French press has reported on it, but government officials have declined to comment on its veracity. The French prime minister's office has not yet responded to VOA's request for comment. France-Info radio reports the prime ministers' office calls Le Monde's report "inexact" - but only to the extent that the surveillance operation falls within the framework of a 1991 law. It does not appear to deny the bulk of Le Monde's allegations about the activities.

French Institute of International Relations analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges says the alleged French surveillance comes as no surprise. He also dismisses European outrage over Prism, describing it as a diversionary tactic.

"'The United States is always a very good scapegoat. France is in a very difficult situation," Defarges said. "The European Union is going through a deep crisis…not to speak about the crisis, not to speak about unemployment (on the part of EU politicians) is good. And this spying scandal is a beautiful opportunity for many European governments, and especially the French government, to speak about something else."
 
On Thursday, France has announced it rejected an asylum request from Edward Snowden, the American fugitive who leaked the documents about U.S. intelligence operations.