WikiLeaks has taken the lid off a pretty kettle of fish. The revelation that the US National Security Agency had snooped on the French President, Francois Hollande, and his two predecessors – Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac – between 2006 and 2012 has almost inevitably caused a flutter in the country&’s political roost. The six years cover the presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama.
Both Republicans and Democrats are, therefore, equally guilty of violating diplomatic certitudes, when not international law – a distressing trend in the early years of the 21st century. The sensational disclosure last week somehow coincides with the uppermost issue in Europe – the economic crisis in Greece and its possible impact on the European Union. Grexit will be a momentous event… should it happen. The WikiLeaks revelation has not deflected the focus, however. The response of Elysee Palace has been as immediate as it is blunt.
As a victim of bugging, President Hollande has not engaged in diplomatic niceties; the trans-Atlantic message to his counterpart is essentially a demand for guarantees that US spy agencies were no longer bugging his private conversations. The diplomatic implications are profound and the White House does have a lot to answer for. The heads of the French external and internal intelligence services will visit Washington very shortly to discuss the latest WikiLeaks revelations on how the National Security Agency snoops – or once snooped – on one of America&’s closest allies. Without question, the issue is deep-seated unless the White House deems bugging at the level of the Head of State to be a facet of global policing, short of unsolicited meddling. Small wonder that President Hollande has lost no time to take up the matter at the diplomatic level… almost to the point of a bilateral kerfuffle.
The snooping has brought the French political class together; indeed the spontaneous outrage cuts across party lines, notably both the right and left. Mr Hollande has specifically asked Mr Obama to renew guarantees – furnished in 2013 and 2014 – that Washington no longer bugged “its friends”. A not dissimilar demand was advanced to the US ambassador, Jane Hartley, when she was summoned to the French foreign ministry.
President Obama is reported to have reiterated his commitment to end past practices that were considered “unacceptable” by its allies. In point of fact, what he calls “past practices” have now been revived by the NSA, very obviously with a nod from on high. The details of the authorisation ought now to be the point of reference. Not least the statement by President Hollande&’s Socialist Party accusing the USA of “truly stupefying state paranoia”.