Obama promises that the U.S. won’t spy on France’s president anymore

How many close allies can the NSA anger in one decade?


Tim Sampson


Published Jun 25, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 11:54 am CDT

France, which helped the U.S. win the Revolutionary War, is America’s oldest ally and one of its most trusted partners. But it turns out that this long and historic relationship is nothing compared with the NSA‘s insatiable appetite for eavesdropping on world leaders.

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Documents recently published by Wikileaks reveal that the National Security Agency spied on the last three French presidents—François Hollande, the current president, plus Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac—between at least 2006 and May 2012.

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After the documents were released, President Barack Obama personally called President Hollande to assure him that the U.S. did not and would not spy directly on foreign heads of state.

The cables revealed that, among other things, the U.S. was aware of Sarkozy contemplating the reestablishment of Middle East peace talks without American involvement, and that Hollande was concerned about Greece abandoning the Eurozone during its financial turmoil in 2012.

Officials at the Élysée Palace, the French president’s official residence, were reportedly “angered and embarrassed” by the revelations of U.S. spying. Hollande summoned the U.S. ambassador, Jane Hartley, to the presidential palace on Wednesday to explain America’s actions. Obama called Hollande shortly thereafter.

“President Obama reiterated [the U.S.’s] unequivocal commitment, first made in November 2013 after the [Edward] Snowden affair and restated during his state visit in February 2014, to stop these practices that took place in the past and which were unacceptable between allies,” Hollande’s office said in a written statement.

The White House put out its own statement about the call, saying that Obama “affirmed our unwavering commitment to the bilateral relationship, including our ongoing close cooperation in the intelligence and security fields.”

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The Obama administration said that U.S. intelligence has abided by a 2013 agreement not to target the personal communications of the French president.

The revelations follow previous documents from Wikileaks and Edward Snowden showing that the NSA has spied on many close allies, including German President Angela Merkel, who has been one of the most vocal critics of U.S. intelligence-gathering practices since the Snowden leaks.

Photo via Jiuguang Wang/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 25, 2015, 4:32 pm CDT