White House admits revelations of NSA French surveillance raise "legitimate questions"

Leaked documents showing millions of French communications intercepted prompt Obama to call Francois Hollande

Published October 22, 2013 3:43PM (EDT)

Revelations that the NSA has been intercepting millions of French calls and emails in a blanket surveillance has led to diplomatic headaches for the White House. The Obama administration admitted this week that "legitimate questions for our friends and allies" have been raised by the stories based on whistle-blower Edward Snowden's leaks.

A release from the White House reported Tuesday that President Obama called his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to assure him that the United States is reviewing intelligence-gathering practices following the disclosures. "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 two presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels," noted the White House release.

This admission from the White House is of particular relevance to the debate over whether Edward Snowden acted in the public interest in leaking NSA secret documents. In ceding that at least "some" disclosures raise "legitimate questions," the White House has affirmed claims that Snowden has shed important light, relevant to international diplomacy, on covert and sprawling mass surveillance practices. Based on Snowden's leaks, Le Monde reported that more than 70 million French phone calls had been recorded in one 30-day period alone last year. Le Monde noted that the extent of surveillance -- including of French business people's communications -- constituted an "intrusion, on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens as well as into the secrets of major national firms."

The Guardian reported on the diplomatic tensions that the revelations have birthed:

Earlier on Monday, the French government summoned the U.S. ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivkin. A French official said Rivkin was met by the foreign ministry's chief of staff, who reminded the U.S. "that these types of practices between partners are totally unacceptable, and we must be assured that they are no longer happening". The French demanded that Washington provide a full explanation "and a tangible response to our concerns as soon as possible".

The French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said he was shocked, and demanded the U.S. provide "clear answers, justifying the reasons these practices were used, and above all creating the conditions of transparency so these practices can be put to an end".

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Diplomacy Edward Snowden France Francois Hollande Le Monde Nsa Privacy Surveillance White House