WASHINGTON » France joined a growing list of angry allies today who are demanding answers from the United States over aggressive surveillance tactics by the National Security Agency, this time, that it swept up — and in some cases recorded — 70.3 million French telephone calls and emails in one 30 day period.
Keeping tabs on allies is classic spycraft but the sweep and scope of the National Security Agency program has irritated Germany, Britain, Brazil, and most recently Mexico and France.
Calling the practice "totally unacceptable,’" an indignant French government demanded an explanation and summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin for answers.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. already is reviewing its intelligence gathering to strike a "balance between the legitimate security concerns that our citizens have and the privacy concerns that we and our allies have as well about some of these alleged intelligence activities."
"We certainly hope that it doesn’t" damage the United States’ close working relationship with France, she said.
"The ambassador expressed his appreciation of the importance of the exchange, and promised to convey the points made back to Washington," a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Paris said.
Rivkin assured Alexandre Ziegler, chief of staff to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that "our ongoing bilateral consultations on allegations of information gathering by U.S. government agencies would continue," the embassy statement said.
The level of the meetings, between the U.S. ambassador and an aide to Fabius suggested that France wasn’t overly outraged by the revelations. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Paris early today for meetings on Middle East issues and could have been contacted if relations were in danger.
The report in Le Monde, co-written by Glenn Greenwald, who originally revealed the surveillance program based on leaks from former NSA contractor Snowden, found that when certain numbers were used, the conversations were automatically recorded. The surveillance operation also swept up text messages based on key words, Le Monde reported, based on records from Dec. 10 to Jan 7.
The French government, which wants the surveillance to cease, also renewed demands for talks on protection of personal data.
"This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a meeting in Luxembourg with his European counterparts. Fabius said the U.S. ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry.
The most recent documents cited by Le Monde, dated to April 2013, also indicated the NSA’s interest in email addresses linked to Wanadoo — once part of France Telecom — and Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American telecom company. One of the documents instructed analysts to draw not only from the electronic surveillance program, but also from another initiative dubbed Upstream, which allowed surveillance on undersea communications cables.
The U.S "gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. "We’ve 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."
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.