“The United States has been conducting economic espionage against France for more than a decade. Not only has it spied on the French Finance Minister, it has ordered the interception of every French company contract or negotiation valued at more than $200 million,” said Julian Assange in a statement.
“Hundreds of such contracts are signed every year. The United States not only uses the results of this spying itself, but swaps these intercepts with the United Kingdom. Do French citizens deserve to know that their country is being taken to the cleaners by the spies of supposedly allied countries? Mais oui!”
According to a 2002 “Information Need” spying order [PDF], the NSA was tasked with collecting economic data from the French government, including details of business contracts, information on the state’s macroeconomic policy, it’s relationships with international lenders, and any dirt on “questionable trade activities.”
A 2012 memo [PDF] is more explicit. It specifies that all economic deals or financing rounds worth more than $200m are to be investigated, with particular emphasis on activity relating to the IT and telecommunications industries, oil and gas production, environmental technologies, healthcare developments, and biotechnology.
This information was not just for the use of the US, the documents note, but would be shared with the other four of the “Five Eyes” nations: the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
The new release will be a massive embarrassment to the US government, since it has long maintained that the only reason the NSA exists is to spy on evildoers online – terrorists, organized crime, drug dealers, and the like. That the agency was specifically tasked to go after the economic interests of an ally will cause red faces all round.
French president Francois Hollande has already had one apologetic phone call from President Obama last week after it emerged that Hollande, his two predecessors in the Élysée Palace, senior ministers, and diplomatic staff had had their phones bugged by the NSA for years.
Those disclosures led to an emergency meeting of the French cabinet and widespread anger among the local populace over the spying. Monday’s disclosures are only going to make matters worse and it’s likely that the drip-feeding of leaked documents may continue in the coming weeks.