No friends or en­e­mies in spy­ing game


De­spite the fu­ri­ous protests of France over the latest U.S. spy­ing claims, ex­perts say that in the in­tel­li­gence game there are no friends or en­e­mies — only in­ter­ests — and all means are jus­ti­fied to pur­sue them.

France may have ex­pressed its out­rage at the “un­ac­cept­able” news that the U.S. spied on Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande and his two im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, but much of the shock is feigned, ex­perts say.

“It’s blind­ingly ob­vi­ous,” said Alain Chouet, for­mer in­tel­li­gence chief at France’s DGSE spy agency. “Ev­ery­one knows the NSA (U.S. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency) has de­vel­oped a sys­tem of ac­quir­ing data from the en­tire world since 2003.”

Un­con­firmed re­ports dat­ing back a cou­ple years say the U.S. has built lis­ten­ing posts on the roof of its em­bassy in the heart of Paris, just round the cor­ner from the El­y­see Palace.

“The in­tel­li­gence ser­vices es­ti­mate the sys­tem has been op­er­a­tional for about four years. Since the sys­tem is not in­tru­sive and is on Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory, France can’t say much,” said a se­cu­rity source on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The huge trove of doc­u­ments re­leased by NSA con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den in 2013 has shown the world the ex­tent of U.S. spy­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

‘The tools work’

They were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped to fight ter­ror­ism, but “proved use­ful for all sorts of other things,” said Chouet.

“The tool works, and it works even bet­ter when you tar­get peo­ple who are not care­ful about how they use their tele­phones,” Chouet added, re­fer­ring to Hol­lande’s re­ported habit of us­ing his per­sonal cell­phone for im­por­tant calls.

The se­cu­rity source al­leged that French of­fi­cials were of­ten lazy about cov­er­ing their tracks.

“Us­ing en­crypted phones is a ques­tion of dis­ci­pline. Sure, they are a bit more com­pli­cated to use, but it’s a bit rich to act all shocked when we don’t take nec­es­sary mea­sures to pro­tect our­selves.”

Nor is France any stranger to es­pi­onage it­self.

Re­ports emerged in the early 1990s that France had spied on U.S. tech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing claims aired on NBC news that Air France seats had been bugged as part of the spy oper­a­tions.

Pierre Mar­ion, a for­mer se­cret ser­vice head in the 1980s, ad­mit­ted at the time that France had spied on com­pa­nies in­clud­ing IBM and Texas In­stru­ments.

“When it comes to in­tel­li­gence, there are no friends, no al­lies. There are only in­ter­ests,” said Chouet.

France has noth­ing like the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the NSA and CIA, but ev­i­dence sug­gests it plays the game just like other ma­jor pow­ers, es­pe­cially when it comes to com­mer­cial es­pi­onage.

A 2009 U.S. diplo­matic ca­ble, pub­lished by Wik­iLeaks, re­vealed that a top Ger­man satel­lite com­pany CEO had quit his job in frus­tra­tion at the con­stant theft of se­crets by the French.

“France is the evil em­pire steal­ing tech­nol­ogy and Ger­many knows this,” Berry Smutny told U.S. of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to the leaked ca­ble.

He said French spy­ing “is so bad that the to­tal dam­age done to the Ger­man econ­omy is greater (than) that in­flicted by China or Rus­sia.”

‘When we can, we do’

The only rule in the game, said Chouet, is don’t get caught.

“When we can, we do,” said Chouet. “Our Bri­tish friends don’t hold back. The Ger­mans and the French don’t hold back ei­ther,” he said.

Eric Denece, head of the French Cen­tre for Re­search and In­tel­li­gence, said the mo­tive for France was of­ten to train cryp­tog- ra­phy ex­perts and code-break­ers.

“We have a go lis­ten­ing to the Kore­ans, a go on the Ger­mans, a go on the Brits — to stay in­formed about their codes and train our guys. Then, if there’s ever a prob­lem with a coun­try, we have some data on their tech­niques,” said Denece.

On Wed­nes­day, Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls said the latest spy­ing rev­e­la­tions should “sur­prise no one,” but also claimed it was not the time to be cyn­i­cal and it was le­git­i­mate to be an­gry.

But Denece said it did not re­quire Wik­iLeaks and Snow­den to learn that France was an im­por­tant tar­get for U.S. eaves­drop­pers.

“The Amer­i­cans lis­tened to De Gaulle, and imag­ine the wire­taps they must have put in place when (for­mer pres­i­dent) Fran­cois Mit­ter­rand came to power with four com­mu­nist min­is­ters in his gov­ern­ment,” said Denece.

“These wire­taps on the last three pres­i­dents are mak­ing some noise now, but it’s noth­ing new.”

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