Washington (AFP) – The White House on Monday brushed off France’s complaints about new allegations of eavesdropping by a top U.S. espionage agency, saying “all nations” conduct spying operations.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault earlier said he was “deeply shocked” by reports that the U.S.National Security Agency (NSA) had secretly monitored tens of millions of phone conversations within France and demanded an explanation.
The White House, in line with its normal procedure, declined to comment on the specific charges which outraged its ally.
“As a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
“As the president said in his speech at the UN General Assembly, 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.”
Ayrault said during a trip to Denmark that it was “incredible that an allied country like the United States at this point goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense.”
The U.S. ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Paris over the claims, based on leaks from fugitive U.S. ex-security analyst Edward Snowden and published by Le Monde and the German weekly Der Spiegel.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have a “very close working relationship.”
“We will have discussions with the French, as we do through diplomatic channels whenever folks would like to talk about some of these reports,” she added.
But she stressed at issue was striking the “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.”
She explained: “What we’re trying to do right now is figure out where that balance lies, and we’ll continue these conversations with the French or other countries if they have issues they’d like to discuss.”
She refused to confirm any of the details of U.S. intelligence gathering however, saying that “intelligence activities are classified.”