Israel and not America was behind the hacking of millions of French phones, it was claimed today.
In the latest extraordinary twist in the global eavesdropping scandal, Israeli agents are said to have intercepted more than 70 million calls and text messages a month.
Up until now the French have been blaming the U.S., even summoning the country’s Paris ambassador to provide an explanation.
But today’s Le Monde newspaper provides evidence that it was in fact Israeli agents who were listening in.
France first suspected the U.S. of hacking into former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s communications network when he was unsuccessfully trying for re-election in 2012.
Intelligence officials Bernard Barbier and Patrick Pailloux travelled from Paris to Washington to demand an explanation, but the Americans hinted that the Israelis were to blame.
The Americans insisted they have never been behind any hacking in France, and were always keen to get on with the French, whom they viewed as some of their closest allies.
They were so determined to be friends with the French, that U.S. briefing notes included details of how to pronounce the names of the Gallic officials.
A note published in Le Monde shows that the Americans refused to rule out Mossad, Israel’s notoriously uncompromising intelligence agency, or the ISNU, Israel’s cyber-intelligence unit.
Tailored Access Operations (TAO), the branch of the US National Security Agency (NSA) which deals with cyber-attacks, is referred to throughout the note.
It reads: ‘TAO intentionally did not ask either Mossad or ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.’
Le Monde’s article, co-authored by U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose main contact is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, however, hints that the Israelis were doing the spying.
Both US and French intelligence work closely with Mossad, but there is known to be a great deal of suspicion between all the agencies.
A 2008 NSA note says that the Israelis are ‘excellent partners in terms of sharing information’, but it also says that Mossad is ‘the third most aggressive intelligence service in the world against the United States’.
A spokesman for the Israeli government told Le Monde: ‘Israel is a country which is a friend, ally and partner of France and does not carry out any hostile activity which could pose a threat to its security.’
France has complained in the past about Mossad’s use of its soil to plan so called black operations including the 2010 assassination in Dubai of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh of the Palestinian movement Hamas.
The revelation comes after senior German officials said they would be travelling to the U.S. ‘shortly’ to talk about allegations the NSA bugged Angela Merkel’s phone.
The heads of Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies will participate in high-level discussions with the White House and National Security Agency, government spokesman Georg Streiter said.
News of the talks signals an escalation in the diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and its allies after it was claimed the NSA had monitored the calls of 35 world leaders.
Brazil and Germany have joined forces in an attempt to pile pressure on the United Nations to rein in the snooping activities. They want a UN General Resolution that promotes the right to online privacy.
This step, the first major international response to the NSA’s infiltration of the online communications of foreigners, comes after German Chancellor Merkel said the recent U.S. espionage scandal has shattered international trust in Barack Obama.
A month earlier Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff branded the NSA’s clandestine activities ‘a breach of international law’ in a speech to the UN General Assembly and demanded steps be made to stop ‘cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war’.
Brazilian and German diplomats met in New York yesterday to thrash out a draft resolution demanding the strengthening of privacy rights in the International Covenant Civil and Political Rights.
While the UN has no real power to reign in the NSA, there are fears among security experts that the effort alone could signal a growing consensus to freeze the US out of future international security dialogues.