The examination by Le Monde of unpublished documents from the NSA (National Security Agency) – the agency in charge of digital and other communications, shows the tensions and distrust between Paris and Washington.
One of these is a four-page internal NSA memo, revealed by Edward Snowden, the agency’s ex-consultant, and marked ‘top secret’, the highest degree of confidentiality. It was sent to the administration of the NSA by the French service in charge of external relations and sets out the main lines of the visit, on 12 April 2013, of two top French officials. The object of the visit : the IT attack in May 2012, targeting the presidency of the French republic. The memo stated that Bernard Barbier, technical director of the DGSE (external French secret service) and Patrick Pailloux, the director of the ANSSI (the National Agency for the security of IT systems) are coming to ask their American counterparts, whom they suspect are behind this pirating, for an explanation.
These four pages mix considerations about organization with the findings of an inquiry into the grounds of the complaints of the French. We learn that none of the services capable of carrying out this type of electronic attack within American Intelligence (NSA or CIA) or amongst the close friends of the second circle (British or Canadian) are apparently responsible for this operation hostile to the Elysee. At the close of his overview in which each word is carefully chosen the editor specifies that during the research, the NSA “intentionally did not ask either the Mossad or the ISNU (the technical administration of the Israeli services) whether they were involved” in this espionage operation against the head of the French government.
This affair began in May 2012, between the two rounds of the French Presidential elections. Nicolas Sarkozy’s staff were still in the Elysée. As Le Télégramme revealed, security systems were to detect the presence of detectors enabling the capture of information from the Presidency and mechanisms for pirating the computers of the major collaborators of the Head of State. “The attack was not part of an act of sabotage which was to be made public but of the desire to be permanently installed invisibly at the centre of the Presidency”, explained an expert speaking about the incident.
The document specifies that “TAO had asked most of the NSA’s closest partners in the second circle (CIA, GCHQ [the British secret services] and the CSEC [the Canadian services] were the main suspects) whether they were involved ; all denied involvement”. The first circle includes the sixteen American intelligence agencies, the second adds the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the third includes countries like France and Germany.
To supplement the information for the heads of the NSA, the memo takes the trouble to add that the Mossad and its technical department, the ISNU, also capable of carrying out this type of attack had, “intentionally” not been questioned about this affair. To justify this reserve, the author suggested, laconically “France is not an approved target for joint discussion by Israel and the United States”. The NSA does not say that the Mossad carried out the attack but nevertheless, seems to consider it necessary to mention the existence of a reasonable doubt as regards the Jewish state.
The close relation between Washington and Tel-Aviv in the field of intelligence does not rule out a degree of mistrust. In a document dated 2008, published by the Guardian, a top official at the NSA refers to the aggressiveness of the Israeli intelligence service concerning the United States. “France is not the only country to target the department of Defense using electronic espionage, Israel also does this. On one hand, the Israelis are excellent partners in terms of sharing information but on the other, they target us to find out our positions on the Middle East (…) It is the third most aggressive intelligence service in the world against the United States”.
Questioned by Le Monde about the elements contained in the NSA memo, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office stated that “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”.