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Anglo-Saxon Solidarity Trumps the Continental Allies

The kerfluffle in Paris caused by Le Monde"s publication on the weekend of 19-20 October of documents provided by Edward Snowden points up how the world at large has been until now largely ignorant of the fact that large-scale countries conduct large-scale espionage operations. The Russians are quite familiar with this. Among Le Monde's disclosures was the fact that between 11 December 2012 and 8 January 2013, 70.3 million telephone and instant messaging communications involving French persons were intercepted by the NSA.

There is a back story to this matter that I wrote about in the French journal Commentaire in its issue of Spring 2011. It is entitled (in translation) "The failure of the no-spy agreement", i.e. between the U.S. and France.

The "five eyes" system of sharing intelligence and includes (informally) a commitment not to spy on each other, stems from the U.S.-U.K. signals intelligence agreement of 1948 which was later extended to the three other Anglo-Saxon countries: Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2009, following the spectacular rapprochement of President Sarkozy with the U.S., the new Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, perceived an anomaly from the fact that France was not included in the no-spy category. He sought to correct this and intended to do the same later with Germany.

But Blair overreached himself by seeking to put a no-spy agreement with France in writing, which even the "five eyes" group does not have. In the end, the White House turned Admiral Blair's proposal down, apparently feeling that a less friendly government than that of M. Sarkozy might come to power, and this could cause problems.

The anomaly remains. But the French might perceive a downside in a no-spy agreement, as they would be drawn into an even closer sharing of intelligence with the U.S., and this might cause some angst at what could be perceived as an impingement of national sovereignty, which has long been a hot-button issue in France.

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