On French Espionage

By Jack Goldsmith
Friday, July 5, 2013, 7:38 AM

The NYT, based on a Le Monde story, reports that “France has its own large program of data collection, which sweeps up nearly all the data transmissions, including telephone calls, e-mails and social media activity, that come in and out of France.”  French officials claim there is “a difference between data collection in the name of security and spying on allied nations.”  Yes, there is a difference.  But France does the latter as well.  France is a well-known leader in industrial espionage.  Ellen Nakashima reported earlier this year that a recent National Intelligence Estimate named France in the second tier of countries behind China that “engaged in hacking for economic intelligence.”  WikiLeaks had earlier revealed American cables indicating that “France is the country that conducts the most industrial espionage on other European countries, even ahead of China and Russia.”  And there are many other examples, as Adam Rawnsley at FP details.  France might nonetheless claim a difference between (a) its practice or comprehensive surveillance at home and economic surveillance abroad, and (b) espionage against allied governments.  But its industrial espionage often targets defense contractors closely tied to governments.  And in any event, there is every reason to think that France engages in espionage against foreign governments, including, sometimes, allies.  In response to French claims “that they do not spy on the American Embassy in France,” today’s NYT notes that American officials – speaking to reporters in polite diplomatese in order to not reveal what the USG surely knows for certain – “are skeptical of those reassurances, and have pointed out that France has an aggressive and amply financed espionage system of its own.”  In this light, I don't understand France's over-the-top reaction to reports of USG spying in Europe, which predictably invited close scrutiny of France's own espionage practices.