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Obama, Hollande discuss NSA activities in France

Oct. 21, 2013 at 5:45 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama Monday called French President Francois Hollande following disclosures the National Security Agency tapped phone calls in France.

The French newspaper Le Monde, citing material leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, said the NSA collected about 3 million intercepts from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8.

"The president made clear that the United States has 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," the White House said, noting France and the United States have been allies for years and share a close working relationship on a variety of issues, including security and intelligence.

They agreed to pursue the issue through diplomatic channels.

Earlier State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it is hoped the disclosures do not hurt U.S-French relations.

Harf, during the daily media briefing in Washington, said she would not speak to "any specific allegations or reports thrown out there in the press about intelligence activities."

"Broadly speaking, there's a balance that needs to be struck between security and privacy. The president has spoken to that most recently at UNGA [U.N. General Assembly]. And that's the conversation we're certainly having internally in the government, and are happy to have with our allies and partners around the world."

Le Monde's report followed a story in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, also citing documents leaked by Snowden, saying the NSA "systematically" eavesdropped on the Mexican government. Der Spiegel said the NSA hacked the public e-mail account of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, which was also used by Cabinet members.

Harf said the Obama administration has taken steps to be more transparent to both U.S. citizens and countries around the world.

"But when it comes to specific intelligence matters, we also, I would underscore here, share intelligence with a number of our partners and allies," she said. "Intelligence is collected, broadly speaking, to protect our citizens, to protect their citizens as well."

"It's where the balance lies between privacy and security, and those are the conversations we're having right now," she said.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in France for a previously scheduled meeting.

The French Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to France to discuss the published material.

"We will have discussions with the French, as we do through diplomatic channels whenever folks would like to talk about some of these reports about intelligence activities that are out there in the press," Harf said.

The goal of the discussions, she said was to reassure other countries the U.S. government takes "their concerns seriously, that we think these are important issues to talk about."

Harf also said the administration doesn't want the reported monitoring to "negatively influence our bilateral relationships," noting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Kerry enjoy a "long, certainly close, working relationship on a number of very important issues, including Syria."

The NSA said it would not "comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations."

Noting President Obama's comments at the U.N. General Assembly, the NSA said it has "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."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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