James Clapper: Reports US tapped French phones 'false'

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is seen testifying before a Senate committee in Washington on 18 April 2013 James Clapper acknowledged "the US gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations"

US intelligence chief James Clapper has denied reports that US spies recorded data from 70 million phone calls in France in a single 30-day period.

The director of national intelligence said the report in Le Monde newspaper contained "misleading information".

In a separate story, the newspaper said the US bugged French diplomats and used the information to sway a key UN vote.

Both reports were based on leaks from fugitive ex-US intelligence worker Edward Snowden.

"Recent articles published in the French newspaper Le Monde contain inaccurate and misleading information regarding US foreign intelligence activities," Mr Clapper said in a statement released on Tuesday.

US allies on spying claims

"The allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million 'recordings of French citizens' telephone data' is false."

Mr Clapper said he would not discuss details of surveillance activities, but acknowledged "the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations".

Iran sanctions

His statement did not mention the second set of allegations about the National Security Agency (NSA) programmes that allegedly monitored French diplomats in Washington and at the UN.

The paper laid out how US spies used computer bugs and phone-tapping techniques to monitor French diplomats at the UN and in Washington.

German magazine Der Spiegel had previously reported the monitoring of French diplomats, and the Washington Post had revealed the existence of a global cyber-spying programme called Genie.

But Le Monde's story gives details of how US agents used the intelligence, apparently gathered from French diplomats under the Genie programme.

It quotes a document issued by a directorate of the NSA as stating that the data helped the US sway a Security Council vote on a resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran on 9 June 2010.

The US had apparently feared losing the vote, and needed French support.

The document quotes America's former UN envoy Susan Rice as saying the NSA's information helped the US "keep one step ahead in the negotiations".

On Monday, Le Monde alleged that the NSA spied on 70.3 million phone calls in France between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had asked for a full explanation of those claims from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

'Unacceptable'

Mr Fabius told reporters he had reiterated the view of France that "this kind of spying conducted on a large scale by the Americans on its allies is something that is unacceptable".

Genie codenames

  • Highlands: Spyware that implants cookies and monitors web use
  • Vagrant: Bugging operation that captures information from screens
  • PBX: Bug that allows agents to eavesdrop on phone calls

Source: Le Monde

However, French officials played down the possibility of any reprisals.

Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said: "We have to have a respectful relationship between partners, between allies. Our confidence in that has been hit but it is after all a very close, individual relationship that we have."

She was speaking before Le Monde's allegations about the UN vote were published.

Information leaked by former NSA worker Edward Snowden has led to claims of systematic spying by the NSA and CIA on a global scale.

Targets included rivals like China and Russia, as well as allies like the EU and Brazil.

The NSA was also forced to admit it had captured email and phone data from millions of Americans.

Mr Snowden, who went public with his allegations in June, is currently in Russia, where he was granted a year-long visa after making an asylum application.

The US wants him extradited to face trial on criminal charges.

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