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4th Qtr 13:51

At July 4 party, French official decries US spying

Paris, too, mines electronic data, report alleges

PARIS — France’s top security official publicly dressed down the United States at the American ambassador’s July 4 garden party, denouncing alleged US ‘‘espionage’’ of France and other countries, while the European Parliament voted to open an investigation.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls was a guest of honor at the fete hosted by Ambassador Charles Rivkin Thursday. In a speech before the guests, he said that ‘‘in the name of our friendship, we owe each other honesty. We must say things clearly, directly, frankly.’’

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He said that President Francois Hollande’s demand for clear and precise explanations about reports of US spying are justified because ‘‘such practices, if proven, do not have their place between allies and partners.’’

On the same day that Valls was leveling his criticism, Le Monde reported that France’s intelligence services have put in place a giant electronic surveillance gathering network.

Citing no sources, the newspaper said France’s Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, the country’s foreign intelligence agency, systematically collects information about all electronic data sent by computers and telephones in France, as well as between France and abroad.

According to Le Monde, data on ‘‘all e-mails, SMSs, telephone calls, Facebook and Twitter posts’’ are collected and stored in a massive three-floor underground bunker at the DGSE’s headquarters in Paris. The paper specified that it is the communications’ metadata — such as when a call was made and where an author was when she sent an e-mail — that is being archived, not their content.

Officials at the DGSE did not answer phone calls or e-mails seeking comment Thursday.

The vast archive, which Le Monde says amounts to tens of millions of gigabytes, is accessible to France’s other spy agencies, including military intelligence, domestic intelligence, Paris police, and a special financial crimes task force.

Le Monde compared the French digital dragnet to PRISM, the US National Security Agency program which has most caught the imagination of Internet users. But PRISM appears aimed at allowing US spies to peel data off the servers of Silicon Valley firms, whereas the program described in Le Monde appears to be fed through the mass interception of electronic data bouncing across the world.

Also, PRISM can apparently be used to collect content, not just metadata.

Le Monde said the French surveillance program relies on spy satellites, listening stations in French overseas territories or former colonies such as Mayotte or Djibouti, and information harvested from undersea cables; all three methods are long familiar to the NSA.

A French lawmaker played down the report, saying France’s surveillance gathering system is not comparable with the NSA’s.

Patricia Adam, a lawmaker who until last year headed Parliament’s intelligence committee, said French spies ‘‘are line fishing, not trawling’’ the vast oceans of data thrown up by mobile phones, e-mails, and Internet communication.

In a separate development Thursday, Valls said France had rejected an asylum request from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Snowden is believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from more than a dozen countries.

In a statement, Valls said the request, received via the French embassy in Moscow, had been rejected after ‘‘taking into account a legal analysis and the situation of’’ Snowden.

Snowden also won’t be getting asylum from Italy, where Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said officials had rejected the leaker’s bid because he did not meet their requirements.

Bonino also criticized the American program, saying that unless the United States comes up with ‘‘convincing responses,’’ Italy would consider the ‘‘diffuse practices’’ reported by Snowden to be unjustified.

‘‘The damage created by the Snowden case, if confirmed, is above all a wound for the United States, not just for us Europeans, and I think as a friendly country we have the duty to say so,’’ she said.

Bonino said as far as Italy could tell, there was no evidence that its embassy in Washington had been spied on.

In Strasbourg, the European Parliament agreed to start an investigation into the allegations that European Union offices were among those bugged and called for more protection for whistleblowers.

European countries agreed Wednesday that planned talks on free trade with the United States must start in parallel with discussions on NSA surveillance. Those talks are still on track to begin next week.

Some Icelandic lawmakers have introduced a proposal in Parliament to grant Snowden citizenship, but the idea has received minimal support.

Ogmundur Jonasson, whose liberal Left-Green Party is backing the proposal along with the Pirate Party and Brighter Future Party, put the issue before the Judicial Affairs Committee.

The tactic of granting citizenship to asylum-seekers helped get eccentric chess master Bobby Fischer to Iceland from Japan in 2005 to escape US prosecution for breaking sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia.

Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia, and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, a secret-spilling website that has been advising him. Like Iceland, many Eurpean countries on the list said he would have to make his request on their soil.

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