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First comes the revelation, then the denial. Right on schedule, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has denied a Le Monde report that, citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, claimed the American government has collected data from 70 million French phone calls between December 2012 and January 2013. 

According to the BBC, Clapper stated:

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

His short statement is not a blanket denial of spying on French citizens; rather, it's oddly specific, citing the number of calls instead of just the behavior. So what exactly is being denied here? Is it the number of phone calls that is incorrect? Did fewer French people call their parents during the holiday season than Snowden and Le Monde would have you believe? 

Also, Clapper did not bother denying the other part of the report, namely, that the U.S. spies on French diplomats at the UN and in Washington. The information gathered from this type of activity has been of material use to the United States, helping sway the French during the vote on Iranian sanctions in 2009.

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".

Of course, Clapper justifies the NSA's behavior by citing that "the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations." It's the classic "You spy, I spy, we all spy" defense.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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