Espionage – Spying – Intelligence – It all brings a number of iconic pictures to mind, from James Bond, to spy satellites, but it’s becoming clearer by the day that these types of surveillance operations are becoming more and more digital. On Tuesday, French news magazine l’Express stated that the US hacked into the French office presidential office while Nicolas Sarkozy was still in office. The charges stated that a number of computers belonging to close advisers and staff members were infiltrated with a computer virus that resembled the Flame virus. The Flame virus is the cyber-weapon that is largely attributed as having been developed by the US and Israel in their cyber-espionage efforts. The report states that the infection was uncovered in the timeframe of the second round of presidential elections in France. A report at TheHill used a translation of the original story to detail the charges.
“You can be on very good terms with a ‘friendly’ country and still want to guarantee their unwavering support — especially during a transition period,” an official told the magazine. The alleged spying attack took place a few days before the second round of the French presidential elections, which Sarkozy lost to Francois Hollande, a socialist.
Interestingly, the very notion was apparently not initially dismissed.
According to the l’Express report, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly did not deny the allegations when asked point-blank about them.
Napolitano also said that the Flame and Stuxnet viruses had “never been linked to the U.S. government.”
This was followed up today with a categorical denial.
“We categorically deny the allegations by unnamed sources that the U.S. government participated in a cyberattack against the French government,” Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler told The Hill in a statement. “France is one of our strongest allies.
The specter of cyber-espionage raises little surprises. Of course it would be denied. And of course, note the unnamed sources. This is hardly a country actually making charges against another, these are only magazine reports. Espionage- whether technological or by other means is sort of an expectation in international affairs. What is different about this situation is the fact that the charges are being made from within the body of an ally, which we probably also have many justifiable reasons to monitor. The fact is however that if the presence of this Flame-like virus is true, then it is clear that a state agency has deployed these tools against an entity that is within the circle of nations, and if it is tied to the US, then it would be monitoring an ally. That is a significant departure from what we have observed in the past with these tools being used against rogue and enemy states.