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Report: NSA hacked French networks to spy on diplomats

Not only has the American National Security Agency gathered the records of over 70 million phone calls in France, a new report in Le Monde alleges, but the agency also hacked into foreign networks and introduced spyware capable of performing complex surveillance.

The programme, codenamed "GENIE", saw American spies implanting malicious software designed to circumvent the firewalls and security protocols of infected machines.

Le Monde learned of the use of several of what they call "very innovative programmes" after a top secret NSA memo was passed to them by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, operating from Brazil.

The memo refers to the surveillance of the French Embassy in Washington, DC, which appears under the code name, 'Wabash' and of the French delegation to the UN in New York under the code name 'Blackfoot'.

Spying software was implanted into the UN office, and also programs designed to gather screen captures, while the Washington, DC embassy was subject to a type of spying codenamed "PBX", which Le Monde calls "the equivalent of eavesdropping on the discussion of the French diplomatic service as if one was participating in a conference call."

The document boasts about how on 9 June 2010 the NSA's information helped the US to affect the decision of a Security Council vote on new Iranian sanctions. It quotes Susan Rice, former UN envoy as saying that the intelligence helped the US "keep one step ahead in the negotiations".

The revelations come as US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called previous Le Monde allegations of a mass phone-tapping campaign "false", as well as "inaccurate and misleading".

This was after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius' remarks that, "this kind of spying conducted on a large scale by the Americans on its allies is something that is unacceptable".

In defence of its reporting, Le Monde today published the document that had provided it with the information: a graph showing tapped phone calls in France over 30 days between December 2012 and January 2013. The number of records gathered is numbered at 70,271,990 records. December 24th alone saw nearly 15 million records gathered.

In August, the Washington Post reported the existence of the GENIE programme, alleging that it cost $652 million (£404 million) and was designed to infiltrate foreign computer systems. However, this is the first example of the programme being used to spy on allies of the US.

According to the Washington Post, by the end of 2013, the GENIE programme will have remote control of 85,000 spyware devices in computers throughout the world.

Image: Flickr (Us State Department)