Russia has long needed the capability to respond to maritime contingencies by operating Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious assault ships. The best vessels available appeared to be the French Mistral Class and in 2009 Russia’s then Chief of the General Staff, General Nikolai Makarov, announced that «We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships...»
As noted by the well-informed online journal Defence Industry Daily «the Mistral order could represent a key step forward in revitalizing Russia’s naval defence sector, following its decimation in the wake of the Cold War,» and all appeared to be on track for mutually beneficial cooperation, with the first two ships being built in France. The contract was for 1.36 billion dollars and that amount is significant because WikiLeaks has just revealed «how the US has had a decade-long policy of economic espionage against France, including the interception of all French corporate contracts and negotiations valued at more than $200 million. The documents demonstrate that the US National Security Agency, far from being a rogue organisation, is carrying out an economic espionage policy created by the US Director of National Intelligence».
Who is presumably not a rogue, although he is a proven liar.
In 2013 at a Congressional hearing about the NSA’s surveillance antics, Senator Ron Wyden asked the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, whether his Agency collected «any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans» — to which Clapper replied «No, sir; not wittingly». But Clapper lied. After it became apparent that NSA operatives were eavesdropping on countless millions of people everywhere in the world, including their fellow Americans, he had to admit that his response to Senator Wyden’s question was «clearly erroneous». He tried to wriggle his way out of his admission of lying — and succeeded. He is still Director and it was during his tenure that the Mistral contract was negotiated.
An intriguing aspect of the Mistral story is that, as the Economist observed, «The Americans made it plain to the French that they were not happy [about the Mistral deal]... For Russia's navy, they would enhance the ability to project power in the eastern Mediterranean and the northern Pacific». The financial aspects of the Mistral negotiations would not be the only information acquired by Washington, as complete details of capabilities of the vessels would also be obtained, in a combination of economic, political and military espionage against France, a country that is a fellow member of NATO, by the NSA which Wikileaks reveals has access to: «communications of French officials. The documents show US spying on the French Finance Minister, a French Senator, officials within the Treasury and Economic Policy Directorate, the French ambassador to the United States, and officials with direct responsibility for EU trade policy. The intercepts reveal internal French deliberation and policy on the World Trade Organization, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the G7 and the G20, the 2013 French budget, the decline of the automotive industry in France, and the involvement of French companies in the Oil for Food programme in Iraq during the 1990s».
The catalogue of French companies about which the NSA illegally obtained sensitive commercial information is impressive. In fact it is the only impressive thing about the whole squalid operation conducted against a nation that has been a close ally for over sixty years. The list included BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole (banks), and AXA (global investment banking) as well as vehicle manufacturers Peugeot and Renault. Then there was Total (oil and gas corporation) and Orange (multinational communications), and doubtless other organisations, concerning which interception there was no security caveat (such as «NOFORN») to exclude onward passage of commercial information by the US to its partners of the ‘Five Eyes’ — the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain.
Britain has the most anti-French government (and media) in Europe and probably the world, and is unlikely to have passed up any opportunity to examine French commercial dealings, especially as there is enormous competition between the countries in many spheres. But US commercial spookery doesn’t stop with France. South American countries are being targeted, especially Brazil which is dangerously close to becoming an economic threat to the US, in spite of its present downturn. As revealed by Wikileaks, «not only President Dilma Rousseff was targeted but also her assistant, her secretary, her chief of staff, her Palace office and even the phone in her Presidential jet... The US... waged an economic espionage campaign against Brazil, spying on those responsible for managing Brazil's economy, including the head of its Central Bank».
One NSA document about spying on Brazil notes that its interception «Goal» is «an increased understanding of the communications methods and associated selectors of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her key advisers». It is classified Top Secret — but releasable to Brazil’s commercial competitors of the Five Eyes. And the irony in this is that when the news broke President Dilma Rousseff was returning from a meeting with President Obama in Washington — a visit she cancelled two years ago because of previous revelations of NSA spying on her country.
There is a long list of nations whose governments and businesses are being targeted, many of them steadfast supporters of the United States who are trying to play down the flagrant disloyalty of their powerful friend. Germany, for example, is reluctant to admit to the world that its major ally is spying on it, but the publication Der Spiegel took exception to being targeted and noted that «As far back as 2013, the German government was in a position to suspect, if not to know outright, the obscene extent to which the United States was spying on an ally».
However black the circumstances, many tales of espionage have their amusing side, and the betrayal by the US of so many of its allies is no exception. As al Jazeera reported on 5 July, «US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has... said [that China is]... stealing commercial secrets... from defence contractors, stealing huge amounts of government information, all looking for an advantage».
Unlike the United States, which steals commercial secrets from its allies.