The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency. The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies.
Gabon's late president Omar Bongo allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds from central African states, channelling some of it to French political parties in support of Nicolas Sarkozy, according to a US embassy cable published by El Pa s.
Initially, the publication of the cables provoked a strong reaction in France. Some well-known political figures and commentators, notably the former socialist foreign minister Hubert V drine, were very strongly against the publication. V drine deemed it "totalitarianism disguised as transparency" and accused Le Monde of "laundering stolen information". A fierce debate ensued, particularly among diplomatic commentators and in the world of French diplomacy itself. Diplomats felt they had lost control of this information. It was a big shock to them.
The French government today added to international calls for WikiLeaks to be prevented operating online, warning that it is "unacceptable" for a "criminal" site to be hosted in the country. Today's move by the French government is particularly significant because the 250,000 US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks to the Guardian and four other media organisations are hosted by a French company, Octopuce.