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Its existence has never been officially acknowledged by French authorities, although numerous journalists, based on military information have mentioned it, since the European Parliament investigated ECHELON and also its implications in counter-terrorism. The term was coined by Kenneth Cukier, an American journalist living in Paris, in a paper presented at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in 1999, and later in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Europe edition.
The system is allegedly operated by DGSE, whose Direction Technique (Technical Direction) is responsible for signal intelligence. The largest station is in Domme, near Sarlat in Périgord. Some of the other stations in France are: Alluets-Feucherolles (Alluets-le-Roi), Mutzig (Alsace), Mont Valérien, Plateau d'Albion, Agde, Solenzara (South Corsica), and Filley Barracks in Nice.
There are some other stations in overseas territories and former colonies:
- Djibouti (Camp Lemonnier - closed, now occupied by Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa) : new center built recently between French Air Force Base and French Foreign Legion camp in Djibouti.
- Mayotte (Closed in 1998)
- and base aeronavale La Tontouta in New Caledonia
These stations, in addition to the DGSE headquarters on boulevard Mortier in Paris, intercept electronic communications, decipher using software coded communications of diplomatic, military or industrial origin.
French newspapers recently indicated that DGSE had an interception program on submarine cables, similar to NSA ones. No official data indicates whether this could be a part of FRENCHELON.
It shouldn't be confused with the French Army's official listening system Emeraude (Ensemble mobile écoute et recherche automatique des émissions), which used to be mistakenly confused with Frenchelon.
- "La France se met à l'espionnage" (in French). Free (ISP). Retrieved 11 June 2013.
Frenchelon (ou French Echelon) est le surnom donné au réseau d'écoute de la DGSE. Le véritable nom de ce système d'écoute n'est pas connu (contrairement à ce que nous expliquions, ce n'est pas Emeraude)
- "Spies Like Us," Wall Street Journal Europe, March 30, 2000 https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB9543629505575888
- (in French) Emeraude : Ensemble mobile d’écoute et de recherche automatique des émissions (Mobile set for listening and automatic searches of emissions)
- Jerome Thorel (June 30, 2000). "Frenchelon - France has nothing to envy in Echelon". ZDNet.
- Duncan Campbell; Richard Barry (June 30, 2000). "Frenchelon: First pictures of French listening post". ZDNet.