London Daily

Focus on the big picture.
Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

French submarine maker’s Australian job: On the hunt for a corporate leaker

French submarine maker’s Australian job: On the hunt for a corporate leaker

An Australian senator and a journalist investigated on behalf of France’s Naval Group.

When leaked details of a corporate conference call threatened a €56 billion submarine deal with the government of Australia, the French defense giant Naval Group turned to Eric Leandri, an entrepreneur with a reputation as Europe’s digital privacy champion.

Leandri made his name as chief executive of the search engine Qwant. But he was now head of a new company, Altrnativ, a cyber surveillance firm compiling dossiers on private individuals for some of France’s biggest brands and working on cyberweapon contracts with authoritarian African regimes such as Chad and Cameroon. Naval Group asked Altrnativ to investigate participants on the call, as well as five others, including an Australian senator, an Australian journalist and the Australian CEO of a rival firm, according to documents seen by POLITICO.

The project’s goal: to discover how the submarine manufacturer's internal discussions were leaked to the Australian press, and to find out “who is loyal and who isn't,” according to the notes of a June 9, 2021, meeting between an Altrnativ employee and Naval Group's head of security.

The result: No firm conclusion on the source of the leak but a 40-page report listing the targets’ phone numbers, social media connections and in some cases personal information.

Just a few months later, the submarine deal was dead, France’s relations with Australia and America had collapsed in acrimony and China’s Communist leaders were frothing at the mouth over a new Indo-Pacific alliance known as AUKUS.

Informed for the first time by POLITICO that he had been the subject of a secret investigation, Rex Patrick, the Australian senator, said he found the practice “outrageous.”

“I don’t think anyone from France would appreciate an Australian state-owned company investigating a French senator because he or she was asking hard questions in the French Parliament on the spending of French taxpayers’ money,” he said. “They would rightly say such snooping was ‘choquant’, ‘outrageant’ and ‘scandaleux.’”

“Feel free to fix my bad French,” he added.

Details of Naval Group’s Australian job were among thousands of internal Altrnativ documents seen by POLITICO. They shine a light on the rapidly growing cyber surveillance industry, in which companies trawl the internet and other publicly available data sources to compile dossiers on employees, rivals or critics.

The practice is commonly used to perform due diligence checks on counterparties or potential hires, but it can also be deployed against outside critics or internal dissenters. In either case, it risks violating the European Union’s privacy laws known as the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR.

“Following a leak of confidential and internal information from Naval Group in the Australian media, we engaged [Altrnativ] to use open sources to understand the context of this damaging leak,” a spokeswoman for Naval Group said in a statement to POLITICO. The company declined to comment further.

Sprung a leak

The Naval Group leak took place in the spring of 2021, months before Australia torpedoed the submarine deal, sparking an international diplomatic crisis. But the first cracks in the agreement were already beginning to show.

Worried about cost overruns and delays in delivery, the Australian government had refused to sign a new tranche of the deal. It was also secretly negotiating an anti-China alliance with the U.S. and U.K. that would become known as AUKUS and involved buying nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. instead.

In the wake of the debacle, France temporarily recalled its ambassador to the U.S. for the first time ever. Paris also recalled its ambassador to Australia.

Still hoping to head off catastrophe, Naval Group gathered 30 people on May 5 on a call to discuss the status of the agreement. Details of the discussion were leaked to the Australian Financial Review, a business newspaper.

An article on May 14 by the political journalist Andrew Tillett described a company worried about the deal’s future. During the call, Fabrice Leduc, a Naval Group executive, said the company would freeze hiring and spend only what it knew would be reimbursed by Canberra.

Tillett reported how staffers worried aloud about being able to keep on schedule. One employee complained that accommodating the Australians’ demands was a “nightmare,” given the upcoming summer holidays in France.

Leandri had reached out to Naval Group a couple of months before the leak, with a 15-page pitch proposing a range of services, from “threat evaluation” to “identifying top haters.”

On July 1, the two companies struck an agreement intended to identify the leaker. According to a purchase order signed by Naval Group's deputy head of security Arnaud de Pellegars on July 1, Altrnativ was paid €9,600 to “map” the people the submarine manufacturer believed could be involved in the leak.

The documents suggest Naval Group passed on its employees’ names and phone numbers, and in one case also shared that one of its employees was in a relationship with a woman who had left Naval Group for a rival company.

The targets included people on the call, but also the woman who had left the company; Patrick, the Australian senator and a vocal critic of the submarine deal; and Tillett, the journalist. (Tillett declined an interview request from POLITICO. “As a journalist, I don't believe in commenting on sources,” he said. "Never have, never will.”)

Also targeted were Jim McDowell, CEO of the Australian defense firm Nova Systems, a competitor, and Brent Clark, chief executive of the Australian Industry and Defence Network, which represents local small and medium defense contractors.

In an interview, Leandri declined to comment on the job but denied he was given the employee's numbers by Naval Group. Companies “never share information with us,” he said.


Altrnativ’s 40-page report, delivered after more than a month and speckled with spelling mistakes, did not identify the leaker. 

It identified five people Altrnativ deemed to be a “risk” for Naval Group, marking their profiles with a yellow triangle warning sign. One had worked in the U.S. and Japan. One had been employed by the state-owned Qatar Foundation. One was a woman who left the company in May.

One woman was listed as a risk because of her “visibility on social networks” and the “abundance of information that could be potentially collected.” These, the report concluded, put her at risk of foreign espionage.

The report excluded the possibility that an employee based in France contacted the journalist directly and presented a series of other possible scenarios, sometimes in the form of questions.

Could the woman who left the company in May be trying to curry favor with her new employer? Could another employer who had once worked for Qatar Foundation be trying to destabilize Naval Group on behalf of the petrostate?

While the report was light on conclusions, it was packed with details about the personal lives of its targets.

For each person, it listed phone numbers, social media profiles, job titles, marital status and number of children, when available. For some, it went deeper.

In the section regarding the woman who had left the company, it listed her hobbies, her Pinterest page and the name of her son, and concluded: “Her inclination towards yoga, art and jewelry-making seems to distance her from the main industrial and geopolitical issues of Australia.”

Altrnativ provided Naval Group with a phone number for McDowell, the CEO of Nova Group, and a link to his Amazon Wishlist. It included Patrick’s resume and mapped out the Australian senator’s social media accounts, highlighting his connections with Tillett, the journalist, and including screenshots of his Tweets.

Privacy violation

Experts who spoke to POLITICO said it was unclear whether the leak investigation violated Australia’s regulations on the use of personal data.

“On the face of it, it has the potential to be a breach of privacy law,” said David Vaile, chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation. But the country’s rules carve out an exemption for “employee records,” a term that has been open to legal interpretation.

Patrick noted that not all the companies’ targets worked for Naval Group.

“I do not think it is the business of a French company to conduct an inquiry into any Australian citizen that was not employed by the company,” Patrick said. “Naval Group were in a contract with the Australian government and could have requested assistance from Australian authorities if they thought there were Australian citizens involved in any leak.”

Several experts said Naval Group and Altrnativ’s activities may have violated Europe’s GDPR privacy rules, which don’t include exceptions for employee data, especially if the targets were not informed about the investigation. Personal data, including political views, religious beliefs and racial or ethnic origins is considered “sensitive,” under the GDPR, said Eric Delisle, head of the employment, solidarity, sport and housing department at the CNIL, the French data protection authority. “The GDPR lays down a principle of prohibition of use except for very specific exceptions.”

The GDPR can be enforced for Australian targets as well, since their data was collected and processed by a French company, Altrnativ. “If a company is based in Europe or targets are individuals located in Europe, the GDPR applies," Delisle said.

The GDPR would have applied even if the data was public, according to Valérie Aumage, a French lawyer and head of the department dealing with digital law and the protection of personal data at PWC Société d’Avocats. “Wherever the data is coming from … the person has to be informed about what’s going to be done with it,” she said. Notification can be delayed, but that would have to be justified by “legitimate interests,” Aumage added. Data protection requirements do not end once the person is informed. “The processing has to be justified, including citing a legal basis for the processing and its necessity,” said Ravi Naik, legal director of the AWO agency, which specializes in data protection cases. “Necessity involves weighing the purpose of the investigation against the impact of the individual’s freedoms and rights,” he added.

Contacted by POLITICO, Philip Benton, a former contractor for Naval, said he was not aware his data had been used by Altrnativ. He said he had been interviewed by human resources and Naval Group's security but had not been told about the results of any investigations. 

“We were not made aware of whether the source of the leak was identified,” he said. “It remains a mystery to me.” 

Naval Group did not respond to a request for comment specifically on the allegations the company broke GDPR. Asked if Altrnativ broke the GDPR, Leandri did not reply.


Related Articles

London Daily
Credit Suisse's Scandalous History Resulted in an Obvious Collapse - It's time for regulators who fail to do their job to be held accountable and serve as an example by being behind bars.
You're Beautiful - James Blunt (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Home Secretary Suella Braverman tours potential migrant housing in Rwanda as asylum deal remains mired in legal challenges
You Are So Beautiful
Goldman Sachs cuts outlook for European bank debt over Credit Suisse crisis
Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
Paris Rioting vs Macron anti democratic law
An old French tune (by Georges Brassens) Pomplamoose ft. John Schroeder
'Sexual Fantasy' Assignment At US School Outrages Parents
Sattahip Motor Show 20
Orbán Viktor: the restructuring of the power relations in the whole of Europe is taking place
SONATE AU CLAIR DE LUNE - Moonlight sonata
Credit Suisse to borrow $54 billion from Swiss central bank
A kiss to build a dream on
The BBC problem about China
Wiz Khalifa - See You Again ft. Charlie Puth, Furious
Strikes-Hit UK Pledges 94 Billion Euros In Cost-Of-Living Budget
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Russian Hackers Preparing New Cyber Assault Against Ukraine
Mean Blues
"Will Fly Wherever International Law Allows": US Warns Russia After Drone Incident
La Chansonnette
UK face biggest fall in spending power for 70 years
Pattaya Addicts
Jeremy Hunt insists his Budget will get young parents and over-50s back into work
Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream
If this was in Tehran, Moscow or Hong Kong
Dream a little dream of me
Announcing GPT-4
Tu Vuo' Fa' L'Americano - Hetty & the Jazzato Band
TRUMP: "Standing before you today, I am the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent World War III."
Unchained Melody sung like you've NEVER heard!
Drew Barrymore
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
China is calling out the US, UK, and Australia on their submarine pact, claiming they are going further down a dangerous road
Édith Piaf - Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Sofie)
A brief banking situation report
Rondo Alla Turca
We are witnessing widespread bank fails and the president just gave a 5 min speech then walked off camera.
Kiss of fire
Donald Trump's asked by Tucker Carlson question on if the U.S. should support regime change in Russia?.
Ed Sheeran - Perfect (Amadeus violin cover instrumental)
'No relation to the American SVB': India's SVC Bank acts to calm depositors amid brand name confusion.
Tom Jones - I´ll Never Fall In Love Again 1967, 1989, 2001
Good news: The U.S. government is now guaranteeing all deposits, held by, Silicon Valley Bank, and the funds are available as of today
Israel Cachao López - Guajira Clásica
Silicon Valley Bank exec was Lehman Brothers CFO
Edward Maya - Stereo Love (feat. Vika Jigulina) (Extended Mix)
In a potential last-ditch effort, HSBC is considering a rescue deal to save Silicon Valley Bank UK from insolvency
Strauss - Radetzky March - Karajan
Saudi Arabia has announced a major breakthrough in diplomacy with Iran after two years of intense talks
La vie en rose
BBC Director General, Tim Davie, has apologized, but not resigned, yet, following the disruption of sports programmes over the weekend
Despacito (Piano Cover) - Peter Bence
A Mississippian man, who was once considered a “ticking time bomb,” has lost a whopping 165 kilograms! What motivated this incredible transformation?
The Temptations - My Girl (Smokey Robinson Tribute) 2006 Kennedy Cent
Elon Musk Is Planning To Build A Town In Texas For His Employees
Orlando Cachaito Lopez Redencion
The Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse effect is spreading around the world, affecting startup companies across the globe
City officials in Berlin announced on Thursday that all swimmers at public pools will soon be allowed to swim topless
RADETZKY MARCH-2008-Wien, New Year Concert
Fitness scam
Only you (And you alone)
Market Chaos as USDC Loses Peg to USD after $3.3 Billion Reserves Held by Silicon Valley Bank Closed.
Beautiful in White x Canon in D (Piano Cover by Riyandi Kusuma)
A primitive judge in Australia sparked outrage when he told a breastfeeding woman to leave his courtroom for being “a distraction"
Strangers In The Night
Barcelona is feeling the heat as they face corruption charges over payments to former vice-president of Spain's referees' committee, Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira
Charles Aznavour - La Boheme
Banking regulators close SVB, the largest bank failure since the financial crisis
Summer time
Watch: “They are wounded but unbowed, unbreakable.”
Sting and Stevie Wonder - Fragile (from Sting's 60th birthday concert)
Silicon Valley Bank: Struggles Threaten Tech Startup Ecosystem"
Aux Champs Elysees
The unelected UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, an immigrant himself, defends new controversial crackdown on illegal migration
Stand By Me - Ben E. King (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Old clip of Bill Gates saying Ukraine is a big, fat, corrupt sinkhole is going viral
La Mer (Beyond the Sea) – Avalon Jazz Band
Man’s penis amputated by mistake after he’s wrongly diagnosed with a tumour
Motorist fined £650 after council ‘paints disabled bay around his car
Nathalie Song by Enzo Petrachi Stjepan Hauser Cello
Brexit Deal Falls Short: UK Regains Few Pre-Brexit Benefits
Shape of My Heart - Sting (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
In a major snub to Downing Street's Silicon Valley dreams, UK chip giant Arm has dealt a serious blow to the government's economic strategy by opting for a US listing
Radiohead - Creep
Brexit is done (sort of), again
Quizás,Quizás,Quizás - Andrea Bocelli - Jennifer Lopez
JP Morgan Becomes First Bank to Predict UK Will Avoid Recession
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps - Multi-Couples
JP Morgan Becomes First Bank to Predict UK Will Avoid Recession
Pentatonix Havana
JPMorgan has become the first City of London forecaster to predict that Britain will stay out of recession in 2023
Paula Cole - Autumn Leaves
How do stolen goods end up on Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace?
Oscar Benton Bensonhurst Blues
It's the question on everyone's lips: could a four-day workweek be the future of employment?
Nina Simone - ”I Put A Spell On You”. Vezi aici cum cântă Jeremy Ragsd
NIGHTWISH - The Phantom Of The Opera
Motorshow 2016 Tanjay Negros Oriental
Monica Bellucci - Ti Amo
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean Milena The Voice France 2018
Michael Buble (Help Me Make It Through The Night) feat Loren Allred
Memories Canon In D - Maroon 5 (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover)
Matteo Simoni - Marina
Maroon 5 - One More Night
Maroon 5 - Memories
Mark Knopfler - Brothers In Arms (Berlin 2007 Live)
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris - Romeo And Juliet (Real Live Roadrunni
Marina, Marina - The LUCKY DUCKIES intimist live concert at Guimarães
Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean On Mauranne The Voice France 2016
Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet - Joslin - Henri Mancini, Nino Rota
LoLa & Hauser - Love Story
Linkin Park Jay-Z - Numb Encore (Live 8 2005)
Hallelujah Mennel Ibtissem, The Voice France Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen - Dance Me to the End of Love
Leonard Cohen & Natasha Rostova - Dance me to the end of love
La casa de papel - Bella Ciao
La Camisa Negra
L'italiano (Toto Cutugno) - The Gypsy Queens
Juanes - La Camisa Negra
Jonathan and Charlotte - Britain's Got Talent 2012 Live Semi Final - U
John Powell - Assassin's Tango
Joe Cocker - You Can Leave Your Hat On (LIVE in Dortmund)
Joe Cocker - Unchain My Heart 2002 Live
Joe Cocker - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Jay Z & Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind LIVE
Jason Mraz - Im Yours (live)
Jarrod Radnich - Bohemian Rhapsody - Virtuosic Piano Solo
James Blunt - You're Beautiful
James Blunt - You're Beautiful & Bonfire Heart (Live at The Nobel Peac)
If You Go Away - Helen Merrill & Stan Getz (Tribute to Virna Lisi)
I Say a Little Prayer
Hotel California ( Eagles ) 1994 Live
Historia de un amor - Luz Casal. Vezi interpretarea Biancăi Sumanariu
Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover) on Spot
Heart - Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin - Kennedy Center Honors
HAVANA by Camila Cabello Zumba Pre Cooldown TML Crew Kramer Pastra
HAUSER and Señorita - I Will Always Love You
HAUSER - Waka Waka
HAUSER - Lambada
HAUSER - Historia de un Amor
HAUSER - Despacito
Great Pretender
Georgia May Foote & Giovanni Pernice Samba to 'Volare' - Strictly Come
Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues
Fugees - Killing Me Softly With His Song
French Latino - Historia de un Amor
For A Few Dollars More The Danish National Symphony Orchestra (Live)
Flashdance • What a Feeling • Irene Cara
Filip Rudan - “Someone You Loved” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sez
Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight
Enya - Only Time
Enrique Iglesias - Bailando (English Version) ft. Sean Paul
Enrique Iglesias - Bailamos
Elena Yerevan Historia de un amor
Ed Sheeran - Shape of You (Official Music Video)
Ed Sheeran - Perfect Symphony [with Andrea Bocelli]
Ed Sheeran - Perfect (Official Music Video)
Easy On Me - Adele (Boyce Avenue 90’s style piano acoustic cover) on S
ERA - Ameno
ELENA YEREVAN- Cancion Del Mariachi-IN STUDIO-2017 DPR
Dust In The Wind - Kansas (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Despacito x Shape Of You - Pentatonix
Deep Purple - Child In Time - Live (1970)
David Foster When A Man Loves A WomanIt's A Mans World (SealMichael Bo
Dance me to the end of Love ( Pi-Air Design )
Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise (feat. L.V.) [Official Music Video]
Conquest Of Paradise (Vangelis), played on Böhm Emporio organ
Cielito Lindo
Chico & The Gypsies - Bamboleo
Canción Del Mariachi - Antonio Banderas, Los Lobos • Desperado
Camila Cabello - Havana (Audio) ft. Young Thug
Camila Cabello - Havana ( cover by J.Fla )
California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas José Feliciano (Boyce Ave
Buster Benton - Money Is The Name of The Game
Hallelujah Pentatonix
Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry Be Happy (Official Music Video)
Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door Emilia The Voice Kids France
Besame Mucho - Cesaria Evora
Ben E. King - Stand by Me Sax Cover Alexandra Ilieva Thomann
Bella Ciao
Beautiful in White x Canon in D (Piano Cover by Riyandi Kusuma)
Bad Romance - Vintage 1920's Gatsby Style Lady Gaga Cover ft. Ariana Savalas & Sarah Reich(1)
BAMBOLEO - Gipsy Kings • Antonio Banderas, Katya Virshilas
BAILANDO (original)
Awesome Ukrainian yodeler - SOFIA SHKIDCHENKO (with English subtitles)
Avicii - The Nights
Atom - The Great Gig in the Sky
Aretha Franklin - (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Official Ly
Antonio Banderas - Cancion del Mariachi (Desperado)
André Rieu - Zorba's Dance (Sirtaki)
André Rieu - Can't Help Falling In Love
André Rieu & Mirusia - Ave Maria
Andrew Reyes Elton John - Don't Let The Sun Go Down The Voice 2020 (
Andreas Kümmert Whiter Shade Of Pale The Voice of Germany 2013 Showd
And I Love You So
All About That Bass - Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
Alan Walker - Faded (Piano Cover)
Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers (cover by Canen 12 y.o.)
African music
Adriana Vidović - “Creep” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
Adriana Vidović - “Believer” Nokaut 3 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
A Fistful of Dollars - The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Tuva
4 Beautiful Soundtracks Relaxing Piano [10min]
2CELLOS - Whole Lotta Love vs. Beethoven 5th Symphony [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
2CELLOS - Smooth Criminal (Live at Suntory Hall, Tokyo)
2CELLOS - Smells Like Teen Spirit [Live at Sydney Opera House]
13 Year Old Girl Playing Il Silenzio (The Silence) - André Rieu
094.All About That Bass
(Ghost) Riders In the Sky (American Outlaws Live at Nassau Coliseum, 1
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (Boyce Avenue ft. Conn
What a wonderful world
Moon river