The Envoy
  • French spy chief Bernard Squarcini. (Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images)Investigators have launched an inquiry targeting Bernard Squarcini, the powerful head of France's domestic intelligence agency, who is facing allegations that he may have illegally spied on journalists.

    Squarcini, the chief of the Direction Central du Renseignement Intérieur, is alleged to have "obtained the Le Monde reporter's telephone records to uncover a mole feeding the newspaper information about a political scandal," Kim Willsher of the UK Guardian reported Tuesday.

    Squarcini apparently wanted to know who in the government was leaking information from a sensitive campaign finance investigation concerning alleged payments to allies of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The French inquiry was looking into allegations that elderly French L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt may have "given Sarkozy allies wads of cash in brown envelopes to fund the presidential election campaign," Willsher noted. Stories about the case apparently with internal details from the investigation were published by Le Monde reporter Gérard Davet and some of his colleagues.

    To that end, Squarcini--a close Sarkozy ally of Corsican descent nicknamed "requin" or "the shark" for his perceived ruthlessness in engaging in the spycraft dark arts--is accused of having "even obtained Davet's GPS locations from his mobile phone records," Willsher reported, while allegedly also keeping tabs on two other Le Monde journalists.

    Under questioning from a judge Monday, Squarcini reportedly denied engaging in any illegal activities. The powerful spymaster who heads what used to be two rival French intelligence services insisted that his intended target had not been the journalists at all, but rather the government official suspected of leaking information to them--apparently an employee in France's Justice Ministry. The judge's investigation seeks to determine if Squarcini violated French laws on "breaching communications privacy," "unlawful data gathering" and "violating the professional secrecy," Willsher wrote.

    Read More »from French spy chief investigated for spying on journalists
  • Gilad Shalit and his father, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. (Ofir Gendelman/Israeli Prime Minister Office)

    Looking pale and gaunt but apparently healthy, Israeli conscript Sgt. Gilad Shalit, 25, was reunited with his family in Israel Tuesday after five years of being held captive by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Under the deal to gain his freedom, Israel simultaneously released 477 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, busing them overnight Tuesday to be reunited with their families in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. In all, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will be released in the coming months as part of the Egyptian-brokered deal.

    "Now Gilad has returned home, to his family, his people and his country," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Facebook. "A short time ago, I embraced him as he came off the helicopter and escorted him to his parents, Aviva and Noam, and I said, 'I have brought your son back home.'"

    "But this is also a hard day," Netanyahu continued. "I would like to make it clear: We will continue to fight terrorism. Any released terrorist who returns to terrorism — his blood is upon his head."

    Polling showed Israelis overwhelmingly approved the prisoner swap--one recent poll by Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahoronot showed 79 percent support--even while some analysts warned the strategic costs were high.

    "The mood in Israel was one of elation, with 'welcome home' signs on street corners and morning commuters watching live broadcasts of the swap on cellular telephones," Reuters reported.

    The emotional scenes of joyful homecomings were echoed as released Palestinian prisoners arrived in Gaza and the West Bank Tuesday.

    Read More »from Gilad Shalit returns to Israel as Palestinian prisoner swap begins
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to downplay the ongoing speculation on her political future, telling NBC Today Show's Savannah Guthrie Monday that she is grateful for the chances she has had to serve as first lady, senator and top U.S. diplomat, but insisting she is eagerly looking forward to more of a private life.

    "You know, Savannah, I am very privileged to have had opportunities to serve this country . . . . But I am very old fashioned," Clinton told Guthrie in the exclusive Today Show interview Monday. "I want to try some other things--writing, teaching, working with women and children . . . . I have made my contribution. I am very grateful to have had the chance to serve, but I think it's time for others to step up."

    It's true that numerous polls have showed Clinton the most popular figure in the Obama cabinet, and Gallup surveys have designated her the nation's most popular woman nine years running. And "Today" host Guthrie asked Clinton whether her new renown prompted her to feel vindicated in the wake of her 2008 Democratic primary defeat to her present-day boss, President Barack Obama.

    "It feels irrelevant to me, because a decision was made," Clinton told Guthrie in the exclusive interview aired on the "Today Show" Monday. "I think the president has done an excellent job under the most difficult circumstances."

    Read More »from Hillary Clinton, demurring on ’16 presidential bid, urges others to ‘step up’

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  • Life easy next to Messi, says Neymar
    Life easy next to Messi, says Neymar

    Brazilian star Neymar has given four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi the credit for his upturn in form during his second season with Barcelona. Neymar was set up twice by Messi to bag a double against Elche in a 6-0 rout on Saturday to take his tally for the season to 19 goals in just 24 games, four more than he managed in the entirety of his debut campaign in Spain. "Of all the players I have seen play, Messi is the best and I will always have enormous respect for him," the 22-year-old said on Monday. Neymar has yet to win a major trophy in Barca colours after the Catalan giants missed out last season for the first time in six years.

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