Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright said Thursday that France had eavesdropped on her when she was in government as she dismissed European concerns about Washington's snooping.

"This is not a surprise to people -- countries spy on each other," Albright said at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.

Albright, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 before being appointed as the top US diplomat, said she learned about surveillance first-hand at the world body.

"I will very much remember when I was at the United Nations, the French ambassador coming up to me saying, 'Why did you say that to somebody, about why do you want women in the government?'

"And I said, 'Excuse me?' They had an intercept," Albright said, without giving further details of her intercepted conversation.

France, Germany, Brazil and other traditional allies of the United States have complained after revelations about US spying in leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to allegations of US snooping on her mobile phone, said Thursday in Brussels: "Spying between friends, that's just not done."

French President Francois Hollande also complained this week to President Barack Obama after reports of US spying on millions of phone calls in France.

Albright said that Snowden's leaks had been "very damaging" for the United States.

"A lot of foreign policy is gossip and picking up what somebody has said about somebody else that is useful in the long term of trying to figure out how you deal with a particular country," she said.

"Glorifying Snowden is a mistake. I think what he has done is a criminal act and it has hurt us very, very badly," she said.

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