The spies who didn't love him

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

An angry Jacques Chirac is purging France's security services after they spied on him under the previous Socialist government. Marc Burleigh reports on the secret world of French espionnage.

President Jacques Chirac is taking aim at those in authority who undermined him during his previous power-sharing arrangement with the Socialist government.

That message was made clear in July when he sacked the head of the DGSE, the General Directorate of External Security, the French equivalent of the CIA or MI6.

According to an article in the French daily Le Monde, Jean-Claude Cousseran had used the intelligence apparatus to probe Chirac's financial dealings in Lebanon and Japan.

Another French daily, Le Parisien, claimed that that the secret services report — which dealt in particular with the more than 45 trips Chirac and companions made to Japan and his relationship there with a shady banker, Shoichi Osada — had been sent to the office of then-prime minister Lionel Jospin, but not to the president's desk.

As political gambles go, Cousseran's selectivity was not that unusual in France — except that Jospin's own bid to be president in April elections was spectacularly knocked out by far-right challenger Jean-Marie Le Pen, and Chirac went on to win and saw his backers take over the government in elections in June.

Cousseran, a career diplomat, was dismissed and replaced by Pierre Brochand, the current ambassador to Portugal who has held posts in Israel, Hungary, at the United Nations, in Thailand and Vietnam over the past 30 years.

Two senior DGSE officers, the head of special investigations and the head of security intelligence, were removed from their jobs in July, as was the head of the DGSE's domestic counterpart, the Directorate of Territorial Security (DST).

The DGSE, which comes under the responsibility of the defence ministry, has itself undergone several transformations since it was created by amalgating various intelligence services after World War II.

It and the DST had clearly defined roles and enemies during the Cold War, but as the world's geo-political make-up changed in the 1990s it gradually turned its attention to industrial espionage on behalf of the government and state-run companies.

The late former president François Mitterrand relied heavily on the DGSE to bug opponents and individuals suspected of working against his lines of policy or who threatened his privacy, including journalists and lawyers.

Perhaps its most infamous act — that was made public — was in 1985, when two of its undercover agents blew up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior as it was anchored in Auckland, killing a Dutch-Portuguese photographer on board, Fernando Pereira.

The mission was concocted because of Greenpeace's militant opposition of widely condemned French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

In December 1999, the Y Section of the service had another brush with the headlines when it and the DST stole documents from the hotel room of British Aerospace executives who were staying in Toulouse, southern France, for a meeting with the UK company's partner Airbus. The Sunday Times newspaper said embarrassed French Airbus executives later handed the papers back to the Britons with a verbal apology.

Today, the DGSE counts around 2,500 employees, with a 60-40 split between civilian and military personnel. Its annual budget is estimated at around EUR 30 million, paid via secret funding approved by parliament.

Britain's MI6, by comparison, gets an estimated EUR 250 million per year.

Like most Western intelligence services since September 11, the DGSE's priorities have now turned to combatting terrorism.

It has been active in tracking suspects and their transactions both in France and abroad, and has been helping Pakistani and FBI officials investigate attacks in Karachi that killed 11 French submarine engineers and three other people in May, and the June 14 bombing of the US consulate there that killed 12 people.

The DGSE has also been instrumental in providing information about about al-Qaeda cells and about alleged thwarted plots for bomb attacks against the US embassy in Paris and against civilians in Strasbourg.

August 2002

Copyright AFP

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