The General Directorate for External Security (French: Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure, DGSE) is France‘s external intelligence agency. The French equivalent to the United Kingdom’s MI6 and the United States’ CIA, the DGSE operates under the direction of the French Ministry of Defence and works alongside its domestic counterpart, the DGSI(General Directorate for Internal Security), in providing intelligence and safeguarding national security, notably by performing paramilitary and counterintelligence operations abroad. As with most other intelligence agencies, details of its operations and organization are not made public.
The DGSE can trace its roots back to 1947, when a central external intelligence agency, known as the SDECE, was founded to combine under one head a variety of separate agencies – some, such as the Deuxième Bureau, dating from the time of Napoleon III and some, such as the BCRA, from the Free French of World War II. It remained independent until the mid-1960s, when the SDECE was discovered to have been involved in the kidnapping and presumed murder of Mehdi Ben Barka, a Moroccan revolutionary living in Paris. Following this scandal, the agency was placed under the control of the French ministry of defence. It was restructured in 1981, eventually acquiring its current name (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure) in April 1982.
In 1992, most of the defence responsibilities of the DGSE, no longer suitable to the post-Cold War context, were transferred to the Military Intelligence Directorate (DRM), a new military agency. Combining the skills and knowledge of five military groups, the DRM was created to close the intelligence gaps of the 1991 Gulf War.
Cold war era rivalries
The SDECE and DGSE have been shaken by numerous scandals. In 1968, for example, Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, who had been an important officer in the French intelligence system for 20 years, asserted in published memoirs that the SDECE had been deeply penetrated by the Soviet KGB in the 1950s. He also indicated that there had been periods of intense rivalry between the French and American intelligence systems. In the early 1990s a senior French intelligence officer created another major scandal by revealing that the DGSE had conducted economic intelligence operations against American businessmen in France.
A major scandal for the service in the late cold war was the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. The Rainbow Warrior was sunk by operatives in what the service named operation Satanique, killing one of the shipmates. The operation was ordered by the French President François Mitterrand. New Zealand was outraged that its sovereignty was violated by an ally, as was the Netherlands since the killed Greenpeace activist was a Dutch citizen and the ship had Amsterdam as its port of origin.
The agency was conventionally run by French military personnel until 1999, when former diplomat Jean-Claude Cousseran was appointed its head. Cousseran had served as an ambassador to Turkey and Syria, as well as a strategist in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cousseran reorganized the agency to improve the flow of information, following a series of reforms drafted by Bruno Joubert, the agency’s director of strategy at that time.
This came during a period when the French government was formed as a cohabitation between left and right parties. Cousseran, linked to the Socialist Party, was therefore obliged to appoint Jean-Pierre Pochon of the Gaullist RPR as head of the Intelligence Directorate. Being conscious of the political nature of the appointment, and wanting to steer around Pochon, Cousseron placed one of his friends in a top job under Pochon. Alain Chouet, a specialist in terrorism, especially Algerian and Iranian networks, took over as chief of the Security Intelligence Service. He had been on post in Damascus at a time when Cousseran was France’s ambassador to Syria. Chouet began writing reports to Cousseran that by-passed his immediate superior, Pochon.
Politics eventually took precedence over DGSE’s intelligence function. Instead of informing the president’s staff of reports directly concerning President Chirac, Cousseran informed only Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin, who was going to run against Chirac in the 2002 presidential election. Pochon learned of the maneuvers only in March 2002 and informed Chirac’s circle of the episode. He then had a furious argument with Cousseran and was informally told he wasn’t wanted around the agency anymore. Pochon nonetheless remained Director of Intelligence, though he no longer turned up for work. He remained “ostracized” until the arrival of a new DGSE director, Pierre Brochand, in August 2002.
The DGSE includes the following services:
- Directorate of Administration
- Directorate of Strategy
- Directorate of Intelligence
- Political intelligence service
- Security intelligence service
- Technical Directorate (Responsible for electronic intelligence and devices)
- Directorate of Operations
- Action Division (Responsible for clandestine operations)
The action division (Division Action) is responsible for planning and performing clandestine operations. It also fulfills other security-related operations such as testing the security of nuclear power plants (as it was revealed in Le Canard Enchaîné in 1990) and military facilities such as the submarine base of the Île Longue, Bretagne. The division’s headquarters are located at the fort of Noisy-le-Sec.
The DGSE headquarters, codenamed CAT (Centre Administratif des Tourelles), are located at 141 Boulevard Mortier in the 20th arrondissement in Paris, approximately 1 km northeast of the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The building is often referred to as La piscine (“the swimming pool”) because of the nearby Piscine des Tourelles of the French Swimming Federation.
A project named “Fort 2000” was supposed to allow the DGSE headquarters to be moved to the fort of Noisy-le-Sec, where the Action Division was already stationed. However, the project was often disturbed and interrupted due to lacking funds, which were not granted until the 1994 and 1995 defence budgets. The allowed budget passed from 2 billion francs to one billion, and as the local workers and inhabitants started opposing the project, it was eventually canceled in 1996. The DGSE instead received additional premises located in front of the Piscine des Tourelles.
Size and importance
- In 2007 the DGSE employed a total of 4,620 agents. In 1999 the DGSE was known for employing a total of 2,700 civilians and 1,300 Officers or Non Commissioned Officers in its service.
- It also benefits from an unknown number of voluntary correspondents (spies) both in France and abroad. These do not appear on the government’s list of civil servants and are referred to with the title of “honorable correspondant“ (honourable correspondent).
- The DGSE is directly supervised by the Ministry of Defence.
The DGSE’s budget is entirely official (it is voted upon and accepted by the French parliament). It generally consists of about €500M, in addition to which are added special funds from the Prime Minister (often used in order to finance certain operations of the Action Division). How these special funds are spent has always been kept secret.
Some known yearly budgets include:
- 1991: FRF 0.9bn
- 1992: FRF 1bn
- 1997: FRF 1.36bn
- 1998: FRF 1.29bn
- 2007: EUR 450 million, plus 36 million in special funds.
- 2009: EUR 543.8 million, plus 48.9 million in special funds.
- 25% for military intelligence
- 25% for economic intelligence
- 50% for diplomatic intelligence
- Pierre Marion (17 June 1981 – 10 November 1982)
- Adm. Pierre Lacoste (10 November 1982 – 19 September 1985)
- Gen. René Imbot (20 September 1985 – 1 December 1987)
- Gen. François Mermet (2 December 1987 – 23 March 1989)
- Claude Silberzahn (23 March 1989 – 7 June 1993)
- Jacques Dewatre (7 June 1993 – 19 December 1999)
- Jean-Claude Cousseran (19 December 1999 – 24 July 2002)
- Pierre Brochand (24 July 2002 – 10 October 2008)
- Erard Corbin de Mangoux (10 October 2008 – 10 April 2013)
- Bernard Bajolet (10 April 2013 – )
As of 18 July 2012 the organisation had inaugurated its current logo. The bird of prey represents the sovereignty, operational capacities, international operational nature, and the efficiency of the DGSE. France is depicted as a sanctuary in the logo. The lines depict the networks utilized by the DGSE.
Various tasks and roles are generally appointed to the DGSE:
- Intelligence gathering:
- Support for HUMINT.
- Special operations, with the help of the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment.
- The agency also preceded the CIA in anticipating the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.
- In Operation Barracuda, the DGSE staged a coup d’état against Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic in September 1979, and installed a pro-French government.
- Between the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the DGSE had effectively planted agents in major U.S. companies, such as Texas Instruments, IBM and Corning. Some of the economic intelligence thus acquired was shared with French corporations, such as the Compagnie des Machines Bull.
- Working with the DST in the early 1980s, the agency exploited the source “Farewell“, revealing the most extensive technological spy network uncovered in Europe and the United States to date. This network had allowed the Soviet Union to gather significant amounts of information about important technical advances in the West without the knowledge of Western intelligence agencies.
- The DGSE exploited a network “Nicobar”, which facilitated the sale of forty-three Mirage 2000 fighter jets by French defence companies to India for a total of more than US$2 billion, and the acquisition of information about the type of the armour used on Soviet T-72 tanks.
- Operation Satanic, a mission aimed at preventing protests by Greenpeace against French nuclear testing in the Pacific through the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, New Zealand on July 10, 1985. The ship was successfully sunk, after a small explosion was set off to scare people away, but journalist Fernando Pereira returned just as the sinking began, and subsequently drowned. New Zealand Police uncovered the plot after they captured two DGSE agents, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and arson. French relations with New Zealand were sorely strained, as they threatened New Zealand with EEC sanctions in an attempt to secure the agents’ release. Australia also attempted to arrest DGSE agents to extradite them. The incident is widely remembered in the region and has taken on almost mythical proportions.[by whom?]
- During the Rwandan Civil War, the DGSE had an active role in passing on disinformation, which resurfaced in various forms in French newspapers. The general trend of this disinformation was to present the renewed fighting in 1993 as something completely new (although a regional conflict had been taking place since 1990) and as a straightforward foreign invasion, the rebel RPF being presented merely as Ugandans under a different guise. The disinformation played its role in preparing the ground for increased French involvement during the final stages of the war.
- Reports in 2006 have credited DGSE operatives for infiltrating and exposing the inner workings of Afghan training camps during the 1990s. One of the spies employed by the agency later published a work under the pseudonym “Omar Nasiri“, uncovering details of his life inside Al-Qaeda. In a controversial article published by the Center for Research on Globalisation, Wayne Madsen claims to have obtained a leaked DGSE report which states that “the CIA and Britain’s MI6 maintained effective control of an important Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan as late as 1995, fully two years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.”
- A DGSE general heads the Alliance Base, a joint CTIC set up in Paris in cooperation with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Alliance Base is known for having been involved in the arrest of Christian Ganczarski.
- In 2003, the DGSE was held responsible for the outcome of Opération 14 juillet, a failed mission to rescue Ingrid Betancourt from FARC rebels in Colombia.
- In 2004, the DGSE was credited for liberating two French journalists, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who were held as hostages for 124 days in Iraq.
- DGSE personnel were part of a team that arranged the release on June 12, 2005 of French journalist Florence Aubenas, held hostage for five months in Iraq.
- DGSE was said to be involved in the arrest of the 2 presumed killers of 4 French tourists in Mauritania in January 2006.
- In 2006, the French newspaper L’Est Républicain acquired an apparently leaked DGSE report to the French president Jacques Chirac claiming that Osama Bin Laden had died in Pakistan on August 23, 2006, after contracting typhoid fever. The report had apparently been based on Saudi Arabian intelligence. These “death” allegations were thereafter denied by the French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Saudi authorities,as well as the CIA Bin Laden specialist Michael Scheuer.
- In June 2009, the DGSE uncovered evidence that two registered passengers on board Air France Flight 447, which crashed with the loss of 228 lives in the vicinity of Brazil, were linked to Islamic terrorist groups.
- DGSE officers or alleged officersNovember 2010, 3 operatives from DGSE’s Service Operations (SO) (formerly Service 7) botched an operation to burgle the room of China Eastern Airlines’ boss Shaoyong Liu at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Toulouse. Failure of the operation resulted in the suspension of all of SO’s activities and the very survival of the unit was called into question. SO only operates on French soil, where it mounts secret HUMINT operations such as searching hotel rooms, opening mail or diplomatic pouches.
- In the year 2010/11, the DGSE has been training agents of Bahrain’s National Security, the intelligence service which is trying to subdue the country’s Shi’ite opposition protests. Bahrain’s Special Security Force also benefits from a French advisor seconded from the Police Nationale who is training the Special Security Force in modern anti-riot techniques.
- March 2011, the DGSE sent several members of the Service Action to support the Libyan rebels. However, most of the agents deployed were from the Direction des Operations’ Service Mission. The latter unit gathers intelligence and makes contact with fighting factions in crisis zones.
- In January 2013, Service Action members attempted to rescue one of its agents held hostage. The rescue was a failure as the hostage was killed alongside 2 DGSE operators.
|Name(s)||Status and known actions|
|Marc Aubrière||An officer who was kidnapped by Al-Shabaab militia in Somalia in 2009 and managed to escape.|
|Denis Allex||An officer who was kidnapped by Al-Shabaab militia in Somalia in 2009. He was killed on January 11, 2013 by the miltants during a failed rescue attempt.|
|Guillaume Didier||An officer of the Action Division who disappeared in 2003 following the failure of a DGSE operation in Morocco.|
|Philippe de Dieuleveult||A supposed DGSE agent who mysteriously disappeared during an expedition in Zaire in 1985.|
|Hervé Jaubert||A former French navy officer and DGSE agent who moved to Dubai in 2004 to build recreational submarines. Following allegations of fraud, his passport was confiscated in 2008. Jaubert escaped on a dinghy to India and resurfaced in Florida in the U.S. where he filed a lawsuit against Dubai World.|
|Roland Verge||Chief Petty Officer involved in the Rainbow Warrior operation, arrested in Australia, escaped by French submarine|
|Gérard Andries||Petty Officer involved in the Rainbow Warrior operation, arrested in Australia, escaped by French submarine|
|Bartelo||Petty Officer involved in the Rainbow Warrior operation, arrested in Australia, escaped by French submarine|
|Louis-Pierre Dillais||Commander of the Rainbow Warrior operation, as acknowledged on New Zealand television|
|Alain Mafart andDominique Prieur||Two DGSE officers who took part to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and who were subsequently arrested by New Zealand police.|
|Xavier Maniguet||A former DGSE agent who also took part in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.|
|Pierre Martinet||A former DGSE agent, who retired after having his cover blown while watching Islamist militants in London. Martinet later wrote a book uncovering details of how the DGSE planned its assassination of political targets. He was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison for divulging defence secrets.|
|Bernard Nut||A French army officer and DGSE agent responsible for actions conducted in the Côte d’Azur and Middle East regions, and whose assassination in 1985 made headlines in French media.|
|Philippe Rondot||A retired French army general and former councilor in charge of coordinating foreign intelligence for the French ministry of defence.|
|Gérard Royal||A former DGSE agent accused of being a Rainbow Warrior bomber and brother of French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.|