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Votre secrets, monsieur?

AS THE 20TH CENTURY DRAWS TO A CLOSE, A COUNtry's economic power has become more essential to its survival than its military prowess. This increased emphasis on market dominance means the world's intelligence services are refocusing their efforts from collecting the traditional political and military material to collecting economic, scientific, technological, and business information. One intelligence service that has become synonymous with this new effort is the French government's General Directorate of External Security (DGSE).

The idea of the French using their intelligence service to obtain scientific, economic, and technological information from friendly countries is not new. Returning to power in 1958, President Charles de Gaulle indicated that the Service for External Documentation and Counterespionage (SDECE), the then French intelligence agency, needed to focus on obtaining technological information about the United States and other Western countries.(1)

On receipt of these instructions, General Grossin, the head of the SDECE, discovered that he had neither the structure nor the personnel to carry out the assignment. Grossin advised de Gaulle that he needed to recruit personnel with backgrounds in science, economics, and technology.

De Gaulle instructed Grossin to obtain the necessary personnel from other ministries. At this point Grossin discovered that the idea of working for or assisting the intelligence service was repugnant to the technocrats of the French government. Because of this lack of trained personnel and the necessary organization to carry out this new mission, the results were not helpful.(2)

The first public disclosure of this initiative by SDECE occurred in 1960. France and West Germany were planning a joint effort to develop a new tank.

To discover what the German Parliament thought about this effort, a member of SDECE obtained a copy of a parliamentary committee report on the plan. The committee report indicated that the committee members would not support the venture.

French officials were so incensed that they released the report to the press, and the French intelligence agent got out of West Germany just one step ahead of the police. The joint Franco-German tank development program was buried for good.(3)

The first known French intelligence action against the United States under this new directive to focus on obtaining scientific and technological information occurred in 1964 at the request of France's Finance Minister Valery Giscard D'Estaing, who 10 years later became president of France. The target of this operation was George Ball, the US negotiator at a series of talks held in Paris at the time.

To determine what Ball's position would be during the talks, French intelligence bugged his hotel room, and while he slept, agents removed documents and notes that were photographed and later returned.(4)

American intelligence had become aware of France's interest in intelligence concerning the United States from a Soviet defector in 1962, Anatoli Golitsyn. Golitsyn, a member of the First Chief Directorate, the foreign intelligence branch of the KGB, defected to the United States while serving at the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki, Finland.

During his debriefing, Golitsyn mentioned that the French had established a highly secret unit within SDECE to gather military and scientific intelligence in the United States.(5)

The allegations were later confirmed by the head of French intelligence in Washington, Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli. De Vosjoli had returned to France for discussions concerning Golitsyn's reports of KGB moles having infiltrated both SDECE and senior levels of the French government. At that time he was approached by Colonel Mareuil, who was in charge of liaison with foreign intelligence services. Mareuil briefed de Vosjoli on this new endeavor and instructed him to organize operations in the United States.(6)

These instructions presented de Vosjoli with a difficult decision. He had spent his time improving relations between the CIA and SDECE. He believed that any gains from this operation would not make up for the loss of the valuable assistance they were receiving from the CIA in the use of technology in intelligence collection. Therefore, when ordered to set up this scientific intelligence operation, he absolutely refused.

In making his decision, de Vosjoli was not aware that his superiors thought his loyalty to SDECE was second to his loyalty to the CIA, and his refusal to carry out scientific intelligence activities against the United States resulted in his downfall.(7)

It is not known when he notified the CIA of the SDECE's effort to organize an intelligence operation in the United States. But his assumption that it would have an adverse effect on relations between the CIA and SDECE proved correct. Primarily because of this operation and de Vosjoli's involvement, relations between the CIA and SDECE remained hostile until the mid 1970s.(8)

The final chapter of this effort has an ending more in common with spy fiction than reality. On being ordered back to France, de Vosjoli received information that he faced possible execution as a traitor. De Vosjoli, therefore, defected to the CIA.(9) His defection is probably the only known case of a senior official of one Western intelligence service defecting to another.

After this attempt in 1963, SDECE abandoned for a while any organized effort to collect scientific or technical intelligence in the United States or other industrial countries. This all changed with the election of Francois Mitterrand as president of France in 1981 and the appointment of Pierre Marion as director of the French intelligence service. Marion was given a mandate to reorganize French intelligence activities.

The modern French intelligence service had been organized in December 1945 as the SDECE. It was organized from a combination of France's World War II intelligence and resistance organizations.

By the time of Mitterrand's election, the SDECE had become identified with the Gaullist faction of French politics, and it had developed a reputation for being home to a bunch of cowboys. Mitterrand thought that with his election it was time for change. Therefore, in April 1982, a new decree was published abolishing the SDECE and establishing the DGSE.

Under Marion's direction, the DGSE was organized into three major branches under the director: the Operations Directorate, which is responsible for most of France's intelligence operations; the General Directorate, which is responsible for personnel, control, and security; and finally, a small group called Planning, Forecasting, and Evaluation.

The establishment of this last group showed the importance that both Mitterrand and Marion placed on collecting scientific and technological intelligence. The mandate for this group was to intensify the research into scientific and technological intelligence. In keeping with this new direction, Marion appointed a scientific adviser so as to be better informed on this new effort.(10)

After all his efforts, however, Marion never saw his new organization fully operational. Before the end of 1982, Marion was fired.

The reason for his firing was never revealed. Some reports said that his personality clashed with members of Mitterrand's cabinet; others said it was because the intelligence product being put out by DGSE was not worthwhile.(11)

Whatever the reason, the parting seems to have been on less than cordial terms; Marion later went on national television in the United States and told Americans that his country was spying on them. From this point, scientific, technological, and economic intelligence collection appears to have become an essential part of the French intelligence agency's mission.

Most security professionals today know of DGSE's operation directed against the European branches of IBM, Texas Instruments, and other US electronic firms. However, these were not the first cases of DGSE collecting information that cost US firms millions of dollars in foreign sales.

In 1985 a spy ring was broken up in India, a French diplomat was deported for involvement, and France's deputy military attache was recalled. The people involved in this ring, which included at least three aides in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's office, sold, among other things, information on military procurement.

By obtaining this information, the French were aware of the US firm's offer during the final phase of negotiation.(12) This information probably gave the French firm the edge they needed to close the deal on the sale of new jet fighters to India, and it cost the US firm a billion-dollar contract.

After all this publicity concerning operations directed at friendly countries, most Western intelligence agencies would have maintained a low profile. Instead, the French have become more brazen.

According to Milton J. Socolar, special assistant to the General Accounting Office's comptroller general, the DGSE has once again targeted IBM's offices in France. This time DGSE has obtained data on IBM's next generation of PCs and passed the information to a French government-owned company. DGSE also obtained information on Corning Inc.'s new fiber-optics technology and provided the information to a French competitor.(13)

In addition to increased activities overseas, a secret CIA report stated that French intelligence agents are roaming the United States looking for business, technological, economic, and scientific secrets. US intelligence sources also report that the French Embassy in Washington is helping French engineers obtain information on stealth technology used by US manufacturers.(14)

According to Harry Brandon III, deputy assistant director of Intelligence Administration for the FBI, "This type of activity is likely to increase, not decrease, as economic competition and survival reaches new heights."(15)

Possibly the best explanation for this activity by France was given by Marion during his September 1991 interview on NBC's Expose: "It would not be normal that we do spy on the States in political matters; we are really allied. But in the economic competition, in the technological competition, we are competitors; we are not allied."

As a final example of how an intelligence service can have an impact on the economic fortunes of its country's industry, consider what occurred in 1985, the same year France was using its spy ring in India to obtain an economic edge over US firms. British intelligence in Saudi Arabia discovered that the French were going to bid a contract to upgrade the Saudi Arabian Air Force. The British were able to mount a last-minute lobbying effort that convinced the Saudis to go with British equipment.

The Saudi's agreed not only to purchase the aircraft but also to buy other military equipment and weapon systems. The final deal brought the British defense industry $30 billion, and the French defense industry got nothing.(16) There is justice in the world.

1 Roger Faligot and Pascal Krop, La Piscine: The French Secret Service Since 1944 (New York: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1988), p. 135.

2 La Piscine, p. 136.

3 La Piscine, p. 137.

4 Jeffrey T. Richelson, Foreign Intelligence Organizations (New York: Harper Business, 1988), p. 160.

5 Nigel West, Games of Intelligence: The Classified Conflict of International Espionage (New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1990), p. 161; La Piscine p. 214.

6 Games of Intelligence, p. 161; La Piscine, p. 220.

7 Games of Intelligence, p. 161; La Piscine, pp. 220-221.

8 Games of Intelligence, pp. 161, 163.

9 Games of Intelligence, p. 162; La Piscine, p. 221.

10 La Piscine, p. 282.

11 La Piscine, p. 286.

12 Foreign Intelligence Organizations, p. 162.

13 Bill Getz, "Friends, Foes Said to Employ Business Spies," The Washington Times, April 30, 1992, p. A3.

14 "The Open Barn Door," Newsweek, May 4, 1992, pp. 58-59.

15 Robert Rudolph, "Spies Are Making the Garden State a Prime Target," The Star-Ledger, May 11, 1992, pp. 1, 12.

16 James Adams, Engines of War: Global Conflict, the Arms Business, and the Threat to Peace (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), pp. 120-121.

Daniel P. Scuro, CPP, is president of Security Advisory Services in Fords, NJ. He is a member of ASIS.
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Title Annotation:French intelligence service
Author:Scuro, Daniel P.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:Unifying Europe's security standards.
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